Postscriptum – South Africa and Beyond

Written by Christian Eichenmüller, one of the main organisers of the Case Study Trip to South Africa

The great moments stand out against unprecedented challenges. It seemed an impossible thing to do only a few months ago. Now several dozen European, Indian and South African students can go through their memories of two unforgettable weeks in Cape Town. Given the circumstances and the extraordinary difficulties that we were confronted with in the run-up to the event this outcome surpassed all expectations: a group of young people from very different backgrounds becoming friends, aspiring for a better – more just – world and now taking joint steps.

These two weeks in South Africa’s Western Cape Province have certainly left their mark in the lives of those involved. For some it was their first time in an intriguing, unknown environment. For others it was the logical next step in their personal development. Confusion was what some of them were
longing for, because confusion also means learning. South Africa offered valuable insight into the MDGs framework, but it also allowed those involved to put forward a case for a better future.

We are curious to see, hear about and witness the follow-up measures by this highly motivated bunch of idealists.


Day 13 – Opening the treasure chest

Written by Ioana Leu.

One day left to go, yet still most of us feel like they have only just peeked into the South African treasure chest, as there are many more marvels lying inside, waiting to be discovered.

However, today we found two of the most precious jewels: inspiration and unparalleled beauty. The first was the revelation of this morning, when we all gathered in the dining room of our hostel in order to come up with ideas for follow-up projects. Each participant took up his or her role of multiplier, preparing to share the impressions gathered here and have an active role in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. Inspired by the discussions we have had on the MDGs in the past two weeks, we did a brainstorming session and came up with a three-flip-chart-load of ideas. Then, discussing the feasibility and the urgency of the possible projects, we voted and democratically narrowed down the selection to five, which will be further elaborated tomorrow.

In the afternoon we went on to marvel at the sight of the second jewel- unparalleled beauty, by climbing on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town. We challenged our muscles to climb the rocky boulders for over an hour and eventually arrived on the plateau sweaty, tired and short of breath. Heavy clouds were hanging above the flat ground covered by rocks, brownish plants and puddles, giving the place a Lord-of-the-Rings-like atmosphere. But once the clouds scattered and revealed the breathtaking view over Cape Town, Lion´s Head and the infinite horizons of the ocean, everybody forgot about their tiredness and the cold. It is difficult to describe this kind of beauty with words.

In the evening, trying hard not to get distracted by the sunset and the dusk view over the city below, flooded in soft light, we hurried down and arrived at the road leading to town just after nightfall, again sweaty and tired, but with a vast load of wonderful mental (and digital) pictures.

A picture says more than a 1000 words…

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Day 12 – SCORE, changing lives through sport

Written by Lavinia Manea.

It was another cloudy day in Cape Town, but somehow we didn’t feel the gloominess that sometimes captures the European cities. When you wake up in a hostel crowded with Namibian students queuing for breakfast in the all-too-small eating saloon, you realize once again that you’re at the other end of Africa and the vibrant energy of those scholars ends up lifting your spirit.

Today’s morning program brought us once again in the city centre, this time for a visit to the South African Parliament, which many of us were awaiting anxiously. During our short visit we saw the rooms of the National Assembly, the Committees of Parliament and the Council of Provinces and we learned about the political history of South Africa from our guide, a middle-aged black man who at a certain point voiced –maybe unwillingly- the frustrations and traumas that still persist in people’s mind 15 years after the end of the apartheid.

South Africa is a nation that still aches; but the African people seem to look always forward, towards that “something better” that gives them hope and makes them smile to you whole-heartedly, even if one day before some went to bed with an empty stomach.

And smiling is how we were welcomed in the afternoon by the SCORE team, a group of Canadian and European volunteers and their trainees, young people living in the township nearby. Based in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa, SCORE is an NGO which aims at human development through sport and works with children and adolescents from unprivileged environments with a view to educating them as individuals.

And since “seeing and doing” is the best way of learning, we were given the opportunity to take part in one of their sport activities aimed at informing adolescents about HIV/AIDS. How did it work? The first game required some ball technique to receive individual letters, which we then had to arrange in order to obtain a statement on HIV/AIDS, leading to a short discussion. The second game showed how HIV can affect more and more people, who then had to answer questions on the topic in order to  be allowed back in the game.

