June 23, 2019: This weekend, we spent a day taking a tour in Langa, one of South Africa’s oldest townships which is just under 30 minutes’ drive away from Vrygrond. There, we learned a lot about the culture, with a crash course in drumming, a dance performance (including gumboot dance) from the kids involved with Happy Feet Youth Project, and a scrumptious feast cooked by a woman who opened her home to us. 

Though it isn’t very far, Langa looks entirely different from Vrygrond. Our tour guide explained that a lot of people choose to stay in Langa and build a life, including small businesses. This gives me hope for the community in Vrygrond: that with the proper supports put into place, they too can make substantial developments and become a better place to live. 

Below are some photos of the performers from the Happy Feet Youth Project:

Performance of the gumboot dance, originally developed by mine workers. The dance involves rhythmic stomping and tapping on rubber boots.
A group of girls performing a fast-paced dance to the beat of a djembe (drum).
Gumboot dancers from the Happy Feet Youth Project socializing after their performance.
A couple of young children from the neighborhood taking in the excitement after watching the performance.

— Kristen

Moments to live for.

As I continue my journey in Cape Town, I fall a little more in love. Each and every day I gain more knowledge about Cape Town and about myself through this experience. The township of Vrygrond and Overcome has specifically impacted my life by changing my perspective of the way I view circumstances. Investing my time in the township outside of the crèches has allowed me a chance to make connections and build meaningful relationships with the people in the community. Painting, dancing, talking, working, sharing cultures with the children was not only fun and exciting but it was truly a life changing experience. 

Creating the mural in Overcome was amazing because I was able to contribute to adding more beauty to the area. Working alongside children and families in the community, and being a part of their togetherness was awe-inspiring. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, sharing themselves and their homes. The people of the community were just as curious to learn about me as I was curious to learn about them. It was an educational experience by learning to distinguish between the different accents of Xhosa and Afrikaans, learning words such as Molo! (Hello in Xhosa), learning how to properly secure a child on my back using a cloth and learning new dance moves has been the highlight of my time here thus far. My goal is to continue building relationships, to continue partnering with the people I’ve met and to continue to give myself wholeheartedly to this experience. 

Da’Keisha Allen

A Calling

Photo by me taken at Muizenberg Beach

It’s been good to be back in South Africa 🇿🇦. I have participated in the program for 3 years and once visited on my own. Each year I have visited has been different, which I am very thankful for.

It’s great to be back because I have the privilege and honor to continue with the crèche I volunteered for in 2017. The name of the crèche is called Little Angels Educare Centre where Sellina opened the doors to her home to serve the children and families in her community, Vrygrond. Sellina is the principal and teacher of her crèche and her program has expanded from the last time I have volunteered. Principal Sellina serves children from 0-6 years old and has 2 new committed teachers, who are fully invested in teaching and caring for children. They are currently enrolled in college to learn more about teaching young children. It is good to see how teacher Sellina is fully committed to her work because she has described it to be a passion for her and something she has been interested in since she was very young. 

Being part of her program has blessed me in many ways because I have been able to meet and get to know the children in her program and learn from the teachers, teacher Promise and teacher Lebo. They are also very eager to learn from us. In July they are having a Christmas in July celebration with other crèches in the community, and included us by asking us to teach them a Christmas song, so my partner and I suggested a song in Spanglish “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano. The teachers were so excited about singing a couple of verses and Spanish and started practicing right away with the children. 

In a recent workshop we had with True North, NGO in the community of Vrygrond, the leader described our field of work as a calling and not just a 9-5 job because when one knows this is one’s calling, he or she approaches their day-to-day job with a different mindset and approach. I think of the teachers that I work with in the crèches who not just show up because they know this is their calling and have a passion for what they do. My hope is that I can support and encourage them during my time here. 


– Mid Trip Reflections –

I cannot believe that it is already almost half way through our trip to the beautiful country of South Africa!

Over the past few weeks it has been incredible working in the classroom environment, learning about the cultures of the township and building relationships with the children/teachers. At both Little Lambs and Come One Come All, I have felt very supported and welcome in this loving community for learning. Between the countless songs, activities, and morning rings, both the teachers and children of the crèches bring such a positive attitude and excitement for learning together, which is extremely contagious.

