Warming up for DC in South Africa

The Importance of Positivity

Thulani Zwane at Tembisa
Haley Kerr

Getting a chance to talk with Thulani Zwane, the choir director from Tembisa in South Africa, this last week felt like a breath of fresh air in the midst of the everyday confusion and fear. Living with so much uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard; when Thulani surprised us on that Zoom call, it brightened up my entire day. His warm energy brought back so many incredible memories from our learning journey to South Africa in 2019, and reminded me how important positivity is, especially in a time like this.

Not only was it fun to get to talk with someone who taught me so much during one of the most influential trips of my life, our conversation also taught me a lot about how the pandemic is impacting different areas of the world. Hearing Thulani explain his experience provided a completely different perspective. He told us about how people in his hometown of Tembisa weren’t paying attention to the shelter-in-place orders. While there are a variety of reasons for this, one main one is that many people do not have enough money to buy a lot of groceries at once, they need to shop each day. Also, the grocery stores are low on food so people cannot stock up. It is important to talk to people in different places in the world during this time so that we hear other perspectives. It also helps us understand that we are in this together. This pandemic is affecting everyone in some way, and it’s important to see that we will get through this, as long as we all work together.

Think About the Present Moment

Paola Jacobs

Recently my class and I had a Zoom call with the founders of Botshabelo in South Africa. I was personally excited for this meeting because I was curious to know how individuals in a different country were doing during the pandemic. I was also excited to reconnect with Marion, Leigh, and Nicole Cloete, and to hear what they are personally dealing with.

It’s easy to get a surface level perspective from watching the news, but it’s another thing when you are able to hear directly from people. Marion told us that she feels like they are waiting for a tsunami to hit them. One thing that struck me is that while COVID-19 is affecting all of us, not all of us are experiencing it in the same way, and as a result, everyone is handling it differently. At Botshabelo, like most South African townships, they don’t have resources. They have no masks or fabric for making them. Marion said, “There is no way we are going to get resources from anyone down here.” They are struggling to live. Marion was blunt, “If you’re poor, you’re dead.” If you live in a township, then the stay at home order is almost impossible. Imagine being cramped in a dark room with eight to ten people, with no electricity. “The hardest part,” Leigh said, “The fear. It’s terrible. We try to hide it from the kids. But what can you do?”

At Botshabelo in 2019

As Marion explained, part of the problem is that many South African people rely on daily work so they don’t have the choice to stop work. She went on to tell us that some of the practices of the people in charge of enforcing the rules are making the situation worse. Many of the officers at the roadblocks where people have to stop and show ID in order to get through aren’t wearing gloves or masks. They touch the IDs and give them back, potentially endangering each person that passes through. Marion said that it’s unsafe to go out and they do not have the materials to feel safe, but they must carry on. They need to take care of their beautiful community. Botshabelo is a strong community. As Marion said, “We can’t run. We have to turn around and face it!”

I am astonished by the resilience of the founders of Botshabelo, and their ability to look at the bright side of things. I am grateful they took the time to talk to us considering all they are dealing with. I’m glad to be able to connect with them again because Botshabelo has impacted me greatly and made me want to help change the problems in the world. I know it means a lot for them to know my class and I are committed to helping them, and it means a lot to me that I can help! Marion brings a light to everything, even in depressing times. She told us, “Think about the present moment. We always plan for our future. Plan every day as a gift. Share and show your love for everybody. We must do what we have to do to wake up and say ‘I love myself’.”

Moments of Laughter and Joy

Noah Tervalon

On Thursday April 16, I woke up tired and ready to get my day started. After sitting through a few hours of Zoom calls I was ready to take a nap. Despite that, I went into the meeting with my ready-to-engage and with my be-happy-about-it face on. Upon entering the meeting, I was met with a familiar face from all the way in South Africa. Thulani Zwane, our choir master, a bundle of joy and happiness, was sitting in one of the little boxes on the screen. I was freaking out at the sight (music is my love and he is a brilliant musician), as I heard Paola say, “Oh my, Thulani!!! What, how are you doing? What’s up? We miss you!!” Mind you, we hadn’t seen him since our visit to South Africa, and we have been singing the songs he taught us nonstop. We have been singing the songs at school, at sporting events, in vans, on school trips, everywhere we could. Seeing him on the screen in front of me was crazy.

While the call was a check in with him to see how he was doing and learn what South Africa is like right now, it was nice to visit with someone who we made a connection with previously. Most of our class has been sending texts back and forth with some of the kids we met, but there is nothing like seeing someone’s face.

Thulani told us about how in South Africa they are being hit really hard because of how they live, and there are so many shortages of food, water, supplies, really everything. He also said they aren’t really able to follow the shelter-in-place orders for a variety of reasons. He went on to tell us about how he has been doing, and showed us his kids, who we hadn’t met, which was really exciting. After that, we said our goodbyes and hung up.

The whole meeting was really inspirational for me. It brought me back into that South Africa feeling a little bit more than when I am just thinking about it. Meeting with Thulani also helped me remember there is plenty of good in the world, even though everything seems like it is dark and crumbling. The whole interaction, and getting a wonderful surprise from our teachers, was a bright moment in what has been a difficult time. Given everything that is going on, being reminded of good times, and having moments of laughter and joy is a very helpful way to keep positive in these trying times.