Tag Archives: Volunteering

Wrapping up Week 2

On Thursday, students were at their placements wrapping up their work there. I think they have had valuable experiences overall, serving alongside staff at the Ihata Shelter and Heideveld Clinic. I will read more in their journals and final reflection papers!

Thursday evening was an optional free activity through VACorps: a concert at the Baxter Theater. Ernesto and I went and had a great time! The singer – Tankiso – was AMAZING, as was her four-man band. She sang all original songs (minus one that was written about her), that ranged from traditional Xhosa and Sotho ones to those that were in English. Themes included the struggle of the people here, femicide, empowerment, and oppression. As I said, it was an amazing experience for which I am very grateful!

Thursday night was very wild, weather-wise. The rain was heavy off-and-on, as were the winds. I thought I would awaken to fallen trees and crumbled buildings, but all was fine! You can see the construction project next door to my flatlet is coming along nicely. 🙂

Friday was a free day. I got together with Sheila, who was my “home stay mom” for six weeks in 2012. She took me to lovely De Grendel Wine Estate where we chatted for a couple of hours while we tasted several delicious South African wines. (Check out our view of Table Mountain!) It was a special time to reminisce and catch up.

Saturday morning we will depart early for our 3-day Garden Route Tour (see photo of itinerary if interested). I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post while we’re on the road, but trust that we are having a good time together and are in great hands exploring this beautiful country!

Thoughts on Forgiveness

Today while the students were at their volunteer placement sites doing good work, I finished reading, A Human Being Died that Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid, by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. She was born in 1955 in Langa township, which we will tour next week, and is a psychologist who has focused her work on forgiveness. She was appointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1996. You can read more about her here. I’ve known of this book for some time, and recently Dick Hill reminded me of it. I regret not reading it sooner.

In today’s post, I thought I would share some messages from her remarkable book, which is based on hours of interviewing Eugene de Kock, “the man whom many in the country considered the most brutal of apartheid’s covert police operatives, ‘Prime Evil'” (p. 4). Here is the guiding question: “How can we transcend hate if the goal is to transform human relationships in a society with a past marked by violent conflict between groups?” (p. 15). (In order to better understand the context, you may wish to read a brief synopsis of Apartheid.) She answers, “This question may be irrelevant for people who do not have to live as a society with their former enemies. But for those whose lives are intertwined with those who have grossly violated human rights, who sometimes even have to live as neighbors with them, ignoring the question is not an option.” (p. 15)

Through her many hours of conversation with de Kock, along with her own recollections growing up in Apartheid, Gobodo-Madikizela helps her readers understand this: “If memory is kept alive in order to cultivate old hatreds and resentments, it is likely to culminate in vengeance, and in repetition of violence. But if memory is keep alive in order to transcend hateful emotions, then remembering can be healing.” (p. 103)

She continues in chapter 7, titled I Have no Hatred in my Heart, by describing the victim’s triumph: “the decision to forgive can paradoxically elevate a victim to a position of strength as the one who holds the key to the perpetrator’s wish…the victim retains that privileged status as long as he or she stays the moral course, refusing to sink to the level of evil that was done to him or her…forgiveness does not overlook the deed, it rises above it.” (p. 117). She described experiencing this sense of triumph when interviewing de Kock.

Gobodo-Madikizela acknowledges that what happened through the TRC may not generalize to other contexts. Still, I believe that the powerful stories told and lessons learned surely have application, both in our individual and collective lives. To forgive is empowering; to show compassion to our enemies is transforming. It is not easy, nor does it come quickly, but it can repair human brokenness, again both individually and collectively. I will carry her lessons with me as I move throughout this country, as well as when I return home.


Milkshakes off Main Road

Today the students returned to their placement sites, and they had (mostly) good things to share when we met to debrief. Those at Ihata Shelter are coming up with fun, crafty ideas to do with the children there. The two students at the Heideveld Clinic got to observe some interesting sounding procedures in “theater” today. We met at a cute cafe in Obs to check in, which is where the group photo was snapped. We enjoyed processing the day and other important feelings over snacks, cappuccino, and milkshakes. Yum. Then we went to the market, ATM, and post office together, successfully crossing busy Main Road (twice!). The students accompanied me back to my flatlet to wait out he traffic before Ubering back to their home stays.