A slightly wider selection of images from today:

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Day 11 – Taking the MDGs to the streets

Written by Tobias Meng.

The day began smoothly with a late breakfast and the workshop on MDG 3 (gender equality). Among other things, the workshop brought up a very interesting discussion on discrimination and social norms, that once again showed how much the Indian members of our group contribute to this trip when they remind us every now and then of our European way of thinking.

The afternoon was then dedicated to the last of our MDG workshops, namely environmental sustainability. We learned about the environmental impact of our lifestlye and discussed topics ranging from integrated waste management to the compatibility of economic development and sustainable use and protection of natural ressources.

For the last part of the day, the organizers sent us out to interview Observatory locals on their perspective on South Africa and its challenges. Generally, some things seem to have changed since the end of Apartheid, while violence and unemployment seem to remain the most pressing issues. Collecting spontanous and unfiltered opinions of the locals was my personal highlight of the day.

We ended this relaxed day by a big pool classic, Germany vs. The Netherlands. Obviously at a local pool-bar here in Observatory. Germany devasted their scarily weak opponents in the second match.

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Day 10 – In the wake of the explorers

Written by Marzena Gawenda.

Happy to be sleeping a bit longer than the last days, especially after last night’s wild African dances, we started this Sun(ny)day brimming with the anticipation of exploring the Cape Peninsula.

The first stop was Muizenberg, a small city with white beaches meeting majestic mountains and emerald waters sprinkled with dark, moving creatures – surfers enjoying the waves. A few brave among us felt the urge to dive into the ocean and did so screaming with unrestrained joy, while others preferred to admire the ocean from the distance, eagerly looking out for sharks that would certainly spice up the day. If you, dear reader, are interested – none of the sea predators showed up, disappointing some of the spectators.

Afterwards, the Kalk Bay little fishing harbor awaited us, with its fish stands, fisherman boats, seals and big waves splashing loudly against the nearby rocks. Most of us topped the visit by having a delicious fish while enjoying the sea view.

The next stop of our trip was Cape Point – the twisting and turning road was offering spectacular views, but none of us would probably imagine experiencing a traffic jam caused by… a baboon! When we finally reached the most southwestern tip of the Peninsula, a short hike up the hill where the new lighthouse is located, and there we were, dazzled by the breathtaking, awe-inspiring birds’ eye view over endless blue waters of the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. One word: WOW!

On our way back we shortly stopped at Hout Bay, with its poor households on one side of the mountain standing in big contrast with lush, posh villas on the other side (the unverified rumor says George Clooney has his property there…). Another striking proof of disparities in South Africa.

With the wind in our hair, sun and a few drops of rain on the skin due to the quickly changeable Capetownian weather, we arrived back to our ‘home away from home’, delighted to have witnessed the amazing beauty of South African nature, some heading for a stand-up comedy in Obz Café to top this soothing day with a couple of good laughs.

Get a fuller overview of the wonders of Cape Peninsula:

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Day 9 – Laying bricks for a better life

Written by Elena Georgieva.

It is Saturday and our last weekend in South Africa. However, after an intensive week we were still active and full of energy and enthusiasm. Today was a different day. We had to contribute not with our “brain muscles” but physical ones/power.

Today we were volunteers for building houses for the people from the Makukhanye community; not with Lego bricks but with real bricks, cement, shovel and trowels. The volunteers were organized by Niall Mellon Township Trust and the houses itself are funded by the Government, which provides free homes for the poorest people from the community. In reality the picture is not so rosy and not simply every poor or homeless can take a house. The process is long and requires an application. However, many people get a place to live and the chance for real cozy home and new dreams.

Today we felt we added concrete value to somebody’s life and tangibly contributed to the further development of the community. We saw how a few hours and common efforts are enough to build a home for someone who really needs it. It was extremely inspiring how a huge group of people from all over the world, with different background and age are gathered with one common aim: making a difference in someone’s life.

