For the past couple of days, we have began some really challenging work here in South Africa. We have started to go to the township, Delft and attempt to help the people of Afrika Takkun, which is an organization put together to work with the community of Delft. For those of you back home who I have not explained it to, "townships" are the poverty stricken areas that many blacks and coloureds were forced to relocate to during Apartheid. There are still an overwhelming amount of people living in them, and most of them live in shacks made out of tin and wood, while some have small concrete/brick houses. The first day we went to Delft, we visited a health care clinic, which was an especially moving experience for me. One of the first rooms we visited held several bedridden patients; only they did not have enough beds, so some were placed on mattresses on the floor. We also walked through the HIV, tuberculosis, and womens/maternity clinics. We had to squeeze through the hallways where dozens of patients were sitting along the walls, with little stickers on their hands, indicating their place in line. I felt so terrible; I can't even imagine how long these people have to wait. I have often complained about the long wait times in the emergency rooms at the States, but after seeing all those patient people who were suffering from diseases I will probably never encounter, I don't think I ever will again. I was more aware of the lighter color of my skin, and my American privilege than I ever have been; walking down those hallways I felt like an awful tourist, gazing at a zoo exhibit. However, I did meet one of the most inspirational people, Sister Kiewiets, who was giving us the tour of the clinic. This woman works so hard at that clinic, selflessly giving her time to those who would not be able to afford a "regular" clinic. She was an amazing woman!
Other than the clinic visit, we have helped Afrika Tikkun by pulling weeds from their garden, and visiting homes of people who live there. Everyone at home knows that I'm not the biggest fan of kids, so I didn't get an extra charge from being with them, like many of my cohort did. I could not help but feel saddened about the poor conditions these people were living in, the smells, the cramped spaces... and the animals. Seeing the dogs and cats of Delft broke my heart; many of them were emaciated, and I saw some with lesions who looked ill. The hardest part was that I was not allowed to touch them, because they are known to carry diseases. I just wanted to give them a little attention, and a lot of food. Though I know that we were appreciated for being there, I still felt completely powerless to do anything to help.
However, as Liz (one of the lovely women who work for Afrika Tikkun) reminded us, its not all doom and gloom. We have to remember that though the conditions may look terrible to us, many of the people living there seem genuinely happy. I saw their eyes light up in a way that I've not seen in most Americans. So, I am trying not to pity them, though it may be difficult for me. I am learning a lot here, and I appreciate what I have more than ever. Though I may be a poor college student at home, I am wealthy here. I am grateful to have my health (well mostly, lol), an opportunity for education, and my friends, family, and pets. I realize there are some material things that I can live without, and you don't have to have any money to be happy.
In addition to the townships, we've also visited the slave lodge, the district six museum, Desmond Tutu's cathedral, and lots of other interesting places in town. Combined with our social justic classes, I feel so inspired, and a bit confused about what to do with my life. I can't believe I only have about a week left here. Though I miss you all back home, I don't want to leave Africa, and I would absolutely wish for anyone to be able to have this experience; I am so grateful.