Speaking of which, they are having mixed experiences with their hosts. Aysia and Paige are with a couple who is relatively progressive in their thinking. On the other end of the spectrum is the couple with whom Vadim and Ernesto live. Frequent racist and judgmental (in a variety of domains) statements are voiced. We are working through this and have avenues of support here if a change in location is needed. Mo, Kaelyn, and Sarah are with a Muslim family and are experiencing a bit of Ramadan. So much is learned about culture through home stays, but it can be a challenge at times.

The weather was fairly nice today, breezy and in the mid-60s, which Capetonians consider cold (it is winter after all). The mountain remains a bit elusive, as seen in the photo behind my flatlet. There is construction next door which has sounds of clanging and singing. We definitely aren’t in Portland anymore! 🙂

Placement Ups & Downs

Today the students went to their placement sites for the first time. They will spend six days serving in the community of Heideveld, a suburb in the Athlone part of Cape Town. Over 90% of the population of Heideveld is coloured, the local term for multiracial. Our driver, Ibrahim, told me that about half of the residents were displaced from District Six, which was a residential area of Cape Town that was forcibly disbanded during Apartheid. We will learn more about this as we continue our time here.

Five students selected the Ihata Shelter for their placement site. This women’s shelter strives for a society free of gender-based violence. Women and children can reside there for six months where their basic needs are met while they heal and grow. The students got a tour of the facility, but also of the impoverished township. They were able to interact with little ones, and tomorrow they will be more involved in counseling settings. It sounds like they had a great experience today, and I’m excited to hear more as they continue to serve!

Two students chose the Heideveld Community Health Clinic, a government run facility. We arrived at a crowded clinic and passed through the metal detector. We saw many waiting to receive care in several different areas. Loyiso, our placement coordinator, had informed us that people arrive early in the morning to be triaged, receiving a green, yellow, orange, or red code, indicating the severity of their needs. Those coded as green may not get seen in the course of the day. Unfortunately, the site supervisor for our students is out this week, and the day was not productive. Loyiso will be there tomorrow to address the students’ learning objectives, and if it seems they will not be met, they will likely move to Ihata. I appreciate our students’ flexibility, as well as those on the ground working on our behalf.

We are in good hands here and being well looked after by our host agency, VACorps. Thanks for following along!


First day volunteering

Today was the first day of the students’ volunteer/practicum placements. I went to Crystal and Courtney’s site, the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. We were warmly greeted by Ursula Hodgin, the volunteer coordinator for the past 16 years. She is in the photo with Courtney and Crystal…she is a very sweet lady with a huge heart for the children.

We learned that this is the only dedicated specialist pediatric hospital serving the children and families of southern Africa. It opened in the 1950s, and the wards are gradually being renovated. We looked down the dark corridor of an “original” ward and it was depressing…much different than the bright and cheery renovated wards with colorful floors and wall murals of the Big Five and other sites.

There are units that focus on renal and liver transplants, burn care, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other specialized care (e.g., TB), as well as an outpatient unit. There is also a preschool and primary school for the kids! Their goal is to provide the best medical care, despite the family’s income, race, religion, or place of residence. They also help parents (mothers were specifically mentioned) with donated clothing, toiletries, and food while they stay at the hospital, as well as transportation fares and groceries when they go home.

The role of the volunteers – with their cute and recognizable aprons and toy trolleys – is to play with the children. Ursula talked about the importance of a warm smile and playtime in the hospital environment. I was going to say in the healing process, but not all of these children will heal enough to return home. She described the emotional part of the “job,” and how if a child the student has spent time with dies, there are social workers available to help process the loss.

The plan is for Crystal and Courtney to spend their time dedicated to one of the wards so they can build relationships with the children and families. Today when I left them, Ursula was about to pair them with volunteers to shadow for the day. That is, after the 11:00 tea time that Ursula was going to get ready. 🙂

Of course, part of the job is to help keep the toys sanitized, so there will be a bit of that type of work too. There are always those less glamorous parts of any job we do, I suppose. I think this will be a great placement site with lots of lessons awaiting Courtney and Crystal. Some will be hard lessons, but I trust they will see how little things they do can make a big difference.

I look forward to hearing more about what ward they are on and how it went. Also, I am excited to hear from the other students on their placement sites, & I look forward to visiting them over the next couple of weeks.

Back to class tomorrow…and Robben Island if all goes according to plan. If not, we will get our Gumby on once again!