As many of you will already know I have been greatly anticipating the arrival of a Project Trust partner, thankfully he has now arrived and is settling in to the project. When he first arrived he was understandably quite nervous especially around what, at times, can be quite an intimidating environment. He has done so amazingly well in just the 3 weeks he has been here especially in dealing with high pressure situations and learning the very complex Boys’ Town treatment system.
Myself and two other staff members picked him up from the representatives house in Joburg, he was full of enthusiasm which reminded me of the excitement and nerves I felt when I first arrived in this amazing country. From that moment I knew that my placement would never be the same. Over the past 3 weeks we have formed a friendship which goes from strength to strength and we are getting to know each other a little bit more each day. Every PT partnership consists of looking out for each other, being the sympathetic ear at the end of a bad day and most importantly being a good friend. Sharing the everyday experiences of working with challenging youth has brought us closer and we use each other as tools to come up with ideas to deal with situations and help the boys as best we can.
Luke is beginning to build a bond with the boys and is gradually gaining their respect. We have to make sure that we have the same tolerance level towards the boys which at times can be challenging but the boys see us as one team which is a sign that the partnership is working. Luke has added value to the work I have already done with the boys and as a result I think over the coming months our relationship with the boys will become stronger and more effective.
Having someone my own age to talk to is a very welcomed change, knowing someone has my back and will listen to my tales of woe is very reassuring. Having him here add a little bit of normality to my life, we can talk about things that are going on in the UK or even just normal teenage chat. All the fears about having a PT partner were put aside within a day, all the scenarios I had in my head couldn’t be further from the reality.
In other news I am currently working on my second progress report which will be issued a little bit later than advertised but should hopefully be done by the end of the month. Thanks to everyone who has helped me over the past 5 months with their words of support and thank you to the other PT volunteers who were the soothing voice at the end of the phone. Lastly thank you Luke for giving me an amazing 3 weeks and for being a room mate, PT partner but most of all a good friend. Here’s to the next 7 months!
South Africa was brought to tears at the death of the father of the nation Nelson Mandela. South Africa’s people mourned and the world lost an icon. He was a man loved by many; although his people may have never spoken to him they loved him like a father. His struggle was their struggle, his pain was felt by the nation and far beyond its shores, his sacrifice for what he believed in inspired millions. He fought for what was right against impossible odds even at the expense of his liberty, dignity and family.
A few weeks ago I was working at the Boys’ Town camp where we had a day devoted to Madiba; we watched the funeral on the television and held prayers for him. A lot of the boys really engaged in the day and understood that they were a part of history. When we went on outings the radio was always playing songs which had been requested by members of the public in memory of the great man and as we drove past homes and places of business flags flew at half mast. I find it amazing that I have the honour of working with this new generation; a generation that hasn’t experienced the pain of apartheid, a generation that is free to integrate and work together for a better nation.
For some of the boys it is hard to appreciate the sacrifice the Mandela made for them and those who will come after them as they have simply lived at a different time and only their parents and guardians have any experience of life before 1994. Because of him they ride the same school bus to the same school where they will be taught in the same class. I can’t help thinking however that this is the way Mandela would have wanted things to be; I think he was a very humble man and he believed that everyone should have the same rights without having to say thank you for them. Perhaps the fact that the boys and millions of children like them have little knowledge of the past is a part of the nation moving forward; people are afforded the same rights from birth and equal rights is no longer a new thing.
I got to see the Mandela movie here in South Africa which was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Idris Elba portrays Mandela brilliantly and Naomie Harris conveys the struggle of Winnie Mandela straight to the hearts of the viewer. The film doesn’t hold back as it shows the violence and bloodshed during the era of white supremacy. Countless times I was astounded at the treatment of Mandela and his family by the government; of course we learn about these things but the film really creates a picture of what it might have been like for the Mandela. What I liked most about the film is that it included the plight of Winnie Mandela during Mandela’s imprisonment. Winnie’s battle against and hatred towards the government was very touching and her unbreakable spirit really moved me; she had been taken from her children for over a year, her husband was incarcerated and she was subjected to brutal treatment yet not once did she falter, her pain became the fuel of her fight.
South Africa now faces a future without Mandela but the lessons he taught this nation and indeed the world must never be forgotten. His leadership, perseverance and forgiving spirit is something we can all aspire to. We are afforded human rights, not because we have earned them but because others have fought for them, Nelson Mandela was one of those fighters and we can only hope there are more Mandelas in the corners of the world where human rights are being violated or taken away.
Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another – Nelson Mandela
On Sunday we took the boys we have left (the ones going to camp) to the Rhema church and it was like no other church I have ever been to. I was astounded to see hundreds of people all together in one congregation. The church is very impressive with its own auditorium, mainstream television show & Network which reaches over million homes. There was a great range of people with different races, ages and backgrounds all coming together as a community. The church caters for children with a youth church and a children’s church which are held at the same time as the main service.
I walked into the auditorium to find a concert feel with a full band and choir on stage performing. People were up out of their seats dancing and singing, they all seemed so content and happy. After a good half an hour of performance the infamous Pastor Ray took to microphone and he announced the service schedule. He introduced Lulama Xingwana who is the Government Minister for the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. She spoke about the “16 days of activism” campaign currently being run by the South African Government. The campaign tackles violence against women and children, sadly the campaign has become necessary due to the ongoing abuse this country suffers from, Minister Xingwana describes it as a “scurge”. I was moved by her determination to get rid of the abuse of women and children. She conveyed her passion to everyone in the room and planted a seed against violence that will hopefully grow into a culture against abuse.
The church was holding a wellness event so two doctors (husband & wife) took to the stand and told everyone how important it is to stay healthy and the fundamental responsibility of knowing your HIV status. South Africa suffers greatly from the HIV virus and all of the South Africa volunteers were trained and briefed about HIV and it’s prevalence in South Africa during both training and orientation. It was lovely to see two people who were clearly devoted to their job and to each other.
Everyone there was happy; even though the world outside those doors is tough and there are hardships they forgot about all of that and came together in song. The sense of community was amazing and reminded me of why caring for those around you is so important. There are parts of the UK where people don’t even know their neighbours, people don’t even greet each other. The thing is you never know when you are going to need a helping hand so why not start by putting a Christmas card through their door? Maybe even host a Christmas party? A very wise man once said “a life lived in fear is a life half-lived”, fear of each other is what divides a community, it is only when we work together in unity that we can achieve great things. You are a part of the community on your street, in your country and one of 7 billion people worldwide. We all have a responsibility to work together to make our street, country and world a better place to live in. This is the season of goodwill so it is the perfect time to get to know people, meeting new people is one of my greatest passions; it is such a privilege to get to know another persons interests and story. So get talking because your next best friend might be right next door.
Sunday will be the 1st of December and the start of the Christmas season. At this time of year all around the world there will be volunteers thinking of home and the ones we have left behind. I am sure that our families back at home will also be thinking about all of us. Nearly 300 homes will be that little bit quieter, there will be one less place at the table and a few less presents under the tree.
The shops here are already dressed for the festivities and it is a very odd site to see shop workers wearing Christmas hats in this heat. Having a hot Christmas will also be a very welcomed change from freezing weather that chills you to the bones. I have discovered that the weather in South Africa is just as unpredictable as the weather in the UK. We have been getting storms like I have never seen before and lightening like strobe lights. The other night it was so bad that trees were falling and there was flooding. I never thought I would experience such weather in Africa.The next day it was back to the usual warm weather that South Africa boasts.
I will be spending Christmas with my fellow South Africa volunteers in Cape Town after being with the boys for the annual Christmas camp in Durban. I will be taking a 24 hour coach from Durban to Cape Town arriving on Christmas eve! This is the first Christmas I will be spending with friends and I am really looking forward to it. We will be able to sympathise with each other as we will all be missing pulling crackers with our siblings and eating chocolate until we feel sick.
From a very young age we buzz with excitement for old St Nick to climb down the chimney and leave us some presents, as we grow up we start to realise the true meaning of Christmas and that is being around those we love at a time when the weights of the world don’t matter. Spending Christmas & New Year with my fellow volunteers will certainly be different but not a bit less meaningful.
So here’s to the parents & family who support us in everything we do, they are the soothing voice at the end of the phone, the people who send us packages full of home comforts and the ones who love us unconditionally. Thank you for your commitment, your love and your compassion, but most of all thank you for letting go and sending us out to this amazing, diverse and eye opening country.
One of the best things about an experience like this is you get a chance to discover the person within you. This experience was always supposed to be my new start and the beginning of how I want to live the rest of my life. Since I have been here I have felt a change within me, I have a new found sense of responsibility and I am starting to find out the kind of person I want to be. Part of that responsibility is realising I have made mistakes in my youth and how it is important to learn and move on from them.
