Author Archives: mollyocon

About mollyocon

I am a PhD student in history and philosophy of education, with an MA in international politics. I love exploring cultures, the arts, literature, history (especially of the Oklahoma variety), travel, and people. Please follow my blogs: The Wanderlust Traveler, creator and primary blogger Past blogs: Spiritual Uprising Magazine, Blog, and UP Ministries, co-founder (the blog is now defunct, but past issues of our e-magazine can be found here: http://www.kaitlynwilly.com/spiritual-uprising-magazine.html) IPSO AU, administrator Arts and Entertainment at the University of Dallas, creator/primary blogger "I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived." --Henry David Thoreau "I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day really difficult." --E.B. White

A Slam-Bang Finish

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Wow.

Today is our last non-travel day in Cape Town and in South Africa. It will take time for me to fully process my new experiences and lessons learned. But today we ended on a high note.

A busy day like so many of our others, today began with a visit to the Sozo Foundation. Sozo was founded by a youth pastor and her husband who were South Africa natives living in the U.K. when they felt called to comeback and serve Vrygrond, a poor, gang-ridden township. The couple moved to the area, joined and volunteered with the youth at the local church, and got to know the area. They then went to work building an after-school and Saturday program that included homework help, mentors, counseling, and workshops on topics such as health. As they became known in the community, they began a gardening initiative, providing supplies and knowledge for local families to start their own eating gardens. Families who often struggle for food were able to create sustainable garden beds to feed their children and sell extra produce.

Recently, they began a program called Youth Cafe to combat the community’s high unemployment rate of young adults. They built a trendy coffee shop in their building with separate spaces for a computer lab and workshops. Students could initially be trained to work as a barista or in hospitality. The Youth Cafe program has since branched out to include tracks for graphic design, hairdressing, and technical skills (carpentry, welding, bricklaying, etc.)–and soon will include an artisan bakery for students to hone their employable skills for the tourist destination of Cape Town.

The staff is Christian-based with a generic (not specifically Christian) prayer room for their use, but the programming is secular in nature and open to students of any or no faith. The program was well supported and appreciated by the community it served and seemed to have solid support from donors.

This evening, we were invited to dine with the Minister of Social Development at the Western Cape Parliament building. We were joined by matric students (seniors in high school/what they call matriculation year), a Rutgers Newark student, and UCT students, among his staff, representatives from parliament, and performers to give us a local taste of Cape Town. They served us a delicious Cape Malay smörgåsbord and provided live music. The Cape Town Mistrals who performed remind me of the Philadelphia Mummers–groups that march, play music, and dance in annual parades in over the top costumes.

Now I am packing, posting my final blog, and setting my sights on returning to the States. I’ve loved my time here, but I can’t wait to be back!

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University of Cape Town

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We spent two days with University of Cape Town (UCT) students, “dropping in” on their service learning course. The course is a 3-week elective open to multiple majors, but predominantly made up of engineering students. A group from Providence College (PC) in Rhode Island also joined the course for about two of the three weeks.

On Monday, our Rutgers groups (11 graduate students) were divided up among four groups of UCT and PC students. Each group went to a different site in the townships to learn more about a community organization and the struggle in the townships for residents to have their rights granted after Apartheid actually recognized. Several of the groups went to visit informal settlements (shacks that may or may not have water/electricity) or “backyarders” (shacks located in others’ backyards and rented by the tenant).

My group went to the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) to visit an activist group known as the PHA Food and Farming Campaign. This community group is made of farmers in a traditionally “colored” area. “Colored” is one of the four official recognized races during Apartheid–colored individuals were not allowed the full privileges of white citizens, but had more privileges than black South Africans.

South Africa is currently going through a very severe drought, but the PHA is located on an aquifer, making the farmlands there nearly drought resistant–which is fortunate, since the PHA supplys half of the produce sold and consumed in Cape Town.

