Sunday, July 22, 2012


Tomorrow morning, I will board my plane to come home. Leaving South Africa is hard and a very bitter-sweet endeavor. I have learned so much in my year here that it is hard to put into words. Some of my greatest teachers and friends have been my high school students. Their stories, trials, and their absolute eagerness to learn has inspired me in so many ways. My group of about 20 students, meeting three times a week, has become a family; the most lively and spunky one you can imagine. Leaving them makes my heart ache and I pray that they will continue to support each other the way we have all supported each other this year.

Nozuko's school motto is: "The sky is the limit"

My other and most important teachers have been my South African family. Nonzuzo Sibusana, a university student at UNISA, has been my best friend and confidant here and has taught me more about Xhosa culture and about life than I could have ever thought possible. She is 21, but has wisdom and courage beyond her years. She has been my best teacher of language, constantly testing and correcting my Xhosa, my insight into seemingly cultural mysteries, my shoulder I could always lean on, and ears that would always listen. As anyone that has met her can tell you, she has a great sense of humor and I will never forget the countless hours we spent laughing about this or that or Chuck Norris. Nonzuzo and her family have been my family on this side. Their home has been my home away from home. Where I was treated differently because I was American by others, she and her family accepted me as one of their own (instead of treating me like a guest or a walking ATM) and excused many a social faux pa without batting an eye. When I spent time at their home, I was treated just like everyone else and it was wonderful. They will always have my heart and when I come back to South Africa, it will be because of them.

Nonzuzo and me at Tsitsa Falls

Goodbyes are hard and I’ve never been good at them. These goodbyes that I’ve been saying the last couple days have been some of the hardest I have ever experienced because there are so many things left open-ended. I wonder if and when our people at Rotary will get housing, if my students will be able to attend school next year without support from the Project, what Mthatha is going to be like without AMM anymore. I will never be able to come back to this world I’ve been living in this year because it is all breaking apart and scattering to the winds presently.  And if it was going to be hard to let go of this place to begin with, it is infinitely harder now without any closure or a knowledge that the good work being done by AMM will continue when I leave. As they say, though, all good things must come to an end. Life will go on for me and for everyone here. So, Mzansi, it has been real. Ndiyakukhumbula qoqoqo. I will remember you always.


Thursday, July 12, 2012


The conditions at Rotary Hall continue to worsen. Trash is piling up on the fringes, people and their belongings are covered in dust, and disease and body lice are spreading like wild-fire. We are still doing all we can to stay on top on the municipality to get housing for the 200 some-odd people living there. In the meantime, we are still taking bread every day and doing a weekly shop to keep people’s nutrition up. I try to spend some time there with the kids every couple days to play games and offer some kind of entertainment for them, but it is still difficult with the language barrier, even after 11 months’ time, to do any kind of organized activities. People are beginning to get restless and, worse, seem to be losing hope. Looking back at pictures that were taken just over a month ago, it is hard to believe that this is the same lot of people. They look so downtrodden and discouraged when each day brings only empty promises of housing and no results. Going there is like re-opening a wound every day and I get so angry when I think about all of the events that have led to this. These actions – the bulldozing, the displacement, the complete disregard for the dignity of these people – are like events straight out of the Apartheid era when demolishing settlements and forcing people to move was common ground. Only now they are done by the people’s government; brother opposing brother. It saddens me that in this country where there have been many great strides made towards reconciling and righting the past, this kind of stuff is still happening. Though Apartheid is over and has been for 18 years, I think there is still another step; there will still yet be another reawakening in South Africa. The racial tensions and the massive gap between rich and poor are still so tangible and so thick. I was reading today and came across something that Nelson Mandela said that I think sums this up:

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

Though South Africa is free of the bondage of Apartheid, it is still a long way from freedom.

Thanks for tuning in-

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hula Hoops!

