ONE YEAR SOUTH AFRICA UPDATE
By Chantal Monique Duson
My time in South Africa has gone well. I am based in Stellenbosch, a city approximately 45 minutes from Cape Town. Over the last year, with the help of supporters at home and friends locally, I have managed to move in to my own apartment and secure transportation. Over the course of a year, I have gone from feeling like a visitor in South Africa to being at home. Reflecting on the last year, I can see that the original goals set forth when I began this journey are being accomplished.
When I set out 14 months ago we defined 3 goals:
1. To continue the relationship and work GAP Community does in South Africa once a year by working on a consistent basis with existing NGO partners.
2. Start a dance program through our partnering NGO, Bottom Up, serving students in the Cape Flats area. This program would be used to encourage young people in creating a personal vision, recognizing their inherit value, and understanding the power of their voice and when and how to use it responsibly.
3. To seek out new opportunities to serve locally and build relationships with new NGO’s.
All 3 of these goals have been accomplished in our first year!
Our relationship with The Legacy Center, based in Kayamandi, is strong and evolving. Legacy Center serves over 120 youth living in Kayamandi. When I started last year, I worked only with their youth. I taught dance to approximately 40 of their students. Initially, not having my own vehicle presented a problem. It was unrealistic to walk in the township (an area known for violence) with my laptop, IPOD, etc; and because there was no other alternative at the time, I stopped teaching dance. I now have transport and am again working with Legacy. I am not teaching dance, however. Due to some of Legacy’s programmatic developments, I’ve been asked to work with mentors, teaching them how to write curriculum for their secondary school mentoring program. I regularly observe mentoring sessions and offer feedback to assist in the progress of the mentoring program. I meet weekly with mentors to draft curriculum and outline sessions. In addition, I have started meeting individually with mentors to offer additional support as they serve their mentees.
BOTTOM UP – DANCE PROGRAM
Our dance program, through Bottom Up, has seen a lot of success. I teach at Perivale Primary School in the Cape Flats, an area infested with gang violence and drugs. In 2014, because the class was launched as a pilot, only grade 7 was permitted to participate, 2 days per week. Class sizes averaged 10 students per term. Teachers reported being able to see a marked difference in their student’s attitudes in class. In October the dancers were invited to perform at Perivale’s 50th Anniversary Banquet, which was attended by several influential people within the community and the Department of Education. Their dance was so well received they were asked to perform a repeat performance at the school’s “Prize Giving”, their end of year Awards Ceremony.
At the beginning of 2015, Perivale’s principal, Mr. Van Graan, opened the dance program up to grades 6 & 7 classes, and increased our days from 2 to 3. We opened the new school year with over 25 students. However, due to the increased gang violence, the dance program has been directly impacted and forced to make changes. Our attendance has dropped nearly in half; many parents have made their children stop attending and require them to come directly home after school. In April, Mr. Van Graan advised that, because of the violence and for the safety of everyone, dance would need to be dropped to 2 days a week. A few weeks later, with violence increasing, Mr. Van Graan lowered our meetings to 1 day a week.
In addition to dance, Mr. Van Graan has asked that I meet individually with specific students needing counseling. I have worked with three 3rd grade students, all who have recently experienced traumatic events. In a recent meeting, 3 more students were identified and referred for counseling which will begin at the end of July, the start of the 3rd school term.
USIKO COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT & YES WE CAN
Lastly, two new relationships have been formed with local NGO’s and with a primary school in the community.
Usiko Community Development is a youth diversion program working with court appointed youth. Usiko offers life skills and mentoring to young people who have had conflicts with the law. At the end of 2014 I was asked to pilot a program with 6th and 7th grade boys. The boys all live on surrounding farms or in local informal settlements. Each participant had to write a short essay on why they wanted to be a part of the Usiko program and answer questions on leadership and the vision they have for their lives. Approximately 60 boys applied and 20 were selected. The program pilot is an early intervention program. None of the boys have a criminal history. Our goal is to establish a foundation for a programming that would work with youth before they are entangled in the juvenile justice system and to show that early intervention is a necessary component to offer hope and change and shift the trajectory of impoverished youth whose lives statistically would perpetuate a cycle of poverty, jail, gangs, etc. I work with the school and the families to gain a better understanding of the issues facing each child and to build a more holistic program.
The second NGO, Yes We Can: Christian Men’s Association, serves the poorest children/youth of Jamestown (a subdivision of Stellenbosch) every winter by providing hot soup 3 times a week. Winter can be quite brutal in Stellenbosch and these children are living in shacks with no electricity, running water, and most often no food. I became involved with Yes We Can when I expressed my heart for children to the organizations founder, Dale Simons. I was invited to ride along, help serve and see where the children were living and in what conditions. After my first ride along, I continued to serve with Yes We Can serving soup to over 100 young people every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Many of the children we served attended school at Weber Primary. Weber Primary School serves the local farm children in Stellenbosch and the surrounding areas. These are children whose parents work on farms in exchange for meager wages and dilapidated housing conditions. More than 60% of the Weber’s population are bussed in from surrounding farm communities. Farm children are some of the poorest children in the Stellenbosch area. A few days later, I visited Weber Primary and introduced myself and GAP Community to the Principal, Mr. Williams. He asked if I would be able to assist with their schools Debutante Ball that would showcase the Grade R’s (kindergarten). The Debutante Ball serves as a fundraiser, in addition to a showcase, and is a very big deal for the school, as many farm owners will donate money. I choreographed a Waltz and a hip hop routine for 60 Grade R’s. The 2014 Debutante Ball was a success and brought in more money than in previous years. I have been asked to choreograph for the 2015 Debutante Ball and can’t wait to start rehearsing in just a few weeks.
This year has been amazing. I am extremely thankful for everyone who has faithfully given to support my time here. I am confident that 2015 will prove to be even more dynamic.
Thank you for your encouragement and support.
-Chantal Monique Duson