A day in the townships of Cape Town:
Most of our trip has been spent visiting the city, markets, restaurants, and scenery of Cape Town, but this week our trip took us on a different adventure. We visited Khayelitsha, a township located in the western cape of South Africa. It’s known as one of the most poverty stricken areas with a population of 2 million, which raises to 4 million if you include the squatters.
Our visit to the township started when we picked up Elise, she was our guide through the township and helped explain some of the things we saw. We were told we needed Elise because outsiders weren’t allowed to enter or visit the townships without a guide which actually made me a bit nervous to how the residents would react when we visited their community.
As we slowly entered the township and started taking everything in around us my eyes began to tear up. To imagine living in the conditions that they were in instantly made me feel sad. Most people live in shacks so close to each other that if a fire started the whole township would burn; others live in small houses that they’ve waited years to get, and businesses are operated from small storage containers. Garbage and sewage fill the streets and barbed wire and iron fixtures on windows are a commonality. It’s a community like no other I’ve seen before. I felt so helpless and almost like an invader as we slowly drove through their communities.
Elise continued to talk and share stories about the township and her passion for wanting to move here from Germany and contribute to the growth of these people. We continued driving and amongst my sadness I suddenly realized all the smiles and waves that we were receiving as we continued through the township. Our first stop was at a small daycare where as soon as we stepped off the bus we were welcomed by children who ran up to us with bright smiles and hugs. They were so excited and eager to see us. They performed some songs for us and my eyes began to tear again. To feel the joy and happiness of these children who have so little immediately warmed my heart.
Our next stop was at another school where we were welcomed by smiling faces, high fives, and big hugs. My favorite part at this stop was watching their teacher show them all the gifts we brought. Their reactions were priceless!
Our last stop of the day was at the Nobatu Centre, a community center that operates as a daycare and after school center that incorporates education, crafts, and even ballroom dancing into their programs. We had lunch and then were invited on a walk around the township. Again the smiles and waves and even “Americans we love you!” made me feel so welcome into their community.
During this walk we visited an orphanage that’s operated by the government and the children here are children who have had to be taken away or removed from their families. The number of small babies and children that were living there completely broke my heart. Finding out that they can only stay there until they are 6 years old and that the rate of adoptions was so low put me into a state of complete sadness. Knowing the love and support I feel from my family and realizing that these children could possibly never have that once again brought tears my eyes.
We continued our walk and returned to the Nobantu Centre. The children had prepared some entertainment for us and were eager to share. They sang, danced, and even told stories about the history of their township. These children were brilliant and immensely talented. Their passion and effort into everything that they did was felt throughout the room and even gave me chills. Their program ended with making us all partake in some dancing with them. When they were done we presented some gifts to them. Their love and appreciation for everything we brought and did for them was strong and genuine.
We spent the rest of the evening dancing, playing, reading, and just laughing with them. These were some of the smartest, nicest, and hardworking kids I’ve ever encountered. Never in my life have I been hugged by 8 children at once before this trip. There were several times that I had to fight back tears but this time it wasn’t because of sadness. The joy that I got from spending time with those children was just so powerful. It’s an experience that I may never really be able to put into words but the feeling was incredible.
When we were getting ready to leave, the children made it a point to hug all of us. The room was full with “thank yous,” and “I love yous.” And most painful, “see you soon,” or “when are you coming back?” At the time it was a sad thing to hear but now I look back and feel happy that I was able to touch their lives in such a short period of time.
As we entered our bus to take the short ride to the uYyesu Unathi Centre where we spent the night during our stay at Khayelitsha, the children smiled and waved. As we drove off, silence instantly filled the air on the bus as we individually tried to interrupt what had just happened. To say that Khayelitsha made a powerful impact on my life is an understatement.