I've been taking the hula hoops and balls from the preschool out to Rotary Hall every couple days for the kids to play with in the field behind the hall. We're sharing hula-hooping tricks and I'm getting my butt handed to me at soccer, but it is fun for all parties involved. Some of the kids are really honing their skills and getting insanely good at hula-hooping! How many kids do you know that can walk and hula-hoop while singing and clapping?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rainy Day

It's been rainy and miserable most every day this week. I won't complain too much because we do need the rain, but it has meant that everyone at Rotary have been cramped inside all day, every day. So I just so happened to have this ginormous stack of coloring books and crayons that my friend, Kelsey Willis, sent me a few months ago. I've been sitting on them and waiting for a proverbial "rainy day." Now, we've had 4 actual rainy days this week and they have been the perfect solution! Not only did the kids enjoy having an activity to do, but some of the younger moms got in on the action and did some coloring as well!

Someone had a little help!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sala Kakuhle ("Stay Well" / "Goodbye")

Where to start? In the time between my last blog and this one, much has happened. Almost 2 weeks ago, Jenny was invited to a meeting in Ngangalizwe where she was essentially ambushed by police and angry Waterfall residents. This group of residents demanded the clinic be closed and threatened to come do harm to us if it weren’t (much like they did with the burning of the shacks). The police present said not a word of objection. What choice did we have? We stopped going to work for our own safety while trying to get some answers from the municipality. They were in agreement with the Waterfall residents that the Project should be closed, though with more logical reasons and seemingly better judgment than the mob violence of the Waterfall group. The municipality feared that things would escalate to an even more severe level and that people would be hurt. As well, the Project still being there encouraged people to come back and resettle on the dump. The final word was that we must close. And so we have. The Itipini Community Project is gone. Last week, we cleared out all of the buildings. All of our medical supplies and patient records went to the Ngangalizwe clinic (a government clinic we worked very closely with), our play equipment was broken down and taken to the Temba Lihle children’s home (where they don’t have any play structures), and one of our containers is going to the Themba hospice to use for a new kitchen. Everything else has been put into storage for the time being and we’ll slowly start making our way through it and selling it. For the past few days, our wood workshop men and a few others have been dismantling the wooden buildings so that the timber, doors, zinc, etc. can be sold or used. The place looks like a disaster zone today.

Inside the clinic

Long view of the project

Where the wood workshop and a playset for the kids used to be

Inside the preschool

The rainbow container. No awning, no bench, no people.

No roof on the clinic

In good news, new developments with the municipality have been arising right and left in the last few weeks. They seem to all be small victories to be sure, but they are victories nonetheless and they are steadily getting us closer to housing for those that have been displaced. Jenny met with the General Manager (which is like the vice-Mayor, essentially) two days ago and he gave his apologies for the way that things had been handled by the municipality up to this point. They are working diligently to get housing for the people who are living at Rotary Hall, but are coming up against some problems. There are two areas of government housing, Ilita and Zimbane, that have houses built and available, but those already living in those communities do not want the people from Itipini. When the municipality said they were going to move people to Ilita, residents from Ilita marched at the municipal building in protest. They marched because of this long stigma of people living at Itipini as being the poorest of the poor, low-life, criminal people; a stigma which was affirmed by the municipality when they bulldozed the entire place like it wasn’t home to anyone. They affirmed that stigma when they treated the Itipini residents like they were worthless. They set the tone for how these people should be treated and perceived and now they’re battling against that to find a place for these people to live.

A view of the Ilita housing area. It's not fenced in, I just took this picture from inside the gates of the Ikhwezi Lokusa grounds that back up to the settlement. 