This enthusiasm for learning and community building has really driven me to be more present and intentional in my work inside and outside of the classroom both personally and professionally. With this motivation and support, the teachers of the crèches have been very encouraging in bringing activities and ideas into the classroom, which has been really exciting! Not only that but I cannot emphasize how amazing it has been getting to know the children and establishing such meaningful relationships each and everyday at the crèches. I am so grateful to be a part of such an impactful program here in South Africa, and I am looking forward to the weeks to come, to continue collaborating with the teachers and to make learning more engaging for the children! 🙂

– Courtney Ockershausen

My First Thoughts

For my first entry I will be writing about my first couple of weeks working at In His Footsteps, one of the two crechés I have been assigned to. At this site, there are clear space limitations present. The larger room has been split into two classrooms with around 26 children in each. The outdoor play area likewise faces challenges with space, so much so that it would appear impossible for there to be enough space for the children in a classroom to be able to play without running into each other. The lack of teachers present in the township reflects the classrooms in the creché as well with only one teacher per every 26 children.

These are some of the challenges facing the site, yet the teachers and staff have found ways to work past these challenges in order to better the service they provide their students. They work tirelessly to use what they have to create a positive learning environment for the students. On many occasions the teachers will use recycled materials to create learning materials for the children to use, such as using plastic bottles in an activity that involves creating animal banks for the children to take home and use to save money. The students have likewise learned how to not only avoid each other within the cramped conditions present, but have also learned how to manage the limited amount of space to maximize their ability to play and interact with each other. They expertly weave in and out of different situations, everytime flawlessly avoiding collisions and continuing their play.

The atmosphere that teachers and staff have created here also resemble less a work environment but rather resembles that of a family. Each teacher respects one another and constantly communicate and have created daily routines that fairly share the space their classrooms inhabit. They likewise teach and manage their respective classrooms in ways that respect the shared space, often having their classrooms take turns being outside in order to help provide a quieter atmosphere inside for book readings and other activities that require a quieter environment.

While I have only been at the site for a few days as I only work at this site on Mondays and Wednesdays, I have already been integrated into the classroom by the teachers and have begun to feel less like an outsider and more like a member of a family. Moving forward, hope to learn from the teachers and likewise aim to provide them with support in the classroom. This experience has this far been an emursive one and I look forward to working alongside the teachers and students alike.   

-Steven Corona

My Odyssey Begins

Better than I what I expected. The beauty that surrounded me in South Africa took my breath away when I had awoken to my first sunrise. The sight of the mountains, the sound of the waves, as the wind blows passing through me I can sense the reality that I was officially standing in Muizenberg, South Africa.

My first week in the crèches of Vryground, I went in fearing that I would not be easily accepted seeing as I am an outsider then I come to find that I had actually nothing to worry about. I was greeted with nothing but hospitality from excitement, to hugs, to openness, to laughter. I am given the opportunity to explore another world that I had never truly known of its existence and I hope to share my knowledge with the teachers and children, but also to gain a new set of knowledge that will help me grow into a more cultivated human being.

Children will be children wherever they are in the world. They are full of life, energy and an indescribable spirit that when nurtured they can become an imperative part of our future. This here is exactly what I have so far seen through observing the children and teachers. Although my two crèches (Rainbow and Nourish) are extremely packed with a high student to teacher ratio in a smaller than average learning space, the teacher’s still manage to acknowledge every child giving them each a moment in their day to be heard and seen. Regardless of what background they come from, they show up to the crèches with their spirits high and ready for their day knowing they are arriving into a safe space.

-Phouthavady Minakhom

My week

It’s my first time in South Africa, and so far I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with joy with all the magic I see in the people and the children. This past weekend I had the privilege to work on a mural in one of the cretches. For three days including youth day, we spent our time painting, playing games, dancing, and being a part of these children’s lives. I feel like the children left just as big of imprint in my life as I have in theirs. They told me stories of their life and dreams they have for their future. I experienced so much magic within those three days that I was a bit sad it was over. 

At one of the sites I serve, I have this teacher that’s about my age. Her name is teacher Meghan. She first gives off a serious demeanor as we are getting to know each other a little more each day. This week she brought out this powdered paint activity. I was quite surprised with her powered art activity because usually the kids spend there days coloring or drawing. I really enjoy her method of mixing it up in the classroom. I love that she’s full of ideas and wants to work together to create more sensory activities for the children.

Welcome to Vrygrond

One of the first things that I noticed about Vrygrond was how resourceful it is. The township is more than just housing, but also small businesses. Heavy tires are placed on top of tin roofs to hold them down in the wind. In the crèches, they have made soccer balls out of paper tightly bound by thick tape.