Part of the Boys’ Town model is designed for spiritual growth and getting to know yourself better. Having been here for nearly 3 months now I feel as though my life is gaining clarity. Living with the boys is like being a big brother and for the most part we live like a big family; we eat together, learn together, go out on trips together and every thing we do is as a unit. I am so grateful to the boys for being a part of this big extended family.
It has been 3 months of discovery for me. I have discovered an amazing, diverse and culturally enriched country that welcomes the rest of the world with open arms. I have discovered a project and dedicated staff who help develop and change the lives of 42 young people every day. I have discovered extreme poverty in the informal settlements where people live under a few millimetres of corrugated metal. I have discovered new friends in my fellow South Africa volunteers and bonds which will last for years. I have discovered that I want to work with disadvantaged people all over the world in the field of international development. I have discovered I can do things I never thought I could do.
I feel like this place is a good place to grow, adapt and find the inner me. I am seeing things from a different perspective and, dare I say it, I am becoming a grown up. I am still me, just a better me, a me that has matured and is finding out things he never knew about himself. I have days where I doubt myself and think what on earth am I doing but then I think of all the things I have learned and achieved in such a small amount of time.
I learn new things every day, from how to greet in some of the many South African national languages to how to catch a combi-taxi. At times South Africa can seem like home especially when in the shops and malls of Jo’burg and there are also times when I couldn’t feel further away like when walking in the local town or going past an informal settlement. It is getting hotter by the day and the humidity level is rising, adapting to this new heat is certainly a challenge and I find myself getting dehydrated much quicker than I would at home. The winter chills are now covering the UK and yet here there are blue skies and long sunny days, it seems very strange when I see photos of my friends and family wearing jumpers, jackets and scarves and I am in shorts and T-shirt.
I am still growing as a person and this experience is a great way to take stock of who I really am. I will probably never fully know myself but being here allows me to think about the person I aspire to be. I believe this 12 months will be the grounding for the rest of my life; the challenges I face here will form my experience, endurance and judgement in later life. In African culture becoming a man is the most important thing you’ll ever do. I think being a man is not determined by age but by actions and maturity, I feel like I am now becoming a grown male.
Adjusting to an institution is not always an easy task; your life is run to a strict schedule which is the same every day. Boys’ Town gives the boys in its care a structure to live their life by, the structure is designed to be implemented in their later lives and to give them the best hope of academic success. Being a member of staff here I also live my life following the same structure as the boys do. Having a time for everything has pros and cons.
I have found that living with a structured day allows me to be more productive and make better use of the time I have. Secondly I always know what is happening and there is very rarely confusion about what I should be doing and when. Another benefit is that I will be able to take my structured way of life back to the UK and implement it.
There are however some disadvantages; the structure tells you when to eat, when to wake up, when to go to sleep etc and there is very little room for anything outside the schedule. I of course have free time and the structure is not as rigid for me as I am a member of staff, for example the boys are woken up at 0430 where as I don’t get up until 0745. The days can feel the same though and life often becomes predictable.
When living in a place like this you always have to be in professional mode; living on site means you are constantly under the watchful eye of other people. It is also hard to strike the correct balance between work and life. Living on site does also have a few benefits and the boys really do fill your day up with all their shenanigans. I get knocks on my door for anything from sweets to a bleeding thumb. Being on site also means I am a constant figure in the boys lives, the boys know they can come to me at any time, I am always available.
The Christmas camp isn’t to far away so I will be spending a whole month off project, we are also saying farewell to some of the boys at the end of this month so we will return in January with a few less faces in the dining hall. I am sure it won’t be too long before we have some new arrivals.
Thank you for your continued support and kind words none of this would have been possible without you.
This past weekend was what we call a home weekend; this is when some of the boys are allowed to go home to spend time with their families or guardians. In the run up to a home weekend the boys become very excited at the prospect of leaving Boys’ Town for two nights and think about all the things they will do which they are not allowed to do in Boys’ Town. Many look forward to having a phone, smoking and even drinking. It is very hard for the boys when they have to return and they will display one of three behaviours; they will either play up and become almost impossible to deal with, go quiet for a few hours before readjusting to their environment or will become emotional and isolate themselves from the others for a short while.
Last night the dining hall had a few glum faces in it and the boys have the added pressure of exam time where for some of them their academic future will be shaped in the next few days. I am so proud of them and there are a few who are considering university which only goes to show how much a person can change when given the right help.
