Note: This blog was written during my time in Cape Town, however due to difficulties with adequate internet connection, it is now being posted.
Ok… class officially began 2 days ago. Since then, it has been the beginning of an emotional roller-coaster! It is kind of hard to believe and describe the range of emotions I have experienced within such a short period of time.
So after everyone had a chance to get settled in- thank goodness I chose to travel a few days earlier- we were introduced to the Educo Africa team that would be facilitating our course for the next 2 weeks. We each were given the opportunity to express why we chose to participate in the course. As noted in my previous blog, I chose to participate in this course because as someone who is passionate about social work and social justice, the course affords a unique opportunity to immerse myself into a culture and view firsthand the social justice work being done post-Apartheid.
The following day we took a ferry ride out to Robben Island, the former maximum security prison where political prisoners like Nelson Mandela were held during Apartheid. Robben Island is now a historical site which reflects a pivotal time in South African history. Our tour of the island was conducted by former inmates of the prison.
We were guided through the facility by a courageous man who spent six long years of his life on the island as a political prisoner because of his involvement in the African National Congress (ANC) during Apartheid. I was honored to be in the presence of such a remarkable individual. As he recounted his days at Robben Island, I was impressed by his ability to forgive and return to a place where he was once held captive because of his beliefs. It was quite moving to listen to the details of what life was like behind the dull and cold brick confinement. He noted that they (the political prisoners) viewed prison as an extension of the anti-Apartheid struggle. Thus, while imprisoned they worked collectively and were strategic in circulating information to keep hope alive. I was in awe of the prisoners’ ability to hold steadfast to their beliefs in a place where it was dangerous to do so.
In addition to our visit to Robben Island, we visited and toured the township of Langa, one of the oldest Black townships in Cape Town. Within seconds of stepping off our van, I was greeted by an air of familiarity. From the cool breeze to the children playing carefree in the streets and around the township, I was reminded of my childhood days in the village of Dennery. I was taken back to a time where I too, roamed freely without a care in the world, laughing and playing with friends.
During our time in Langa, we were able to engage with the residents and learn about some of the cultural traditions. While walking through the neighborhood, signs of economic disparities were noticeable. Homes ranged from nicely built brick houses to what is considered informal housing (shacks), built with materials such as plywood and sheet metal. In spite of this, what resonated with me the most about the township was the sense of happiness and joy displayed on the faces of the children and other passersby I encountered. As an outsider looking in, this was the sought of blissfulness that appeared to be independent of external/material factors. In saying this, it is not my intent to discount or minimize any struggles that individuals within the township might be experiencing. Simply put, I noticed that the individuals I encountered were in high spirits and expressed attitudes that seemed to transcend current circumstances. I soon realized that this was a sought of optimism and resiliency that was occurring in response to living conditions.