A postcard view of blue skies and a cloud-covered Table Mountain greet me as I pull back the curtains after arriving in Cape Town in darkness the night before.
Waves bearing surfers roll onto the shore as we drive along the dramatic windswept coastline, wisps of sand seeping onto the highway. We turn inland.
As the temperature creeps up on the thermometer, so do the rows of cramped shacks in varying states of disrepair, attempting to shelter their inhabitants from the elements. Litter is strewn along the roadside and the grassy banks, the ditches filled with stagnant rainwater.
This is a country of extreme contrasts: the haves and the have-nots. From manicured suburbs and gated communities to the ‘Townships’, bursting with people and families living in one room. Clothes lines span the corrugated iron shacks and some of the apartheid-era Government housing. Groups of men congregate at crossroads of major junctions, in the hope that someone will stop and give them a day’s work so they can feed their families.
My first meet of the day is with Annemarie Barnard, NewDay’s SA Operations Director. For the past 18 months we have ‘met’ each week over Zoom. It feels a bit strange to meet someone for the first time in person when you’ve met remotely – is there a protocol for such situations?! No! We hug and smile at the illusions which can be created by technology: I’m much shorter and she is much taller than either of us expected!
After meeting with one of the coordinators of the Kolisi Foundation – a partner of NewDay, set up by SA Rugby Captain, Siya Kolisi – we continue to the padlocked gates of NewDay United’s base at Khanyisa Community Church in Gugulethu Township. The CWP (local government workers) who stand guard unlock the chain, before bolting the gates securely behind us.
I try to absorb and process my surroundings and the contrast from where I’ve come 24-hours earlier and even that morning.
I am introduced to a beaming Lucy, who has been overseeing Hluma – meaning ‘prosper’ in the Xhosa language – kids programme since its inception a decade ago. She is preparing for the influx of children when the school day ends.
An enticing aroma wafts through the doorway as ‘Auntie Doreen’, as she is affectionately known, finishes preparing a vat of a nutritious bean stew in anticipation of their arrival.
The kids arrive and hungrily eat their food with a beaker of juice. For many this will be the only meal they eat that day. They happily chat in small groups and beam for my camera – apart from 10-year-old Michael*. He doesn’t mingle with the others and hearing I am British, he approaches and with scepticism asks: ‘Is King Charles your superior?!’ I am impressed by his international knowledge!
As they finish their food, Chris, one of the newest members of the team with a broad, warm smile, who exudes genuine delight to be part of NewDay, greets them before turning on the music. It’s light relief at the end of the day and for many a haven from the dangers of being on the streets after school.
As the music plays Chris encourages them all to the middle of the hall and leads the way as they dance, jump and sing to the upbeat gospel songs – lifting the spirit, as well as the pulse. Some of the older youth use the time and rare access to a computer to do schoolwork.
It’s humbling to see the conditions these children live in. But during their time in Hluma, they smile and laugh as children should. Yet speaking with ‘Mama Lucy’, who knows them all by name, she shares some of their stories and the reality that the smiles hide deeper pain and daily struggles:
Behind the Khanyisa fence, one of the Hluma youth lives in a 2-room shack with 7 members of her family. A menacing dog bares its teeth, drooling and growling as it paces along the corrugated metal boundary wall protecting their home. Aged 14, she is doing well in school and shows much promise, but her family has debts and is unable to pay the basic admin and uniform fees. Thankfully NewDay’s McLean Fund can help.
Then there is Elise*, whose potential was spotted when she was 10. Due to the generosity of an anonymous sponsor, she has a place at her private school and is at the top of her class and has reached the final of the Western Cape Province chess competition this term. Her determination to succeed and seize the opportunities given to her is inspiring.
We visit her family – 5 of them living in a simple 2-bed home, a car without wheels in the yard – perhaps a dream of future mobility? It’s hard to hold back the tears as her mother expresses such heartfelt appreciation that her daughter has the opportunity for a better life than she has. We pray over Elise and her family before we leave.
As Nelson Mandela said: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.’
Later that week, I hear more of what these young children endure: Lucy shares how another child didn’t want to go to school for fear of bullying for the only pair of shoes she has are falling apart. NewDay helps and the child proudly runs to Lucy, excitedly showing off her new shoes. Even though she may not know the word, her dignity is restored.
A couple of weeks after my visit, a letter arrives from her mother. Gratitude pours from the page for the help she has received. Yet no child – or parent – should be in this position.
We leave Khanyisa, and head back before another round of load shedding. These scheduled daily power cuts from an unmaintained electricity grid cause increasing disruption to everyday life. They are now needed across the country to avoid overloading the electricity network and preventing nationwide blackout. Inevitably it impacts the poorest the most.
Part 2 of Rachel’s blog and her experiences seeing more of NewDay’s programmes next week …
*To protect their identity, these are not their real names