We were a bunch of amateurs having only one strength: our motivation however, with the contribution of the professional workers who were coordinating our crew, succeeded to put the lower half of two houses. We were working, sweating, mixing concrete, laying bricks, it was hot, we were tired but smiled, enthusiastic and satisfied.

Moreover, today we had the chance to feel the real life and spirit in this neighbourhood, to go around the houses and talk to some of the people. What we saw is indeed poor people living in simple and small 30 m² houses (sometimes seven family members in one place) but happy, smiling and grateful for the chance of a real home they had been given.

The working day could not finish better. The favorite song of our Indian friend Ankhur: “Eee, aleee, allele gita-gonga, a masa-masa-masa…” gathered a bunch of the neighbourhood’s sweet little children around us and all together we were singing, dancing and jumping.

In a conclusion I would say that a couple of hours of one’s day could make a big change in somebody’s life. In the end it is not only about the tangible house, but the hope for cozy home and better life one gives to these people.

Hang on for many, many more pictures:

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Day 8 – African Monitor

Written by Ward Vrints.

With few among the participants successfully surviving an extra early yoga class, another quick breakfast in our stomachs, we jumped once again during rush hour in crowded third class wagons towards Retreat, while entertained by an soulful African preacher. This neighbourhood is located fairly far out of the city in the touristically unattractive suburbs.

Today it was our destination anyway, as African Monitor, our host of the day, has its international headquarters based in this area. The pan-African think-tank works around effectiveness of foreign aid without focusing how much of ‘our’ Euros actually arrive, but rather on how they lead to substantive development. Indeed, another approach than the one most of us are used to the think-tank, possessing of a quite fancy office, welcomed us in a very warm manner.

After their presentation, as well as one of AEGEE (with another successful attempt to pronounce the full French name), AIESEC, UTRS and ARESTA, we had the possibility of asking any question we wanted concerning the development of world’s most underrated continent and its aid inflow. With many of the questions raising a multiple of new ones, we rapidly ran into our time limits and finished the morning session with a lunch.

With nothing organized for the afternoon, the group was split as a part of us decided to head to the District 6 Museum, whereas another group went to explore the Waterfront. Both very famous spots in Cape Town, but we had not managed to see them yet. The time it took us to eventually, one week after arrival, see the water of the Atlantic Ocean, was worth it. With a nice blend of esplanades, boulevards with palm trees, restaurants, picture hunting tourists and a ship and yacht here and there, it deserved the glory it gets. District 6, the museum, was definitely interesting, but unexpectedly small. However, it is a must visit as every grasp of acquired information concerning the apartheid regime is essential for every single human being.

The early evening was filled with a content-related reflection on the activities of the past week. We focused on the difference in importance and approach, and thus the complementarity of all the different organizations we worked with. We basically built up lots of new knowledge due to the diversity in the perspectives among them.

After a tiring yet refreshingly innovative session, many among us rewarded themselves with another step into Cape Townian nightlife.

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Day 7 – Community discussion on HIV/Aids

Written by Francois Firket.

Click here for the full version of the article
The Thursday morning was really intensive. After breakfast, we started with a workshop on MDG8, “Global Partnership for Development”, during which we learned how development could be achieved trough 3 types of foreign investment (foreign direct investments from companies, transfer from emigrants and development aid).

Then, we went for a new visit to Khayelitsha where, together with a group of volunteers, we participated in a workshop on MDG6. Here we gained plenty of new knowledge about HIV/AIDS infection, causes, prevention and the taboo around the pandemic. The most shocking data was that 30 percent of South Africans is infected with HIV and the statistics are even more drastically high for the youth living in townships. Together with name games and funny songs, the facilitator broke the ice and created a respectful learning atmosphere.

The debate involved discussion on the opportunity to pass a law which could oblige the youth to inform their teachers and parents about their status of HIV infection. It appeared that students would not want to reveal their status as they were afraid to be discriminated, through rejection by their parents and exclusion from school. They referred expressly to the right of choice whether to reveal their status or not. On the contrary, it was mentioned that a law could provide an evolution of the mentality. Whether law can change society or society can change the law, the rule of silence seemed to have a fruitful future in townships.

