Learning. Believing. Achieving – Term 4 Week 1
Date: October 9, 2017 Posted by: Alana Ripepi
The 2017 Round Square international Conference was held in Cape Town, South Africa. It was co-hosted by three Round Square schools – St George’s, St Stithians and Bridge House. As part of the conference schedule, staff and students undertook a service activity. I was with a small group who travelled to Valley Heights Community Centre, in one of the “townships” in Cape Town. These townships grow organically – some have electricity, some have water (through a system much like a DIY garden irrigation system in any Australian garden).
This was my first experience in a township, which is another name for a shanty town. We were escorted into the township and advised on certain procedures to ensure our safety – keep valuables out of sight and don’t stray from the group. We were taken to the Community Centre to do a variety of activities – cleaning up, painting the playground, reading with the children, etc. There were mangy dogs and some people who were very suspicious of us as we walked through the township to the community centre.
Mrs Moyer and I met a brother and sister, Charlton and Surimeyer (not sure of the spelling, as Charlton didn’t know how to spell it). They had an older sister and lived with their mother and grandmother. They were beautiful kids – happy and warm-hearted. Neither attended school, as was the case with most of the kids in the township. They spent most of their days at the community centre where the staff, volunteers and residents of the township, did their best to educate the kids and keep them safe and engaged. The volunteers were wonderful people – warm, friendly and grateful that we had made the trip to see them.
We cleaned up some of the vast amounts of rubbish around the community centre and shared our lunch with the kids. We asked Charlton where his mother was. He said that she was at home with a “broken arm”. On further questioning, he told us that she had been shot in the arm. Gangs and violence are part of their everyday lives. We were told that a number of kids at the community centre had been abused.
These are people forgotten by their government, their people and the wider world. They face a life of struggle, without education or financial security or medical or dental services. Some of the medical problems were obvious, the mental and emotional less so. The best they can hope for in life is their own lean-to made of corrugated iron and maybe some sporadic, low-paying employment. A number of NGOs do their best to help, but the numbers can seem overwhelming. And yet these two little ones had a gentle, generosity of spirit that was uplifting. We left the township feeling upset for these people who, by accident of birth, have such different lives than we do. We went back to our comfortable hotels and warm, hearty meals and resumed our worrying about our first world problems. I found myself cursing the slowness of the internet – but then stopped and castigated myself as I reflected on my vacuous frustrations.
Let us all continue to be grateful for what we have and understand that we are so very, very lucky. Those two little champions have taught me a lesson far more significant than I thought possible.