What’s the problem? Most of the farmers are black or colored and most of the land (90%) is owned by white South Africans with large-scale farming operations. The issue here is two-fold: many of these white landowners are removed from the local community and some have sold their property off to major developers who want to built shopping centers, high-end housing (unaffordable to current residents), and a private prison.

These developers have to get the land re-zoned to use it for that purpose, but by law, it’s supposed to be used as farming land until it’s re-zoned. It’s currently sitting empty. The locals are trying with great difficulty to prevent these areas from being re-zoned. If this area is redeveloped, farming will have to move further out from the city and to less farm-able land. The increased transportation costs and the vulnerability to drought will increase the cost of the produce.

The second issue is that the PHA includes land that was promised to be redistributed after Apartheid. The process, however, includes so many road blocks that it is difficult for these local farmers to receive the land allotments that were promised to them as part of retribution for the horrors and forced removals during Apartheid.

The Food and Farming Campaign is fighting for a few things:

-Using due process to protest the re-zoning and development of farmland

-Making the city do the required environmental study of the aquifer and the impact of development on the environment

-Advocating that each farming family get 2 hectares of land to produce food for their own family and to sell the produce

-Get the PHA designated as preserved agricultural land

In addition to their goals above, the Food and Farming Campaign provides education and best practices support to fellow farmers. The PHA is teaming up with UCT to create a community soil lab so that farmers can organically maintain nutrient-rich soil and sustainable farms. The community also has an informal settlement and would like to be able to build permanent housing for its residents, as a community-driven effort.

On Wednesday, we joined the UCT and PC students for an on campus session of their course. We broke into groups that had a student who had gone to each of the different sites and talked about what we saw and learned. Many students in my group were international students (Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mauritius) and several mentioned that they had never been to a township or knew that Cape Town also had poverty like they’d seen at home. UCT is the top ranked African university, so students come from all over Africa and are mostly graduates private schools.

After our group discussion, a synthesis of our “take aways,” and a brief presentation to the other groups, we reassembled as a large group and discussed a reading about border crossing, based on the U.S.-Mexico border experience in Tijuana. We talked about other ways you can cross borders without leaving your country–sometimes just by going to a rural area or an inner-city.

All in all, the extended experience with Cape Town students was an interesting way to learn more not only about poverty in the townships, but also about higher education in South Africa. Our group made a few friends from UCT who came to join us at our B-n-B last night for one of our groupmate’s birthdays.

The Amy Foundation

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Today was definitely a day to remember. We visited the Amy Foundation, named for Amy Biehl.

In 1994, Amy, a Stanford graduate, was in South Africa working on her Fulbright and as an anti-Apartheid activist. One evening, the 26-year old insisted on driving some of her friends home who lived in a township (areas outside the city designated as districts for black South Africans; typically very poor). She was to return to the United States in two days. After dropping off her friends that night, she was forced from her car and stoned to death on the side of the street by a group of political activists from the township.

Amy would not survive, but her mother and father came to South Africa to meet with the families of the perpetrators and figure out how they could carry on Amy’s work and passion for social justice. They decided to start the Amy Foundation, which began as an after-school program for school-aged children in the townships. After they had served 5-year sentences in prison, the four young mean who killed Amy made a plea in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty. Amy’s parents supported that plea and went on to hire two of the four young men at the foundation.

Today, the Amy Foundation provides an after-school enrichment program that includes programming on Saturdays and school holidays at 5 locations. The “learners” are able to go on field trips and camps through the program. They also added a program for young adults facing unemployment. Students learn how to compile a CV (resume), receive extensive training in one of three tracks (hospitality, arts & crafts, or beauty and wellness).

In addition to providing them with a certification, the hospitality program matches trainees with a prestigious hotel for a 1 month internship. The hotel benefits by receiving quality candidates from which to hire and the young adult likely will receive a job at the internship, but at least graduates the program with marketable skills, a respected certification, a CV, and a prestigious internship. The foundation has a beautiful model commercial kitchen and bistro! The chefs and servers in training made us a delicious lunch.

