On July 18th, we celebrated Mandela Day, an annual international day in honor of Nelson Mandela, celebrated each year on 18 July, Mandela’s birthday. Mandela Day honors the legacy of Nelson Mandela and his values, through volunteering and community service. The Community is encouraged to provide 67 minutes of service for the 67 years he spent fighting for social justice. On Thursday, we spent the morning in our creches working with the children to learn about and celebrate the legacy of Mandela. In the afternoon we worked with The Sozo Foundation to paint a community mural in the Vrygrond Trust community room.
Upon walking into Little Lambs, the crétch I serve on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am greeted by the teachers who, I have become great friends with, and the small class. Rain can be heard falling outside and inside it feels more like a fridge than a warm school. Today there are only around 10-12 students in total, mostly because their parents are on holiday. The teachers likewise inform me that there are usually less students when it rains because the parents don’t want to get out of bed and take their children to school.
The day went on as usual, the children sang during morning ring and then they had time to play with blocks on the mat or play with puzzles on the tables. Yet as the rain continued to fall it became apparent how poor the roof had began to perform. There were leaks all around and in the other room, which wasn’t being used, had a few holes on the sealing. When nap time came by, the mats needed to be sorted through since some of them had gotten wet. Once dry ones were found and placed the children laid down and blankets were placed on top of them.
This day was not particularly challenging. I had already gotten to know the children and they had begun to see me more as a teacher and less as a guest. Rather the challenge came from the fact that the créch had become damp and cold due to the rain, poor insulation, and leaks in the roof. But neither the children nor the teachers took any notice of these matters. Instead, they enjoyed their day as usual, with the children playing and learning.
Today is bittersweet as it is my last day working alongside my inspiration, teacher Abongile. For our final time together, Rainbow Educare threw us a little staff party and sent me away with a heart full of love and a changed mind. Thank you Rainbow for the valuable work that you do, thank you for changing my life and the lives of countless others. I will forever cherish the time we shared together. Thank you teacher Abongile for your passion, your ideas, and for allowing me to grow alongside you and these remarkable children. I will take this blessing of knowledge and love with me wherever I go. Holding you close to my heart Rainbow family ❤️
The day we hiked Lions Head was a great day. We were joined by a few of the men from the SOZO foundation and it was very fortunate because it was a chance to get to know the them in a more personal level. From their stories and insights on how they view their community helped me shape my understanding of Vryground. There truly isn’t a better way to understand where someone is coming from if the stories are not personally told by them. They see Vryground as not a helpless and negative community but rather a powerful community that is willing to strive for what it takes, given the opportunity to make it better for the future of the community. Being around them and their community truly makes me feel as if I am and is welcome to be apart of their community.
The definition of poverty can be defined in many ways. Poverty to me, is something that deprives someone of being able to reach out for their hopes and opportunities. The people of Vryground may be less fortunate than others in terms of basic human needs, but from what I have seen they are full of hopes and dreams. Some may need a bit more guidance than others, but at the end of the day there are plenty of good people there who look out for one another and they care for the community as a whole. The one main thing I have learned, I never should shape my view of the world around media alone!
For three weeks, Dr. Lygia Stebbing led the teachers and principals in an active learning workshop focused on cultivating engaging environments and interactions. Over 40 teachers attended over 21 hours of training. The training began with a focus on brain development and the impact trauma and a warm and caring environment can have on children’s developing brain. The teachers and principles had a great time unpacking information through hands on activities like Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child’s Brain Game. The training then turned to active learning and child centered curriculum – where the participants engaged in thought provoking activities such as building a model of something that would positively impact their curriculum. The teams came up with incredible models made out of recycled materials including a community clinic, a police station, a soccer field and a basket ball court. The teachers and principals were enthusiastically engaged, coming to training with photos of examples of where they have begun implementing the new techniques in their classrooms.
For the past four weeks, youth from the Sozo Foundation team and our students worked hard building an incredible wooden structure with our EDvance hero, and internationally recognized street artist, Libre Gutierrez. We have been amazed by the outpouring of support and recognition this project has gotten – we were on the cover of the Cape Times, in just about every news paper in Cape Town and on TV. This project has taught us all the importance of seeing the strengths in our communities and how art can build community and send a positive message.
