Songs, Dance, and Community Giving

McKenzie Caborn
McKenzie Caborn
Courtney Bess

This morning, we had the privilege of meeting with the talented dancers of Wynberg High School. As we walked into the auditorium, we were greeted with open arms. Eager to share their love of dancing with us, they performed two numbers from their upcoming recital. Not only did they dance with great precision, but also with vibrant passion. Their smiles were genuine, their hearts open, and their spirit contagious. Infected by their enthusiasm, we later took the stage and sang Circle of Life. During the song, the energy in the room escalated as the students clapped along. By the end, the Wynberg students were on their feet, applauding with excitement. This experience highlighted the way in which performing allows room for vulnerability and therefore increases the opportunity for new friendships to emerge.

These friendships were enhanced when the Wynberg students joined us on stage and taught us a dance. The room was filled with laughter as we attempted to keep up with them. Fortunately, it was less about the accuracy of the steps and more about the camaraderie of the moment. The experience exemplified the true meaning of community.

Interacting with Wynberg High students

We desperately tried to prolong our time together as long as possible, but we were eventually forced to go our separate ways. The next few minutes were filled with heartfelt words, affectionate hugs, and even tears. We never thought it would be that hard to say goodbye to people that we had only known for an hour.

The most remarkable aspect of this encounter was that it was an unexpected addition to our itinerary. This made the experience all the more meaningful. The high school students of Wynberg High taught us an invaluable lesson: opportunity for connection is everywhere. We must simply find the courage to open our hearts to all that the world has to offer.

McKenzie Caborn and Courtney Bess

Aaron Storrs
Mount Madonna and Wynberg High students

Today we went to Wynberg High School. We had no idea what to expect from this visit since it was set up at the last minute. When we met the students they exemplified a key aspect of their country, the ability to make us feel immediately at home. The second we walked in the their eyes lit up and they started greeting and hugging us. This shows how open the people of this country are and how there is such a willingness to welcome others as friends.

After we spent time interacting, the Wynberg high students performed a dance for us. Then they watched us sing. Singing has become our main tool for relating to people. After this we had a huge dance party where you could see our two cultures joining together and how much we have in common.

Aaron Storrs

Kabir Ahluwalia

Last night Ward very casually said, “We are going to a high school for an hour in the morning.” Even before that hour was over most of I knew that this was my favorite experience of the trip so far. The group of students we met from Wynberg High School raised money to go on a trip. Additional funding from the government was needed to make the trip possible. A week before their trip the government cancelled, but this was not going to stop these passionate children. Their story was circulated and when Ward heard about their plight Sawubona Project donated money for their trip.

Fun with students at Wynberg High

The students at Wynberg High are nothing like kids back home. Each one of them was a little beacon of light, bringing hope and passion to the world. It was inspirational to see the talent this group has. As Ryan would say, “I was pretty amazed, because it was pretty amazing.” But their performances weren’t the defining aspect of this group. We immediately bonded with them; really we were just extending our large family. It is sad to think that these children, with so much talent, potential and passion, don’t have the same opportunities we have. It makes me sad to leave members of my family behind with only memories to truly connect us.

One thing has been proven by each experience in South Africa. At Fezeka High students in the choir said that us just coming to see them gave them so much inspiration and hope. Pregs Govender, Desmond Tutu, and Chaeli Mycroft all explained that one person can make a difference and that small actions can make the largest impact on peoples’ lives. Through our interactions with the kids at Wynberg High, this was made apparent. You could see how important us being there was to them; their faces lit up when we applauded them, and when we danced together. The friendships I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had are all part of why I said yes to this opportunity.

Kabir Ahluwalia

Blythe Collier

Ever since our arrival in Cape Town on Monday, I have been surprised by how welcomed we have been. Our journey to Philani confirmed and strengthened this feeling. As we drove through the streets, smiling faces looked up from their daily lives to wave enthusiastically as if we were close friends they hadn’t seen in months. The children were the most animated, running after the bus, waving continually. When the bus finally came to a complete halt, the young crowd waited at the doors, jumping excitedly. As their enthusiasm became more and more contagious, we were unable to control our own. We leapt out of our seats and ran through the doorway into a sea of welcoming little hands that reached out for multiple high fives. Soon we were all laughing, sharing games and hugs, as we travelled in one large group toward the work area.

Blythe with a new friend

Working was a completely different, yet equally enriching experience. I ended up helping at the women’s clinic, cleaning and moving furniture. I was unsure of how to help at first but soon I was adopted by one of the women working there. She showed me how to clean the floors without leaving soap behind, how to sort files in boxes and how to move the furniture without running into everything I passed. Later, during the goodbye song, she took my hands and pulled me in to dance, smiling all the while. Afterwards, as I was leaving, she encircled me in a tight hug saying, “I had such a good time working with you. Thank you.” When she ended the embrace she looked me in the eyes and asked, “Will you come again?” I nodded and said, “I hope so.”