The arts & crafts program teaches beading and sewing. Students sell their handiwork and save up to buy a sewing machine of their own with help from the foundation. Students are able to gain work as tailors in the local department stores and often are able to start their own businesses after a few years of experience. Our group was impressed with their wares and purchased several items from these women and man directly from their sewing room. They have more students, but due to space limitations and funding, they can only offer sewing instruction two days per week and often have to use other spaces throughout the foundation offices to have enough work space.

The last track, beauty and wellness, partners with a local beauty services salon. Students take modules on nails, massage, waxing, and facials. As each module is complete, students are able to begin working in that field in an actual salon. They have a salon set up at the foundation, where students offer reduced-rate services as they learn their craft. With each module, they can go to work for the partner beauty salon that charges full prices (comparable to the U.S.!).

All of these courses are offered for free and the foundation provides transportation to and from students’ homes to the foundation. The beauty students weren’t present today, but the crafts and hospitality students all included alumni of the program who come back to help new students on their days off and consider the Amy Foundation home.

After touring the impressive facilities, we visited one of the after-school programs. They are housed in classrooms of local public schools. Students of all ages can take courses in health and environment, music, dance, reading skills, sports, and HIV/AIDS peer education. Upon arriving at the public primary school for this particular program, we were met by cute kids waving at us. One little girl ran up and gave me a huge hug! Another mouthed to me, “What is your name?” and I asked her hers in return. They were gracious hosts and performed their dances and songs for us in those respective classes.

District 6 and Robben Island

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Saturday was a jam-packed day. We began by visiting the District 6 Museum, a museum dedicated to remembering the forcible removals that took place in Cape Town during Apartheid. The District 6 Museum is housed in a former Methodist church built in 1883 and retains many of the church’s original characteristics. District 6, in particular, was a low-income neighborhood of freed slaves, artisans, merchants, and immigrants. The desirable location led to it being repossessed so that the whites could move in. The well-established community was forced to leave their houses, often with a single suitcase, and relocated to assigned shacks in the outer townships (some of which hadn’t been built yet). In the early 1970s, District 6 was bulldozed to be completely redeveloped under the guise that the neighborhood had been dangerous and posed a threat to the surrounding white, wealthier communities.

The museum itself has established an oral history project and gone about collecting primary-source memorabilia of the strong District 6 community to stand as a counter-narrative to the untruths told about their community to justify their forced removal. A major theme of the museum, according to our guide and former District 6 resident, is that they could remove the people out of District 6, but they couldn’t remove District 6 from the heart of the people. The photographs and artifacts tell the story of a rich community life before the forced removal. To this day, the neighborhood, though redeveloped, has not regained the level of safety for children and women that residents once enjoyed.

Robben Island is a former prison, prison to the political foes of the Apartheid regime–Nelson Mandel and current president Zuma, among others. To get there, we took a 45 minute catamaran ride. I was fortunate to have Dramamine, but political prisoners weren’t so lucky. As we sailed out from the harbor into the open Atlantic Ocean, I thought about all of the prisoners who were told they would come to Robben Island to die. In addition to holding male convicts and political prisoners, the island was also once home to banished lepers–who also were taken there for a life sentence.

From uniforms to food allotments, our tour guide explained to us the differences in what prisoners were allowed based on their race. We saw Nelson Mandela’s solitary cell and the spot in their courtyard where he wrote his book, which later was smuggled out of the prison by a man being released. Prisoners were sentenced to hard labor in the rock quarries. The political prisoners were deemed the most dangerous (and rightly so), as they were intellectuals and found ways to send messages out using prisoners who were being released as conduits. They also converted other prisoners to their cause and educated their fellow inmates.

The island was huge. We took a bus tour around the island and a walking tour through the maximum security building. Our guide only mentioned two successful escapes from the island since the Dutch colonizers made it a prison in the 1600s. Cut off from Cape Town and the world at Robben Island, Nelson Mandela managed to become the face of resistance to Apartheid. Mandela led a successful hunger strike at the prison that resulted in an upgrade from floor mats to beds. His stay at Robben Island was about 2 decades before he was moved and held at two other locations. There is a powerful picture of the remaining freedom fighters (political prisoners) being released in 1991. Robben Island remained open as a prison until 1996, when its prisoners (then all felons) were transferred to other sites, and the work began to convert Robben Island into a museum and testament to the struggle for freedom.