The children’s imaginative play is fascinating and gives me some insight into the children’s experiences, interests, and what is pertinent in their world. Some examples of the imaginative play I’ve observed here so far are children building a toilet out of blocks, building a road by filling the gap of the pavers outside, and even a childbirth (not pictured), complete with complications and a doctor.

Asking the children to draw pictures of their families was a great way to help me learn about them. One thing that stood out to me was when a little boy told me that he had three fathers. Coming from San Francisco, I would have assumed that two fathers were same-sex parents, however, when I inquired about the third, the teacher explained to me that they consider grandfathers as fathers as well.


Hello, I’m Baaaaack!

What a wonderful feeling to be back!!

South Africa stole my heart in 2018. My experiences in the township last year are irreplaceable. That is what makes this trip all the more exciting!

This year I am reassigned to the same crèches from last year: In His Footsteps & Overcome Educare. Being back felt as if I had never left. Most of the children who I worked with last year were still there! We all recognized each other and saying hello filled my heart with so much love!

In His Footsteps has come a long way since last year. They have redone their crèche and have added another classroom. The teachers seem to work very well together. It was mentioned that Candice, the principal, had been an amazing and collaborative leader. That is so vital in the universal challenge of teacher retention with in early education.

On the first day in the crèche I saw teacher Wendy using a group deep breathing technique to calm the children before morning ring. Once we were able to sit together during nap time, I shared my work with mindfulness and stillness that I have been implementing  in my own classroom. I told her how impressive it was watching the children calm their bodies with deep breathing. Her connection with all 25 children is incredible. She is able to make every child be seen and an individual despite the large ratios. I am so excited to see where these next two months take us. I have so much to learn from Wendy!

At Overcome, I also felt back at home. One boy from last year walked in to the after school care and hugged me like he just saw me the other day! I looked at him like, “You remember me?”. He just smile and nodded and kept on putting his things away. I spent over an hour in small groups with some children working on a math puzzle. On girl was so eager to push herself to figure out the equation to find the matching piece. We finished the puzzle 3 times! She saw me using my fingers to help her with the addition and subtraction. When I returned from a bathroom break, she was working with another child and I saw them trying to use their fingers to add! I felt so at home and in my element working with the children.

I was also able to lead over 20 children in a deep breathing exercise. The class was very hyper right before bed so I decided to read them my book “Quiet” by Tomie dePaola. That was the first time I ever read the book to a class. The children realized that the stillness of the book required them to be calm. At the end we all sat and did deep breathing while the children were called one by one to use the toilet and go to bed. The energy level was so calm. It was very gratifying seeing my research being effective in that challenging moment.

The dynamics of the classrooms is different from home but the children are universal. They want to be seen and they want to learn. That first week was so uplifting and a great reminder of why I have chosen to return to South Africa!!!


HeArt Work

As the plane touched down in South Africa my nerves quickly grew and my mind began to wonder. I was eager to return to the city of the motherland, which had welcomed me with open arms, this time last year. Reflecting on what had brought me back I remembered a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine. It was during graduation, right before we walked the stage and received our degrees. As we spoke about my experiences which drove my decision to reapply for the program, I confided in her the guilt I felt about the financial burden this trip caused for my and I. My friend reminded of something I had forgotten since returning to the busy city of San Francisco. A piece of me that stayed behind in the township of Vrygrond…..My heart

This transformative experience which impacted my perspective on life and the way I view teaching. Here, I connected with individuals who no matter their circumstances, valued their well-being and always were hopeful for another day.  This allowed for the opportunity to form true and sincere relationships, which blossomed into a sense of family as the first week of my trip came to an end.

Orientation Day

During our meet and greet with all of the principles of the creches  and staff members of True North, the principle of Rainbow Educare shared a few words. As the room fell silent, I felt a sudden change in energy. She began by welcoming everyone in the room, then said a special thank you to our group of brave, and generous San francisco students.  She continued to share words of encouragement, and read a poem that was near and dear to her heart. As she spoke, I was reminded of why I chose to return to South Africa. It was the power that love holds on the world, and those around us. This same power transcends the township of Vrygrond and the SFSU students, every year.  

I am grateful that although this is my second time back, it still feels like my  first. This years group, of amazing educators brings forth a new and powerful force, of unstoppable change agents. We are eager to gain an understanding of the community we serve, as well as collaborating on our wealth of knowledge, to create sustainable resources for not only the children and teachers, but for the families.