I left Philani, wishing it weren’t time to go. I felt like our work was unfinished. I had simply helped to clean a room. There was much more that could have been done. My other classmates voiced these same thought, wishing there was some other way we could help. The whole experience left me more determined. Not only to do everything I can to spread awareness about what Philani does but also to do more back home. I will never feel like I “finished” my job here, but I will strive to do as much as I can.

Blythe Collier

Kellyn Cardinal
Allison Ota

Today we visited Philani, a non-profit children’s nutrition organization in Khayelitsha. We were two of four people that had the honor of accompanying two social workers on home visits. The social worker’s job is to go door to door in the township and figure out what families need help. Families with malnourished children under six and mothers to be, receive weekly visits and any medication needed. There’s also a routine weigh in of the child to track their progress or lack of progress.

Shock, curiosity, contribution, and nerves are just a few words that best describe our experience in the township. Our first stop was a small, cracked shack with debris and trash surrounding it. As we got out of the car, the neighbors eyes landed on us. We immediately knocked on the door to a house that was smaller than both of our rooms.

Playing with toddlers at Philani

After the introductions, one of the social workers spotted people who wouldn’t leave the outside of the house. She began to feel unsafe and rounded us up, telling the woman and child we would come back later.

As we continued our work, we encountered many of the same surroundings. Just the bare minimum, no bathrooms, leaking roofs, taped together floors, and poor sleeping conditions. Although the parents and children we spent the day with had little material goods, they had big welcoming hearts. All the families we visited allowed complete strangers into their homes and greeted us with warmth.

Our experience left us with mixed feelings. We felt unappreciative and selfish for the things we have. We’ve now seen extreme poverty up close and know that we need to appreciate all we are given. Just little things like light, heat, clothes that fit, and the love and support of our parents are things that many of the people we met did not have. We realize we have taken these things for granted. While feeling over privileged we also feel blessed to have the opportunities and lives that we have.

Kellyn Cardinal and Allison Ota

Quincy Mitchell

So far on this trip we have been received with generous hospitality from everyone we have met. Desmond Tutu and Pregs Govender gave us generous helpings of wisdom. Fezeka and Wynberg High gave us generous helpings of culture. And Novalis and the Chaeli Campaign gave us generous helpings of inspiration (and food). We have been given so much no matter where we go in this beautiful country and so it seemed only right that today would be a day for giving back.

Bringing donation bags to Philani

We drove into the townships and were greeted by happy children as we pulled up to the entrance to the Philani Nutrition Project. We immediately set to work, the first job being to unpack the 9 duffle bags full of donations we had brought from Mount Madonna and sort them into boxes. After that we set to work various labors assigned to us ranging from lifting and moving a heavy wooden chest of drawers to helping the employees weave various crafts that would be sold in the Philani gift shop. There is no doubt that we worked hard and we were able to complete many tasks for the staff of Philani that they would not have had the time to complete because of all the other things they have to deal with on a daily basis.

While I’m happy about the work we accomplished, I know we could have, and should have, done more to help Philani as thankfulness to them and to give back for all the warm welcomes we have received.

Philani does so much for the people of the Khayelitsha township and spends countless hours trying to improve their lives. It is sad for me to know that as our thanks to an organization that has created positive changes that last a lifetime, I was only able to contribute 2 hours of short term improvement for this charity that deserves so much more.

Quincy Mitchell

Nicole Nascimento
Palak Bhatnagar

When we pulled up to Philani we were greeted by about ten kids, ages one to six. They stood outside the bus while we were pressed against the window, waving back and forth to each other. We eagerly waited to get off the bus and interact with them. As the two of us got off the bus we both reached out and scooped up a small child. They overwhelmed us with their excitement and joy.

Once inside Philani, we were quickly given an introduction and split into groups. We happened to be two of the four girls that got to go out and experience the township. We have been driving past townships since we landed and have been continuously warned of the horrible conditions that people there live in, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to witness. During our drive the social worker informed us that there are over 705,000 people living in this one township. Khayelitsha is one of countless townships in South Africa.

Nicole and Palak with kids at Philani
Nicole and Palak with kids at Philani

The first shack we walked into was smaller than each of our bedrooms and housed nine people. There were piles of dirty laundry but not enough water to clean the clothes or for the people to bathe in. The mother and the child were so upbeat that we were surprised to find out how malnourished the child was. We soon learned that the majority of the children we encountered were malnourished and had fluctuating weight that needed to be monitored weekly.

