Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amasango & Eluxolweni

Today the WAC kids had our first "core course" of the semester. It was interesting. We were just given a brief overview of South African history since 1994, a talk on "anti-Americanism," something I think we've all encountered in small dosages, and then Jason, a former Rhodes student from Buffalo came to talk to us about the "real" Grahamstown. He talked to us about safety and places to help out around town. He is especially involved with the Amasango School for Street Children, a local school that gives street children the opportunity to learn even if they have abandoned school in the past.

Jason has volunteered at the school and the affiliated shelter off and on for the past two years. Following our lecture he offered to take us up to the shelter to meet the boys before they went to bed. We walked up there and we were introduced to the "dodgy" parts of town, mainly anything past the cathedral. The area was very different from those around campus or on the upper stretch of High Street where the shops and restaurants are. For once since I've been here I felt unsafe, but luckily our guide was knowledgeable about the location. When we arrived at the shelter we were immediately greeted by at least half a dozen smiling faces. The boys, ranging in age from lower elementary to late teens, greeted us each individually. They were interested in shaking our hands, learning our names and asking us how we were. The boys then gave us tours around the home, showing us the bedrooms and the kitchen. My tour guide took me by the hand and showed me his room and his bed and then proceeded to break-dance for me. It was very exciting! All of the boys crowed with the six of us in a small hallway. We all talked and they danced for us, it was a great moment.

Something that really struck me was an older boy wearing a Washington DC sweat shirt. The shirt was worn and in poor shape, but that wasn't what bothered me. It was heartbreaking to know that this boy has never visited Washington DC and that most likely that boy will never get the chance to visit our Capitol. Being privileged enough to be in South Africa in the first place makes it harder to put yourself in their places. As privileged as I am being able to afford to come to a place as beautiful and exciting as South Africa, this experience, and similar ones in the future, will stick out more in my memory in years to come than the trip to the beach or our prospective trips to Cape Town or Addo. To me, the life that these children lead is more foreign than any lion or elephant could ever be. It may sound pretentious or snobby, but I think that most people would agree. There are few places that I know of that could compare to the picture we've been painted of the daily lives of these young boys. I may be naive, but I think that it would be difficult to find a fourteen year old drug addict who is routinely involved in begging, stealing and stabbings in the States. Luckily for these boys there is a place like Amasango where they can go to stay safe during the day and continue their education. We met some boys at the shelter who "graduated" from Amasango and are now in high school in the township. I think that's so inspiring.

I plan now to volunteer at the school. Although the children are dangerous and often difficult I do not think that they deserve to be forgotten. Jason informed me that there are far fewer girls at the school than there are boys and that often they are very much forgotten and neglected, so I have elected to teach an art class for just the female students. He and I both think that the girls will be very receptive to the art, but also to a female presence. I am very much looking forward to this experience. In addition, I will be leading a sort of weekly art therapy session at a local adult AIDS center in town. There I will engage the patients in artwork and then lead a discussion in the end allowing them to practice English, which is usually their second language. I knew that I would be coming to South Africa to give back to the community, but I never thought that South Africa would be able to give so much back to me. I've only been here for a week and a half and already I have learned so much in and out of the classroom. The people are genuine and kind, the landscape is breathtaking and every day is just becoming more and more eye opening.