Walking out the airport doors in Cape Town international airport brought back a wave of emotions. The familiar sounds of people shouting in Cosa and Afrikans along with the sights of a sunny blue sky with table mountain in the distance just brought a sense of overwhelming happiness and excitement. There is a unique vibe in this country that just grips you, its a feeling of relaxation were people do things when they need to be done and no one is in a rush to be anywhere. It’s a common scene to see 5 council workers siting by the side of the road under a tree, there trimmers at the way side,when they are supposed to be cutting the grass. They never look like they have any intention of doing any work but at the same time the grass is always cut. People seem to roll to the beat of their own drum were rules or constraints aren’t at the forefront of their thinking. There is a sense of expression in the air where people are encouraged to be themselves unlike in Belfast as young people are pushed to think in certain ways and conditioned to behave in a certain manner. South Africa was the opposite, i got a feeling the restraints of back home had been left behind and shackles were off as this group of twelve young people were free to truly express themselves.
The group gathered themselves at the front of the airport ready to board their mini bus to take us to George, as we did we had a good laugh at Courtney's statement about thinking she was jet lagged as her legs were sore after the long flight. We left the airport and made our way up the motor way out of Cape Town where reality strikes and you are confronted with one of the largest Townships in the country known as Kylishala were around 800.000 people live in a space the size of Newtonards. Kylishala can be described as a couple of miles worth of township homes, we would describe them more as shipping containers with every house being unique because of extra timber being patched on to were it was needed and all being made up of a variety of colours, some even had satellite dishes although you can be assured very few had TV’s. These were peoples houses and in many ways it was their normality.
I sat towards the front of the minibus and enjoyed the electricity that had spread around the group. Young people and staff alike were buzzing, jokes and banter were flying , the sun was shining and DJ Paul McCusker had the music pumping. It felt as though the trip had officially begun.
As the bus made its way up the mountains leaving the beauty of Cape Town behind i noticed from mile to mile small groups of people lining the road. These groups varied from small families to groups of adults. They were hitchhiking, some would stand with pieces of fruit such as an apple or an orange in exchange for a lift. I also noticed that some of these people would just be walking up what seemed to be an endless road, I mean we would drive for ten minutes without seeing a house or building yet you would see people just walking and into it they had no shoes on either. I looked at these people with pity and sorrow asking were could they possibly be going? Is this small piece of fruit all they have of any value? is a small piece of fruit all they have to offer?
In my head I began to ask similar questions about the group. What has this group got to offer? Will it reach its final destination and fulfil its potential?
I looked around the group and analysed their character yet again this must have been the 100th time i had done this since they had been selected but this was the first time on African soil. It was made up of so many personalities all with their own individual skills and qualities, all with so much to offer yet so much to learn. I watched them smile and enjoy each others company at this moment I was filled with confidence and it was right then that i knew this group of 12 young people were about to achieve something special…..
Although not knowing what their first day had in store the group were up raring to go ready to take on what South Africa would throw at them. As the group approached the township of Tembelettoo nerves began to set in and there was some anxiety in the air however this did not last long. The group had arrived to Sunday mass which was a mass like no other.The first hour of the service was spent singing and dancing with the locals. I sat back and admired the attitude of our young people as they pushed themselves so much, within 15 minutes they had made their way to the front of the church hall and danced with local men women and children, as i said the shackles were off. It was was this attitude and determination that paved the way for this life changing trip. This was optimised by the Mr. and Mrs. motivators of the group. Pierce and Chelsea were a true inspiration in the township, as was all the group, however these two were relentless in their work with the young people of Blanco. Their attitude was one to admire and it was simply “I've waited a full year to get here and I plan to live every minute with these young people as though its my last”. After 6 hours with kids of Blanco and in 32 degree heat these two were still playing games and dancing around, I don't know were they got the energy from but I just sat back and admired.
The attitude of the 3 lads Brian, Aidan and Uel towards the manual labour in the township that day also struck me and it was nothing short of outstanding. Through their hard work on the first day not only did they help build a fence but they built a bridge over any barriers that would face them in getting the group to build relationships into the community of blanco as they earned the respect of the adults. This connection through hard work illustrated the approach of our B2B team. It was visible throughout the trip they understood they have one shot at making this an amazing experience and without doubt they took it.
