We learned a lot more about the deep contrasts within this area of the world today. It’s not specific to Knysna (it certainly exists around Capetown and other major South African cities) but it’s very sad. On one hill overlooking the city you find luxurious homes and even mansions filled with wealthy white citizens and vacationers. On the next hill over you find many more completely impoverished black South Africans, densely packed into structures that would not even be referred to as huts in America in many cases. Some of them are lucky-if they voted for the correct government last time around, their names get moved further up the never-ending wait list for a proper hut with actual walls and a roof-still smaller than a woodshed where we come from.
Today we started our community volunteering stint with Edge of Africa. The morning was “orientation” even though it’s just Dave and I starting this go around – they’re having a slow period with only two other volunteers in the house when sometimes there are as many as seventeen. They drove us around to all of the different projects they work on – several preschools (larger huts-the first was about 9’x5’ with 20-30 students packed in), a street kid community center, a Rastafarian village ecological trail, and more. We were going to spend our afternoon at Sinathemba, the community center for children and young adults that didn’t have the privilege of attending any schools because there is no free schooling in these townships and some parents simply aren’t interested or able to send their children anywhere for approximately $15/month. Our morning stop was memorable, even if likely timed for our arrival. As it happens, we conveniently walked in right before they all started singing a lively hymnal about God and the power of positive thinking. It was moving and Dave and I both got into it with them. It’s amazing how hard it is to be cynical when you’re surrounded by joy shining through poverty. We left then and continued on our tour to return later in the afternoon so that Dave and I could run a sports session with them (this was news to us!).
We returned to the volunteer house for a further run-down on the volunteer efforts that Edge of Africa, and we, would be involved in. Almost all of the projects here-even the sports projects-have a heavy focus on HIV education. Other focuses are sexual education, pregnancy planning (and avoidance), tuberculosis screening, empowerment through art, and much more. It seems like our time here is going to cover a lot of ground which will be interesting, but in truth Dave and I would have been thrilled to spend the rest of our time here the same way we spent this afternoon.
When we got back to the community center, the kids (I use this word loosely as they ranged in age from 10 to probably 20) were all eating lunch so we had some time to set up volleyball in the small yard outside (trying to find a section without too many shards of glass as some of the kids were barefoot). The impression we’d gotten from our project manager was that it might be hard to keep everyone engaged in this new sport but our experience couldn’t have been more different. They came out one by one but immediately approached the net and started hitting around, and they were all great! Seriously, I was by far the worst player there (not my sport!) including the young kids! They could serve the ball from the back of the court over the net with no problem at all, and they were all smiling and laughing for the whole 2 hours, whether winning, losing, making mistakes, and especially when falling down. It was such fun. I stepped out quickly when we had enough kids to field a team but Dave stayed in and kept the game organized, making sure everyone switched positions and called the score out at every serve, and I started taking pictures. (Side note: Dave is really good at volleyball! This is the first time I’ve seen him play.) It was just such a fun, great-feeling atmosphere, it was easy to forget where you were. Afterwards as the kids headed out we did some soccer drills with one of the staff who participated in the Homeless Soccer World Cup a couple of years ago and longs to play American Football one day.
It was a great day. Oh, and we arrived home to Bobotjie, a South African minced (ground) beef dish that was not only sweet and spicy but absolutely delicious-they really take care of their volunteers here!