After the workshop, we visited a VPUU project aiming to prevent violence in Khayelitsha and consequently to improve the quality of life of the residents. VPUU creates partnerships with public sector, private sector and several organization of the civil society to provide residents of the townships with an enriching, active and safe environment.

To continue reading click here for the longer version

More images of the discussions and surroundings:

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Day 6 – Making a difference on two hours a day

Written by Hardik Patel and Dóra Kocsis.

Today we have learnt how just two hours in an afternoon can make changes in the life of the people. We spend all our time with SHAWCO (Student Health and Welfare Centers Organization) volunteer organization. Let us brief you about SHAWCO, a volunteer organization for students of UCT (University of Cape Town) which is among the top 200 universities worldwide. SHAWCO works in two sectors: education and health.

They receive a huge contribution from the students at UCT, with 1500 students working for the Education sector and around 800 students working on Health Care.

Jonathan Hoffmanburg - member of SHAWCO

We had two sessions today, the first one by Jonathan Hoffmanburg, who focused on education in South Africa and more specifically in Cape Town. One statement which actually touched us is “Volunteer students are the light houses of the organization”. He introduced some statistics and one of the interesting fact he mentioned, that only 1% of the students from township schools enter the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Jonathan King -Active medical student for SHAWCO

The other session was given by Jonathan King, a 5th year medical student and board member of SHAWCO. He was talking about health care in South Africa and concentrated on MDG 6(HIV/AIDS and other diseases). Some of the reasons which are increasing the numbers of infected people are consanguinity (incest), intergenerational relations, less use of condoms and promiscuity (multiple partners).

Two major activities by SHAWCO are the mobile clinics and educational centers in townships around Cape Town. During the afternoon we got opportunity to visit them.  In “Khayelitsha”  and “Nyanga” we experienced how the volunteers from all over the world are helping them to improve their basic skills (such as numeracy and literacy) after the school with the children.  At both places the children, the project coordinators and volunteers gave us a warm welcome, answered all of our questions and enjoyed our visit as much as we did.

The last course of the day was visiting one of the township mobile clinics in the evening. There are six medicine students and a doctor along with a pharmacist working as volunteer five days a week to look after twenty patients per night.  These clinics provide free services   and medicines after working hours for the people who don’t have money or time to go to the regular hospital. We were impressed by the motivation and energy of the volunteers who donate their time after a hard day at University!

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Day 5 – First “out of the box” South African experience

Written by Gabriela Motroc & François Firket.

Today, we experienced three different South African Schools (one High School of Maitland and two primary schools of Khayelitsha) which brought us several insights on the South African society. Maitland High School addresses the needs of townships students and refuges students. During our visit, we met with students from all over Africa who shared their feelings and concerns with us. Asked on the difficulty to confront the challenges generated by school while getting little inputs from their parents, the students expressed with a lot of maturity their willingness to work hard and achieve their life’s plan. They insisted particularly on the fact that education constitutes their only chance to escape from poverty. The students added that although friends from your neighborhood could have a bad influence on your capacity to fulfill your goals, you are the only one to determine your destiny. We would hardly expect such life insight from European student of an equivalent age.

After leaving the high school, we headed towards the biggest townships of Capetwon called Khayelitsha. Upon our arrival, our guide took us through section D of the townships. While moving around these temporary house made out of woods and plastics, we tried to grasp the living conditions of the inhabitants. In the first primary school of Khayelitsha, we were positively surprised by the quality of the teaching material. Soon we understood that the school enjoyed the support of generous donators. There, we met a British volunteer who was busy teaching English to pupils of the school. In South Africa, only a few people have English as their first language. Therefore, literacy in English seems to be a major burden for South African kids. In the second primary school, the quality of material was not so good and as if the poor environment would not be enough, safety is another issue. Lately the school had suffered from several robberies.

Overall, we had the feeling that the appearance presented to us did not match the reality which inhabitants of the townships are facing. Growing up through such area, it is no wonder the South African education system is so unequal.

A wider selection of images:

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