As well, yesterday the Minister for Human Settlement for the Eastern Cape came to Mthatha and had a meeting with residents of Waterfall and also came to the Rotary Hall to meet with our Itipini people there. She is now also working on the issue in trying to get housing for those at Rotary. So progress is slow moving, but it seems to be moving nonetheless.  The show must go on, as they say, and AMM continues to truck along for the time being. We are doing our best to keep on top of the municipality and be a voice for those at Rotary Hall and a liaison between them and the municipality. We are also still helping to feed the folks at Rotary and are doing songs and games with the preschool-age kids to keep them entertained at least a little bit during the day. Their favorite game (and one that requires no equipment) is “Chase Karen Around the Field” – which I have to admit is quite fun!  Singing and playing with the kids in the midst of all of this is I think therapeutic for everyone (I know it is for me). We have take our small joys where we can get them, right?

Singing in the field next to Rotary Hall

Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers. 


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quick Update from the Ground

Conditions for living at Rotary Hall are uncomfortable to say the least. There are a couple hundred people in this small hall and everyone sleeps on the hardwood floor. Some did manage to bring their foam mattresses, but most just sleep on top of a blanket. During the day, all of the bedrolls are folded up along the wall to make space for walking, eating, bathing, etc. There aren’t any clothes lines, so people wash their clothes and lay them out on the blacktop parking lot next door to dry. There are 4 toilets and it’s not clear how often (or if) they are serviced by anyone. People have their life of belongings, mostly outside because there’s barely enough room inside for everyone to sleep. There is no privacy whatsoever and when people drink or smoke, it’s directly in front of kids. Also, when there is drinking and smoking, men start fighting and there’s nowhere to walk away to.

Jenny is working like a hound dog at the municipality to get housing as quickly as possible, but quickly for the municipality could still be awhile.  

The project is running normally and we’re even bringing the preschoolers down from Rotary in the mornings so that they can use their regular classroom space. 

The yard at Rotary Hall

Inside the hall. Note all of the bedrolls lining the walls. 

Serving up some lunch.

Thobeka Kiliva and her son, Nkosivumili.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


In recent events, I have become hyper-aware of outside perceptions of Itipini. I found out early on that when I say “I work at Itipini” to someone in Mthatha, the response that usually comes out of their mouth is “Aren’t you afraid?” Itipini is viewed as the hub of crime and violence where desperate people do whatever they please. To some extent, this is true. The people of Itipini are ignored by their government and fellow citizens and left to their own devices. So, yes, it is a perfect breeding ground for crime and some people take advantage of that. Where people get the picture wrong is when they say that all people from Itipini are criminals and thugs, which is simply not true. A former YASCer, Jesse Zink, summed up some of this (much more eloquently than I can) in his blog.

So people in Mthatha hold this view of Itipini as the one place in town that you would never want to be. Trying to get a police man or social worker to come down to Itipini is like pulling teeth. And yet, somehow in the last few months, we had achieved getting a city counselor down there, policemen down there, a social worker coming regularly, people from the Home Affairs office coming to conduct interviews for IDs, and handfuls of people from other municipal departments. Somehow, with the upsurge of violence in recent months, it seemed like the government might actually be starting to pay attention and, even more, CARE about what was happening there. It seemed like everyone – the counselor, the social workers, the Social Development department, and the Home Affairs department – were going to pitch in to get housing and IDs for everyone. It seemed like they were all going to pitch in to help people get off of the dump.

It seems that finally having the attention of the municipality, though, has come with a price. However, being on the radar meant that when the incident in Waterfall happened, the police and municipality pounced. Itipini, to the municipal government, was always the problem that they just never dealt with. Now they’re dealing with it, but in way that completely disregards the humanity of people at Itipini. The way they’re handing it is dehumanizing, destructive, and utterly reckless. The community was demolished with little aforethought as to where people would go or what they would do. That, however, didn’t seem to be the concern of many people; the exception being one man from Disaster Management who told me he spoke against the demolition at a meeting (on grounds of not having a place big enough to keep everyone) but was overruled by all other parties present. Has this stereotype of people who live in Itipini become so engrained that they are not seen as people anymore? When does smoke start preceding fire instead of following it?