Please take a moment to read one of the news articles: https://www.groundup.org.za/article/vrygrond-youth-sculpture/?fbclid=IwAR1_JAxdgfCQiIW5GBF1XixdQv9cggLun_UBLfm8wMx8G1AciyUKquZbwPU
At my crèche, the topic of the week was grocery shopping. On Tuesday my classroom’s lead teacher, Megan did an activity on explaining difference and value using the South African currency, the Rand. Teacher Megan also showed an example of how much things cost, such as apples, bread, and milk. After that the children made their own wallets and created their own money to put inside. I told them to save their money because they will need to grocery shop soon.
During the three week training that Lygia ran for the teachers and principals, they focused on active learning. Using some of the strategies we learned during the process, Teacher Megan and I decided to build our own Pick n Pay grocery store with the children. I got recycled materials such as old milk cartons, cereal boxes, and some use toiletry bottles. I then set up the store in the outside area. I then assigned a few kids to have jobs such as a cashier, a bagger, and one was a grocer security. It was amazing to see the children shop and talk about what they need for their house or for their families. They were really excited to use their own money and talk about the things they bought. The idea of creating child centered curriculum is new to many of the centers, and it has been great to watch this evolve. Below are some of the photos of the children engaged in play and learning.
During these three consecutive days I had a chance to interact with children in the community at overcome. This project was eventful with lots of children turning up and seeing them want to come and help out was invigorating. We had music playing, we danced, played games, painted walls, rocks, and we even did some block cleaning! They showed up filled with excitement, energy and ready to take part. With not very many event opportunities going on in these areas for the children, it was beautiful to see the eagerness and dedication that the children brought to this project.
This was a project that kept the community busy and entertained. No one in the community was obligated to come help out or take part in any of this, but they choose to show up with the desire to truly want to support in doing something positive for their community. Often times, children will be seen wandering the streets without much to do if they are not in school and so this project was also a model for the community to see that children are capable of hard work and with opportunities to join in on activates they can grow into a better self. Having the chance to connect with the children was an enjoyable experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I got to learn and be touched by all the kindness that they had to offer.
Each day in the crèche is a learning experience. The exchange of knowledge taking place in the room adds so much value to the experience. I’m learning and gaining knowledge just as much as I am sharing. From learning how to be more resourceful from the teachers to learning a new song in different languages from the students, I never leave the crèche quite the same.
Taking a few moments to observe and be in the moment with the children is what I enjoy the most of each day. The abundance of happiness and joy, the eagerness to learn, the high energy from the student that keeps me on my feet is the highlight of each day. To hear them laugh, to see the excitement on their faces and to watch them deep in concentration when working on a task is amazing to witness. From singing and dancing to “Baby Shark” to singing and dancing to “Fishing for Jesus”; there is never a dull moment.
As the weeks have gone by in South Africa, I have found myself embracing the community of Capricorn/Overcome and really cherishing the relationships I have established on this trip. Throughout this time with my classmates, my experiences in the crèches and the community art projects, I have gained new perspectives on life which has been very impactful for me on this journey.
More specifically, in the past three weeks our group had the pleasure of working on a community sculpture with artist Libre Gutierrez and the township’s youth organization, the Sozo Foundation. Upon starting, the Sozo group immediately welcomed the team with “open arms” and into their organization’s workshop paving the way in teaching our group how to support in constructing the sculpture. This collaboration and team work gave us the opportunity to interact with teens and young adults in the community and in partnership on this project which was very inspiring.
Each day that I attended the sculpture project, I was able to work with some talented young people to learn something new about constructing or painting which had once been very challenging for me. With this support from the Sozo boys, I was able to experience new creative outlets giving me the confidence to learn and to explore new things! As I reflect upon this project, I am completely blown away by the team and the Sozo Foundation’s passion and dedication to the sculpture. This experience is something that I will cherish and I am very much inspired to continue doing community art projects in the future.
– Courtney Ockershausen