I spent time speaking to two boys during supper who were emotional. One of them is particularly young and new to Boys’ Town and this was his first home weekend, the other was not so new but was struggling with other issues on top of coming back here. I can sympathise with the boys as I am away from my family and at time struggle here. In life we have two families; the one we are born with and the one that we create for ourselves. I am not only part of the family on project but also a member of the South Africa volunteers family. We converse on social media, email and even call one another up from time to time providing support and encouragement. Like all families we don’t all get on all of the time but we are all a small part of a greater group and each of us brings something to the table. The boys have also created their own family of brothers here and they can all sympathise with each other as they have all felt the same at some point.
Since being here I have come to realise that there is nothing more important in this world than family (both our biological one and the people we choose to surround ourselves with). We need a base of unconditional love and understanding. Very few people will ever know you as well as your family does and sometimes those you love know you better than you know yourself. Sadly they are not around forever and eventually we go on to find a partner and create a family of our own.
The boys who didn’t go home had another outing to Market Theatre on Friday and we saw Rainbow Scars which resonated with some of the boys. The story follows a white mother who adopted a black daughter, the biological family of the daughter find out where she is living and ask her to visit them. The girl goes into culture crisis and doesn’t know who she is any more. The story concludes with her biological cousin breaking into their house and being shot by armed response security.
December is set to be a busy month with the boys Christmas party, staff party and of course Munster Camp in Durban. I will be at Munster for the first two weeks before travelling to Cape Town to spend Christmas and New Year with most of the South Africa volunteers. I will not be returning to Boys’ Town with a glum face as I will have just a few weeks to wait before a partner is dispatched from the UK.
I hope the next few weeks are kind to you all as I know this time of year can be exhausting and it seems like Christmas will never come. Keep thinking forward and battle on through this last push.
We all have those days when the world seems like an impossible place to live in. Stressful situations cause us to go into a depressed mood and we just want to curl up into a ball for a while. For me today was one of those days; at points disrespect and disobedience can make you feel like you are banging your head against a wall. I remind myself that it is not their fault and that it is who they are, furthermore that these behaviours are the traits we are trying to correct. It is impossible however to be in a consistent good mood and there are days where the boys really begin to annoy you. Don’t get me wrong I am extremely fond of them and understand that it is not their behaviour that has changed but my mood. I have developed coping strategies which enable me to remain professional whilst at the same time letting off steam; skills which I am sure will help me in later life.
I get asked frequently whether I am lonely having been placed alone here in South Africa. The short answer to that question is yes however I have found that loneliness is a very complex emotion and is something that can be overcome.
Being the only Project Trust volunteer on a project does present challenges which my fellow volunteers will not have to face. The first is that I come back to an empty flat every night which in the most part is fine however if I have had a bad day it can feel rather lonely. The other challenge is that I have to make and own every decision without someone to back me up or tell me when I am going wrong. Being here has made me think about older people who no longer have their spouse around and face the rest of their days alone. I now understand why they light up when you come round for a visit and offer you every type of biscuit known to man. Loneliness should never be overlooked or underestimated; man was not meant to live alone we are designed to be around other people for safety but most importantly for comfort.
Now enough misery. There are some benefits to being alone; I can walk around my flat in my underwear and sing terribly at the top of my voice without someone objecting. I don’t have the task of dealing with someone else’s homesickness, annoying habits and bad moods. I have spoken to some of my fellow volunteers around the country and have heard about fridge wars and one word answers, so not having a partner does avoid any messy arguments.
I was visited by a fellow PT volunteer this week and he enjoyed observing the work I do here. It was great to have a little taste of what having a partner might be like. He gelled with the boys quite well despite his stay being brief, I think he liked having new surroundings as much as I liked seeing a new face. It was difficult saying goodbye when he left on Wednesday knowing that I would again be alone. I have told myself to keep calm and carry on and with Christmas around the corner that shouldn’t be too hard to do.
I do sometimes feel like I am missing out on what is a vital part of the Project Trust experience, however it does mean that the boys can’t choose a favourite or play us off of each other. These challenges are helping me to learn skills which will come in very handy in later life. In truth I would of course prefer to have a partner and I have been told I will be joined by a fellow volunteer in January who will stay with me for the remainder of my time here. I have a busy few months ahead of me with the Matriculants (A level students) taking their exams- which will lead to some of them being discharged from us- and also the MUNSTER camp just outside of Durban which lasts for most of December where I will accompany the boys on trips and help out with the daily activities.
Thanks very much for your emails and words of support, they really do give me strength. Stay tuned for further updates and I promise the next one won’t be so woeful.