Kaito Hara - Human Rights in South Africa
This past summer, South Africa basked in the global spotlight as the host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. However, the Rainbow Nation symbolized a lot more for me, as I spent 2 weeks there immersed among its wonderfully affable people, diverse culture, and unique geography. I joined 16 other volunteers on the Projects Abroad Human Rights 2-week special, in an effort to witness first hand the persisting social issues that South Africans have worked hard to eradicate.
To get to South Africa, which is located at the southernmost tip of the continent, volunteers including myself traveled great distances. Due to a particularly long layover in Singapore, it took almost 32 hours from my house in Japan to my hosts’. I stayed with the Davis family, who live in Steenberg, a quiet suburban area of Cape Town. There was a total of 4 volunteers staying there, 2 of whom were month long volunteers focusing on teaching and care, and another, Marcus, who was also part of the Human Rights project.
As soon as I arrived, the long-term volunteers took me into Cape Town to watch the final of the World Cup. With the reliable guidance of Meschak Bugaye, a Projects Abroad staff member, we navigated our way to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, where a jumbotron attracted hundreds of viewers. The Waterfront is blessed with vibrant shopping venues that seamlessly integrate with the marvelous vistas of Table Mountain and the Atlantic, making it a buzzing tourist hotspot. The excitement was palpable in the night sky and the relentless drone of vuvuzelas drowned casual conversation. I could not imagine a more suitable way to begin my stay in South Africa.
Our work with Projects Abroad kicked off with an induction meant to orient and familiarize us with Cape Town and its surrounding areas. We each purchased a weekly Metrorail pass and a cell phone, whose austere simplicity was particularly welcome in this age of increasingly complex ‘smartphones’.
Cape Town, as I discovered, is truly a melting pot of cultures and eras, where one can enjoy the traditional roots of African culture amidst the cosmopolitan atmosphere that is definitive of South Africa’s emergence as a major international player. At Green Market Square, we relished the opportunity to bargain, a notion unfamiliar back home. After meandering through the stalls displaying batiks, cultural masks, embroidery, and other souvenirs, we became accustomed to the shopkeepers’ frequent calls of “Hey brother, a special price for you!”. On one of our last nights, we went out for dinner at Mama Africa, a brilliant restaurant on Long Street that serves wild game as its specialty. The blend of live South African jazz (performed by the local group Abavuki) and traditional artwork adorning the walls created the perfect setting for us to enjoy our ostrich and springbok steaks.
When not outside exploring Cape Town’s plethoric wonders, we were busy listening to lectures, researching social issues, and discussing solutions. Stationed at the program’s satellite office in Wynberg, we designed workshops that would familiarize children to their Constitutional rights in an educational yet fun manner. Divided into four groups, we each chose a different aspect of human rights such as Children’s rights, Women’s Rights, and Health and Safety.
Our group decided to focus on children’s rights after a particularly inspirational lecture detailing the frightening lack of prudence in South Africa’s youth. Due to the prevalence of gang violence, drugs, and home abuse, which has severely limited their extracurricular options and degraded their dignity, many children hold no aspirations. We decided that the purpose of our workshop would be to inspire them to reconsider their futures, engaging them in an activity that would allow them to gauge their interests and match them to particular career opportunities.
As part of our project, each group visited a different township: Khayelitsha, Manenberg, or Lavender Hill. Visiting Lavender Hill was perhaps my most memorable experience. It is a township on the Cape Flats, with a population of over 40,000 people, of whom 60% are unemployed. There, we visited Philisa Abafazi Bethu, a development program working to provide a safe place to support, educate, and empower women and children.
One of the staff there led us on a tour through the surrounding areas of Vrygrond and Capricorn. At Where Rainbows Meet, a daycare facility and development program geared to provide children with a safe place to learn, I had the fortune to meet Owen and Leshwin, both aged 5. Like the other children, they were both very excited of our visit, helping us feel welcome in the community. It was ultimately an eye opening experience that struck me with the harsh reality of global economic imbalance.
Despite our desires to stay for longer, our stay was only temporary, and the two weeks quickly came to an end. Projects Abroad did a fabulous job in introducing us to Cape Town, showing us the wealth of its offerings in such a short period of time. I truly appreciate that Dana Myers, the Country Director, took his time and effort to personally visit the host families, because I was able to stay with a wonderful family. Cape Town’s enchanting quality is no doubt the reason why Forbes hailed it as one of the 10 most beautiful cities in the world. And, it is that same magical aura that compels me to return next year, for a longer stay.