“Man in the Mirror”
For me from a youth workers perspective this trip was about development and growth. What these twelve young people could learn while going through this once in a life time experience came down to their own personal learning. The power of this self learning could be seen in the awakening of the sleeping giant. From day one you could see a sense of freedom in big Gerry Magee, he was in South Africa after all. He pushed himself continuously and he reaped the rewards. His confidence grew day by day as he learnt to be himself or we could go as far to say that he learnt who he wanted to become. Conor like Gerry worked hard being the person that he always wanted to be and I believe he achieved this. With every member in the group there is separate story of self development and growing as a person but there was certain moments that stands out for me, a goosebumps moment if you like was from Laura Donnelly. When Laura spoke on the 3rd debrief session you could hear a pin drop as the entire group was in awe. Every group member hung on to her every word as she spoke with so much passion , honesty and control. This demonstrated to me the impact that this trip can have on a person’s confidence and self belief. I can honestly say that all members of the group made it a priority to look at the man in the mirror and work hard to make any changes they felt necessary and I feel privileged to have been part of the journey that made those changes happen.
“People Help the People”
Throughout the week the group worked so hard around the township of Blanco. They grafted up in the park doing cleanups and fitting new play areas. They dug up gardens and cleaned out community containers. The group were very active in feeding the sick at the clinic and ensuring the most vulnerable in blanco had food. I think from the outside when people back home think of youth groups going to Africa they think thats great our young people going out and helping the less fortunate, but is this really the case?? Throughout the week i was toying around with a question in my head Are we helping the people of Blanco or are the people of Blanco helping us??
I firmly believe that the people of Blanco gave us much more than we could ever have give them. The prime example of this can be heard in “ The Story of the Three Aidan's”. Aidan from the B2B team built an amazing relationship with a young boy named Aidan from the township. As the week went on the relationship grew and Aidan shared with the group that, that young boy’s father had died and he took him up to see his grave in Blanco. This experience was one of great significant Aidan related this to his life back in Belfast as he related to his little Nephew also named Aidan. Aidan made a couple decisions there and then that he had to become more involved in his young nephew’s life and that he wanted to become a positive role model for him. To me the relationship between Aidan and 3 year old boy from the township of Blanco has challenged him to think, evaluate, grow and make positive changes in his and his nephews life surely this is more help than us giving a child in Blanco a packet of sweets???right?
For me and the rest of the group we have learnt how valuable time is. Time is something that can be given and through giving this time we can share affection and emotion. The beauty of this is that it’s all for free. Ethan also spoke passionately about his learning and how to give time and not materials as this is what people truly need and I echo this. The people in Blanco don't have much but they have each other and they shower each other with time, affection and emotion. This has definitely changed my own attitude and outlook. This brings me back to people who i seen hitchhiking and those walking. I seen them again as we left George and headed back to Cape Town but this time I didn't look at them with pity or sorrow. I looked at them with a smile on my face knowing that they might not have much material ways but they have the greatest gift which is each other. Also it is never about where people are walking to but who they are walking with.
“We got the Love”
For me the group have been nothing short of fantastic and this is what has made the trip so special. The unity within this team has been its major strength
“Unity is stength, when there is teamwork and togetherness wonderfull things can be achieved”
It has been an honour to be a part of something so amazing. We had a group who comforted one another when times were difficult and supported each other through every challenge which was put in-front of them. Everyone had their part to play from Katie caring for everyone in the Township to Pierce keeping everyone laughing. If everyone out there could have a small piece of the substance which this group has been made up off they would be rich in ways that money wouldn't be needed.
This group had it all and they definitely had the love to see this trip through.
“Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”
The real test for each member of the group starts when we go home. This trip is about taking what we can from it and using it to improve our own lives and achieve our new dreams. The thing is with life we got to expect barriers that can hold us back however we must believe that there is no barrier too high and that any climb is achievable, you just have to ask Jodie Burns. Im excited about were this amazing group of young people go next, they have got to keep driving forward and if they continue in the manner which they have done the past two weeks then they can scale the heights of table mountain yet again.
You may have noticed that for the heading of each paragraph i have used the titles of well known songs. These are all songs which different members of the B2B 2015 team brought into the group for us to listen to and talk about, as the saying goes, “Music are what emotions sound like”
If you want a deeper insight into the spirit of the B2B 2015 team and what drove them to achieve so much I would encourage you to listen to the songs. I would also bet that you might take some life lessons from them also. All I can say now is that it has been a pleasure to reflect on this amazing journey and it has been a privilege to have shared it with such amazing people. I was planing on complementing the staff team on how amazing they are but I know I have rambled on as per usual and think their heads are big enough anyways.
“Do what you love and love what you do”