Visiting Community Projects In The Townships In Capetown With Uthando
“With love and joy, have happiness. “ Xolani from Uthando
Townships are holdovers from apartheid, when non-whites were forced to live in large communities. All townships around South Africa evolved over time, many of them turning into small cities. Unlike a real city though, townships lack key aspects of infrastructure, like sewage, universal running water, and well-organized electrical grids. Townships still exist today, but they’re changing and many have distinct sections of middle-class people as well as the very poor. There is most definitely poverty in a township, but that poverty doesn’t define the experience.
I feel as a middle class white woman that when I travel it is my responsibility to raise my awareness about how ninety per cent of the world lives. My visit to a township will not save anyone from poverty. It will probably not change anyone’s life – except my own.
I was going to be in Capetown with friends and family and I found Uthando (uthandosa.org) on the internet. Uthando is a nonprofit company that oversees many different community projects in the townships In South Africa. I was interested in going but was a bit concerned. There has recently been criticism about this new kind of tourism where visitors are feeling enriched by going to the townships and gawking at the poor standard of living. Uthando is different. Uthando raises money and awareness for the many projects they fund through these tours. You are driven through very poor areas in the townships directly to these programs.
I went with my daughter and some of her friends. We were lucky enough to visit a few programs. We started in Guguletsu. We went to the Zama Dance school. It is run by professional ballet dancers and is in one of the nicest dance spaces I’ve seen. The dancers are focused and trying really hard to follow the strict rules and postures of ballet.
We continued on to the Seniors Project. The women proudly showed us their intricate handicrafts and their beautiful center. Creating their interesting pieces and interacting with tourists gave them confidence, self-respect, some income and a voice.
Xolisa is in charge of the Isikhokelo Primary School Garden Project.
He loves gardening and is teaching the community to grow their own food.
Amy Biehl was an American student from Stanford University who was murdered in Capetown while working against apartheid. Her family and friends started the Amy Biehl Foundation in Khayelitsha to continue her work and help at risk children in the townships. We came after school and there were incredible music, dance, singing and acting programs going on. The kids were really talented. I was blown away by the fact that they were rehearsing Merchant Of Venice.
There was energetic African dancing, incredibly beautiful voices in the choral class and excellent musicians.
After school programs like these promote self-discovery, problem-solving skills, opportunities for positive risk taking, mastery of artistic skills and resiliency.
James Fernie, the director of Uthando, took us around. It is amazing that he has been able to incorporate so many small community programs into his organization.
We only saw a few of them.
One person cannot change the world alone. Development is a much larger and involved process. We are more likely to have small impacts than world-changing ones. I strongly urge anyone going to Capetown to contact Uthando and spend a half day with them.
Whether I choose to experience the poverty and see what people like James Fernie of Uthando are doing to help or not, we still all occupy the same planet. We are all human beings. My responsibility as a fellow citizen of this world is the same, whether I choose to see it and acknowledge it, help in any way I can, or do nothing.