Author Archives: Milan Padilla

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 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 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 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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Day 4 – Hoofd schouders, knie en teen

Written by Meike Berben & Freddy Renisch.

How to keep the participants awake after four days? Use a nice Dutch song and do some movements as well:

Hoofd, schouders, knie en teen. Head, shoulders, knee and toe
Knie en teen. Knee and toe.
Oren, ogen, puntje van je neus. Ears, eyes, tip of your nose.
Hoofd, schouders, knie en teen. Head, shoulders, knee and toe.
Knie en teen. Knee and toe.

At first sight, this little song might seem like the perfect energizer. And yes, it is! However, when you think about it for a while, the song suddenly has a deeper meaning.

`Hoofd` stands for all the knowledge input we got today. Firstly a presentation was given by the Agency for Refugee Education, Skills Training and Advocacy (ARESTA). ARESTA is providing refugees from different African countries with e.g. English language courses, life orientation, HIV/ AIDS workshops, CV checks, and assistance in legal matters. In the afternoon we had a workshop about MDG 2 (Education). The main conclusion was that although South Africa is doing well in the achievement of the MDG (enrolment, literacy rate and completion rates are high), the students are still underperforming due to poor quality of teaching.

`Schouders` symbolise the cohesion in the group and the cooperation with all the local organisations.
Today we also welcomed some friends from ‘Canada World Youth’, Mozambican students and South African exchange students, who participated actively in the workshops the whole day. Furthermore, the African participants could provide `the facts behind the figures`; personal experiences in their educational systems.

‘Knie en teen’ stand for stepping forward and undertaking actions: we started with some facts about the educational system, became aware that there is still a lot to be improved and gained inspiration to make a contribution. Finally we thought of concrete activities to undertake during our school visit of tomorrow.

`Oren, ogen‘ represent all our observations and experiences. These can be very small things, such as a view on the townships next to the modern airport of Cape Town or a ride in a third class Cape Town train that made us realise that we are just about to discover South Africa and that we are slowly opening our minds and deepening our understanding.

´Puntje van je neus` finally stands for looking further than your ´own nose´. For the first time AEGEE is looking ´beyond Europe´ and we are opening ourselves to new experiences as well. We are very conscious of the fact that the past few days have been an introduction and that the real confrontation with South African society is just about to begin from tomorrow onwards, when we are going to visit schools in a township.

A few more impressions of the day:

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Day 2 – Cape Town Welcome

Written by Julia Hoffmann & François Firket.

Today we had a first piece of South African soul. After a nice breakfast, we left by train to the city in order to visit the office of the UTRS – Unity for Tertiary Refugee Students – looking at all the programs which this organisation has developped to answer the needs of young refugees in South African higher education. During a presentation by UTRS, we learned to understand the difficulties, particularly financial, which refugees are facing when they want to study in South Africa. This organisation supports refugee students throughout the academic year to avoid the risk of having them drop out of their studies due to financial concerns. In addition, it tries to change education policies in South Africa to provide some help to refugee students. Finally, after their studies many refugee students experience difficulties to find a place to work. So UTRS assissts the graduated refugees in finding jobs.

After the visit we experienced a very relaxing afternoon and headed up to the centre of the city. There we passed through some souvenir shops before discovering the amazing view of Table Mountain under Capetownian sunshine. This cathedral of rock is dwarfing the city and making an impression on anyone looking up from anywhere. All the communities are colouring the busy streets through their daily activities.

Before getting to the fortress, Mandela’s face on public posters reminds anyone of the path to freedom. This road away from apartheid which the South Africans underwent and resulted in a society where anyone regardless of the colour of his skin is having equal rights. We will see in the next days to which extent this ideal has been realised.

Some more pictures of the day:

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Day 1 – The long way to Cape Town

Written by Milan Padilla.

It was a very long way to Cape Town for all of us. We met all together at the international airport in Frankfurt. The flight to Cape Town had a stop in Istanbul and later in Johannesburg.
Excitement kept growing when we could see on the inflight screen that we are slowly leaving Europe and we were flying over Turkey, Kenya etc.

We arrived first in Johannesburg for a refuel stop and reached our final destination another two hours later. Christian, who had already spent over a month in Cape Town in order to prepare the Case Study Trip warned us about how bad the weather was. We were more to happy to be welcomed by warm and sunny weather all day long. Cape Town airport was very calm on that Friday. A cool and refreshing breeze came when we left the hall and entered the bus to our hostel.

Our accommodation is far more beautiful than anything we could have expected. We will spend the next two weeks in Observatory. Observatory is a part of Cape Town located three metro stations east of the city center. It is frequented by students since it is very close to the medical campus.

In the Riverside Lodge (though there is no river close by) we have rooms for 3-4 people and a number of common rooms. Palms outside of the house add to the relaxed atmosphere. It’s certainly a good place to relax after a long day out.

During the rest of the day we went outside and had a look around the whereabouts. We were all more than grateful that the facilitators meant to give us a smooth start to the trip. Our first impressions are scarce but this is going to change with each day. We all hope that we will be able to grasp what South Africa is like.

Preparation on all fronts

With the Case Study Trip to South Africa less than a month away, preparations for all the task forces are fully underway. Flights are booked, task forces distributed and strategy papers and workshop planing are being made. This newly established blog will help you to getting a full coverage of our efforts for the UN MDGs.