We ended the day by visiting the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront–a promenade of shops and restaurants, mostly for tourists.

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Big Day in Cape Town!

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Do you ever have days so full of life and light that you can’t believe it was all the same day? We’ve had so many adventures since this morning, I can hardly keep track.

We began our day with breakfast at our bed and breakfast with South African scholar and change agent, Dr. Jonathan Jansen. He’s currently a visiting professor at Stanford (also an alum!) and president emeritus at University of the Free State. While Wednesday’s book signing was about his new book As By Fire, this morning was about his current research on interracial couples on college campuses in post-Apartheid South Africa. We had a great conversation on a how societies move forward and about his confidence in each successive generation to be more accepting, as we teach our children better than society taught us. He has more books coming out next year (I think he said he has four in the works).

We then toured a beautiful boarding school in the mountains called Cape Academy, focused on STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Aerospace, and Math). The lab facilities were incredible, and the school has helped many students get their private and commercial pilot licenses. Their graduates, which include both wealthy and impoverished students, have gone on to be successful in top U.S. and South African universities.

The Groot Constantia Wine Estate was nearby and a delicious stop for lunch and wine tasting. I had a Cape Malay curry–winter vegetables and chick peas, combining Indian and South African influences. Delicious! The views of the city were also amazing.

We went from the winery to Table Mountain–a (if not THE) must-see site in Cape Town. Because it was late afternoon, we took one of the last cable cars up instead of hiking. We barely made is around the entire top before having to get back in a long line to catch the last cable cars down for the night. Pictures can’t do it justice, but they are better than my words, so see below!

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Cape Town

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We arrived in Cape Town on Wednesday, and I have been enjoying it so much I haven’t stopped to post! Wednesday night, we went to a surprise book signing at the charming Kalk Bay bookstore (John well knows that in my next career a bookshop/coffee shop is in the cards. I would be okay if it looked exactly like this, complete with a picture window and ocean view!).

Thursday, we went to Ikamva Labantu–overseen by the same organization (Infinite Family) as Nkosi’s Haven in Johannesburg. Ikamva Labantu in the Gugelethu township is an after-school program for students 6 years old through 18 years old. They also have a creche (daycare) for younger children and a senior club for the “grannies” (many of whom are primary caretakers for the children). The Granny clubs also provide a place for seniors to get a hot meal, receive childcare support, and get medical services like glucose testing.

We arrived in time for a tour of the facility–a U-shaped building with classroom doors opening out to a playground, a playing field, and some additional buildings (read: shipping containers) for therapists’ offices and the Infinite Family on-site office. After our tour, we met with the after-school program teachers and community development staff. We learned about what strategies were more and less successful as they try to impart life skills, reading and math support, and computer skills to their learners. We then worked with them on facilitation skills, identifying individual student talents, interests, and dispositions, and then helping students find careers that would be of interest to specific students. One of their major concerns was how to expose their children to life beyond their neighborhood. The airport was close by, and the teachers mentioned many students not only hadn’t been there, they didn’t even have a frame of reference for an airport (and all the jobs they require to operate!).

We then worked with their 14-18 year old students (about 30 total, all except one were boys). Working with one of their teachers, we co-facilitated a True Colors personality assessment and discussed how their varied results could give them more ideas to consider for future careers. We also talked about how a team of all one type of personality doesn’t get very far in achieving a goal together. A strong team requires the strengths of many different kinds of people to mitigate weaknesses. We played the “Me Too” game from Teboho Trust, and then they taught us a game, as well. We had a delicious South Africa meal, including roasted chicken and potatoes with rice and a side of a green pepper and onion minestrone gravy.