At one home we visited, we were both concentrating on making a young infant laugh when we noticed a toddler peeking out of the door. It was clear that she wanted some of the affection that her younger sibling was getting. She opened the door and began to drag her body toward us. Watching her struggle made us realize that this toddler was paraplegic. Nicole asked the mother if it was okay to go get the girl and after she said yes Nicole went and swept the little girl up in her arms. A big smile spread across the girl’s face. We were taken aback by her genuine joy. It made us think about all the times we have been unhappy for the smallest reasons and here this little girl was satisfied just by being held.

This whole experience made us think about several things; the value of education, how lucky we are to live where we do, and how little suffering we have actually been through. We can not imagine how hard it must be to have to depend on nothing but a system and luck to survive. We can not even attempt to comprehend how helpless it must make you feel when you can’t feed yourself or your children.

Our lifestyles are far too different to even compare. It is sickening how much more we have materially. We have everything we need back home and yet we are never satisfied. In a way, we actually felt a little envious of their ability to be happy in even the harshest conditions.

Nicole Nascimento and Palak Bhatnagar

Shacks in Khayelitsha township, Cape Town

The first thing you notice, if you have been trained for life in Northern California, is the garden of large plastic soda bottles peeping up through the long tufts of green grass. The street, up and down, is empty except for rivulets of water from the morning rainstorm and the pungent odor of trash fires drifting on the wet winter wind. The door is a red piece of wood with a latch, and the walls are cracked turquoise stucco. Looking down so as not to twist an ankle as you cross the threshold, you see peeling brown linoleum, badly joined, rife with splintering plastic and places to trip.

Sit down, no the bench is wet, sit anyways to be polite. Nbulelo has a real kitchen. There is something like a small wood hutch, and a low table with a neat and tidy two-burner hot plate. A stack of clean dented pots and colorful plastic cups is placed exactly on top of the stove.

The hutch has a tin tray with two garish red roses, set carefully in exactly the middle of the shelf, and an assortment of cheaply made china animals lovingly placed. On the right are two beds, a queen and a twin, sagging, draped in worn brown linens. They are made nicely. Nbulelo’s baby is on the twin bed, staring at the new visitors with liquid brown eyes, curious. Her two kindergarteners, a boy and a girl in ragged sweaters, skip happily around the house, showing-off, poking their heads into every corner of the used wardrobe by the bed and finding things to imagine with. They have all the energy of excited kindergarteners, and in the blink of an eye they’ve placed a milk crate on a pillow in the middle of the bed and are balancing on top, searching for something on top of the wardrobe. I tell them kindly to be careful and come down.

Nbulelo, I think, is their older sister. She is skinny and looks to be about fifteen. No, she is their mother, and she is twenty-two, I am told. Carefully, lovingly, she removes the baby’s clothes. Although it must be very cold, the baby does not cry as she skillfully transfers his little body, naked but for a beaded necklace, into a rough blanket. The workers with us put down a scale and hold the baby while they weigh Nbulelo, then hand her the baby. They spend some time looking at a growth chart and chatting with Nbulelo in Xhosa, a language that has clicks and long notes.

The kindergarteners’ happy energy, the small mother, and the fussing baby fade and I cannot stop staring at the tray with the roses. I remember so many times in my life when things seemed to be too much and I would just take one tiny part of my home and make it perfect, like an altar of hope and serenity. I remember being 22 and having my own home to make beautiful for the first time, and how that felt. In my heart I feel for just one moment, the small pain of not being able to afford something for my son that I want him to have. A fancy summer camp; an overpriced educational toy…. Suddenly tears well up as I realize how it would feel to not be able to afford food for your son.

I fight them back because this is Nbulelo’s house. Her place to make a life. I fight them back because I am wishing I could find the right words to express my respect for her, for her beauty and strength and dignity. Instead we simply take her hand and say “Thank you for having us in your home.” Because Nbulelo’s house is a home.

Lisa Catterall

2 thoughts on “Songs, Dance, and Community Giving”

  1. Our planet is a remarkable place. It is full of remarkable people, most of whom the world will never know by name; they will have no fame or fortune that our society teaches us to covet. Now you are beginning to see these faces and hear their stories, and they yours. Where will you go from here? How to carry forward your discoveries? Who is the richer person – and what makes them so?
    I kept hearing her voice in my head as I looked through the posts and photos of your interactions – a quote from Mother Theresa, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Share your great love, be present for it. Sending mine to you, too.

  2. Your writings detail the amazing journey you are on and the power of honest communication. Here’s to hoping your generation will make the world a more tolerant, diverse, and loving place.

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