Tag Archives: Cape Town

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.

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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.

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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Beautiful Moments

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These last two days have been soul-resounding experiences. We spent the first several days engaging with spaces, information, and stories of the past that are still echoing today. Yesterday and today, however, we spent engaging with people.

Monday, we went to the University of Johannesburg to dialogue with UJ students and NYU students on the topic of kindness. We heard a keynote address from Dr. Adekeye Adebajo on Pan-African thought and the role of South Africa on the African continent. He drew parallels between South Africa and the United States histories and our self-conception of national exceptionalism.

NYU students put on a Stone Soup-inspired skit on the role of kindness in helping us realize and meet the need of others that we may see only as different than us, blind to the similarities. Two UJ students gave very articulate presentations, posing questions about what kindness means. Finally, our Rutgers group facilitated small group discussions on kindness. Each group was assigned to talk about what kindness means and how we can increase kindness in our relationships at specific levels–international, national, community, and interpersonal.

These events took place in the top level of the 6-story UJ library, a room with an incredible view of Johannesburg out one bank of windows and of the campus out the other. On our tour of the library, we learned that several months ago when they had to evacuated the library, 15,000 students were inside. As many as 80% of the 50,000 students commute and many of them use the library as long as it is open (from sometime very early until 10pm). There is one 24-hour study area and a computerized waiting system students must use to get a 45-minute turn to use one of the many computers. Rarely, apparently, are there any open seats at the library. The volume of students that pass through on a daily basis is overwhelming!

Today, we celebrated the Nelson Mandela Day of Service. Observing this annual national holiday involves committing to 67 minutes of service. We did that and more today at our service learning site, Nkosi’s Haven. Nkosi’s Haven is an NGO that serves as a home and community support system for impoverished mothers with HIV/AIDS and their children, as well as many children who orphaned due to that same disease.

The children we worked with today were about 7th grade-early 20s. We began our morning by administering a brief version of the True Colors Personality test and then breaking up into groups by students’ dominant personality color. I facilitated a discussion for the group of about a dozen students who had a tied score–indicating two dominant personality types (that’s me, too!).

First, we talked about what each color type indicated for personality traits. Then I asked them to brainstorm some careers that might be interesting to people of each personality type. The kids all said what they hoped to do for a career, and we talked about skills or education needed to achieve those goals. We followed with a brief discussion on internet safety, use of social media, and how to present yourself in a limited or professional way online. Ask yourself…would you want a perfect stranger to know this about you? What about a potential boss or someone who was going to interview you?

After identifying their unique gifts, talents, and dispositions as individuals, we played some icebreakers that reinforced our commonalities and our connectedness, as well as supporting one another in our goals. A high school aged girl gave us a tour of the little “village” that made up Nkosi’s Haven. Mothers have rooms with their children, while orphans live in group houses by sex and age. Those without parents each belong to a “college” of 12 children of various ages who are cared for by one caretaker. There are classrooms for learning English and Afrikaans, rooms for therapy, art and music rooms, a playground, and a main building with the kitchen, dining, living, and dance rooms (yes, I said dance room!).

Working with fellow graduate students from other institutions and with the children/young adults of Nkosi’s Haven was an incredible way to learn more about South Africa from those who live here. Tomorrow, we fly to Cape Town. Later this week, we will visit the Cape Town campus of Nkosi’s Haven. I look forward to see how they are similar and how they differ.

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And Away We Go!

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She’s at it again, they’ll say! Will she ever settle down?

Yes, I am at it again. And no, other than the whole got married part, I doubt my incurable wanderlust will dissipate.

This summer, I will be heading to South Africa, as part of Rutgers University South Africa Initiative.

We will be meeting with universities, schools, community organizations, government officials, and change agents. How do schools and education more broadly lead to social change? In post-Apartheid Africa, I will learn more about how schools educate and communities transform through major social changes.

One of the things I am interested in is how social change, reconciliation, and forgiveness have and continue to shape a community marked by violence and racism. How have students help lead that change? What lessons or observations will I learn/make during my visit that will relate to some of the struggles we face in our own country?

We had our first of a handful of orientations last night where I met the other 8 or so participants–who are PhD students (like me), current teachers, masters students, or education and community leaders.

I hope you will join me in this journey by:

  • Reading the book Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past by Jonathan D. Jansen and/or Social justice and transformative learning: Culture and identity in the United States & South Africa by Darren Clarke and Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke with me and sharing your insights
  • Following my blog
  • Suggesting other reading or giving me travel recommendations

Fair warning: True to my previous entries about my travels to India, Nepal, and Thailand, these posts (as demonstrated) will not be short entries. Sorry not sorry.

Why South Africa?

Listen to the Day of Affirmation speech Robert F. Kennedy gave at the University of Capetown during his 1966 trip–even just the first minute and 15 seconds is enlightening.