Hello friends and family. As I'm sure you've read, the chains of head and heart have been disrupted for all the students. Oie....my plan is working!
It's been a challenging week for all. South Africa, if you were to ask me, is a mirror image of our comfortable United States; however, the mirror is convex...or concave...however you see it. In Cape Town we get to see the bent edges, which show us the extreme conditions of both happiness and sadness. Race, class, poverty, healing, beauty, charm, hunger, economics, wildlife, diversity, and so much more, explode in front of the students so that they are forced to bare witness to everything that is both observable and things that are...well...internal. As you've read, we all think it through in our own way. But...it is healing. It's scraping away at the layers of circumstances and people who have wronged us and taking it all back...to reclaim our lives.
We began our service-learning last week in Delft with the NGO Afrika Tikkun. Afrika Tikkun works toward the transformation of South African communities by caring for volnerable children and orphans in townships. They foster empowerment by providing holistic services focused on children from one year to 19 years of age, and their families/guardians. Delft is a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, known for its substandard schools, lack of jobs, and high rates of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. The population is near 1,000,000 (loose estimate) and is 73% Coloured (South African term for "mixed"), 25% Black, almost no whites and 1% Indian. Most of Delft consists of government housing projects and informal settlements (shacks).
Anthea Jansen and the rest of the staff at Afrika Tikkun has once again provided my students with an incredible opportunity to bare witness to everything the township is - how it lives and breathes - as well as up-close and personal experiences with Delft community members, and leaders. The experience itself is likely somewhat Schizophrenic for the students. Townships are both beautiful and vibrant, and at the same time, horrific. Since in our normal lives we are "fish in water" and don't recognize what we have and don't have, this opportunity allows us to see what's in the water.
Students started class recitations by looking at "community" and how globally, community involves "people;" and, community is not easily defined and involves aspects hidden to us - such as space and time. We learned that community is messy; it is "individuality" which is inclusive; it is humility and witness; it exams itself; it is motivated by belonging; and has a spirit. It is imperfect. It "just is" as some students have mentioned.
We then dived into the world of "lived-experience" which is essential to social justice work (working towards a more just world). Lived-experience is awareness of the mundane and taken-for-granted experiences in a person's life. It's not "a person with HIV/AIDS" but a person with HIV/AIDS who has to get up in the morning, struggle with a painful body and mind most of the day, take medications, feel ill, walk to a clinic, waiting to be seen, wondering, fearing, hoping, realizing that 12 minutes feels like forever, and...well...that they didn't eat breakfast so they're hungry. It's "everyday-ness." Something we all take for granted but are truly the building blocks of who we are. By paying attention, we can see more "pixels" of a human being; and, like a computer screen with many pixels, the image or "resolution and clarity" of that person's life become more clear. It's a powerful concept.
We are now working on the South Africa philosophy of Ubuntu (I am who I am because of you) and Reconciliation. There is no "truth" to these questions but they have certainly given the students an alternative reality to the one we are accustom to in the United States. There will be more on this for the students in the near future.
I have really enjoyed all the students. They are a resilient bunch and their tolerance of ambiguity has been very helpful to me as I conduct this train. They have really began to focus on simultaneously changing both themselves and the communities they serve. They are all working towards improving their lives. They've been reflective and willing to take risks. There has been some external drama out of our control but they have all met those challenges with great patience and understanding. Pretty awesome!
As we enter our final week, I thank everyone who has followed this blog and entered comments that the students love to receive; it's like a letter from home. Onwards!
Nate Whittaker (Instructor)