#B2BSummer16: Sarahjane Waite Blog

Meeting up at the Rcity Coffee Shop everyone was so excited to start our journey. It didnt feel real that after the weeks of intense fund raising we were actually leaving to go to South Africa. Saying our goodbyes was hard for some, especially those who will be away for a month. Largey even had a wee cry! We had a smooth trip to Dublin & over to Heathrow but got the shock of our lives when our flight to Capetown was cancelled! And so it began.....collecting our bags, bus to a hotel, overnight stay, back to the airport, check in again and finally 11 hours later we arrived. We got another surprise on the bus journey to George, 6 hours through the night with no heating on the minibus. Our initial experience of South African winter & its freezing. We actually weren't sure if we were in the right place and wondering if this was national lampoons vacation lol. Our first day heading into Blanco, 2 car loads driving through to meet Aunt Ebel at The Scheme, the excitement building. It was my first opportunity to see the township. Even though I have listened to the staff and young people over the past few years, seeing it for myself was an insightful experience. Aunt Ebel talked about the poverty and issues that the community experiences, it sounded so similar to Belfast but the reality is very different. I was initially struck by the smell, dumb struck by how many stray dogs roaming the streets and then you see their homes......One room, built like a belfast bonfire hut. No running water, though everyones washing was hanging out to dry as it was sunny day. The children were sitting around outside their doors, most wearing dirty old clothes that at home would be thrown away. For the first time in our trip I began to realise how privileged we all are. Moving round into Golden Valley we were so excited to meet all the children who the teams have been close to over the past few years. When we arrived most of them were at school,wonderful to hear they are able to go to school. In South Africa, children who dont have shoes cannot go to school, they are seen as too poor to attend school, very much the beginning of the class divide. As the children began to arrive I met Twinkle, a girl who many from B2B have grown soo fond of. She is looking amazing, getting big and still has a smile on her wee face. My mate Justine stuck to me for the afternoon, even enjoying a wee feel of my hair, just the way we are fascinated with the feel of theirs lol. The children spend their days in 'the park', a field with a few painted bits of wood that they climb on, a seesaw and a dirty mattress that they treat like a trampoline. The ground is covered in bits of broken glass and most of the children have no shoes on! I loved the look on their faces with just some loom bands and a lolly :-) The following day we headed to the Thembelatu Square Development Project to meet up with the staff, to hear about their programme. I was blown away to hear that they are only started in December and have so many plans. Working with the children in the afterschools, they are teaching the children to trade the recycling that they collect around the township for food. They encourage the children to defend themselves and stay safe through kick boxing, taught by Jeann Mari who is a world champion kick boxer. The kids are not allowed to beg or expect things to be given to them but are taught to save with the programme for clothes and treats. Some of this would be useful for children & young people in Belfast where the 'i want, i want' attitude is so rife. I am so inspired by their work! Meeting the children from their programme this week has been an awesome experience They all arrive after school, have their lunch and then the fun starts lol. We expected around 30 of them, well, they just kept arriving, so many i couldn't even count. The programme has very few resources so we had brought a few balls to play with and some felt tips/paper. The fun they had with it all was wonderful, writing little notes to the team with their names on them and asking us to come back again :-( I cant wait to see how the team get on spending time with them all over the next few weeks. Standing outside in the car park I watched as the older girls giggled, at first i couldn't figure out what they were laughing at and then I realised that they were looking at Megan's hair! They were calling her Barbie doll and wanting to touch it. She said they could and the next thing there was about 20 of them around her, rubbing her head and plaiting it. Some of other kids laughed their heads off as Chelsea showed them the snapchat app, making them all have dog ears or funny faces, their expressions were full of life. We spent a morning at the Disabled Creche in Thembelatu and to be honest all i can say is wow! They have 2 rooms for the children. One room focused on young children with special needs, very few resources and the kids are their each day until 2pm. The leader explained that whilst some of the parents work, others put their children into the creche because they struggle to accept their disability, it was like a flash back to 50 years ago when we had a stigma around disability and quite hard to hear. The fun this group had with the bubbles was unreal, some of the kids were just hugging everyone and one even tried to go in for a cheeky snog! The most difficult part for me was seeing a boy at the back of the room in a wheelchair, it looked like he was having a sleep. The leader went across to waken him, shaking him by the head, im thinking 'what they hell?' and then she just unbuckles him and puts him into a cot. She explains to me that he has epilepsy and is taking seizures. Hard to imagine your child being unwell, having little or no medical care and just putting them to bed while he has a seizure. We often overlook how fortunate we are in terms of health care, yes the NHS can be a bit slow at times but at least its there. One of the little girls is blind so she likes to feel your face and listen to your voice. She loved to listen to Katie, pulling her face towards her and clapping her hands. It was beautiful to watch and im sure one that Katie will always remember. The other room is split in two, one half for older disabled kids and the other half for able bodied toddlers. They were a bit stand offish in the beginning, i wonder what they were thinking when a random group of white people arrived! Within a few minutes the bigger kids were outside playing games and Pierce even made up a few new songs lol #bopbidybop. One of the toddlers liked to push the rest of the group about, the little boss. I watched as he got excited when we arrived with the ball and they all got to play outside with it. Having had both my girls in daycare when they were small, i cant picture leaving them in a place like this one. Meeting the Rcity Blanco group has been another highlight of the week. They have been working away with Ermin & Grace for a while now and if all goes to plan they will be travelling to Belfast at the end of September. We spent some time getting to know each other and of course exchanging instagram & facebook info while Grace cooked a traditional South African Brae, we even had some dance moves on the go with Jerome. Throughout the days in George, we have laughed together despite witnessing the difficult circumstances facing the children here. Im thankful for having experienced the randomness of Tori, some of the things she comes of with are just too good and served to brighten our day when we could have felt overwhelmed with it all. Spending time with Ermin and Grace once more has been fantastic, its been great to have watched and shared in their journey from young people into adulthood and now as staff of RCity Blanco. I feel proud of the work they are doing in the township to support other young people and give them similar opportunities. They are both great parents and an example of how coming from the township does not dictate the person you become. I am soo proud of them both! I have never experienced or witnessed first hand real racism until this week. We have had Grace with us most of the week and I have been shocked and saddened by how ignorant people can be when they see a black woman with white people, we even had a lady storm past us in the supermarket, she should be so ashamed of herself for the way she behaved. A memory I will take from my time here is of a small boy, around 18months old, wearing nothing but a hoody. No trousers, nappy or pants, just letting it all hang out. He just potters around, sitting on the seesaw with his face stinking. Its probably the most difficult thing ive ever seen. We have sent some clothes back for him and hopefully they make a small difference for now but the picture of him with stay with me. As we sit in Capetown, I am thankful for so many things, my family & friends, food in my cupboards & clothes in my back. The truely priceless things that cannot be bought honesty, integrity, compassion, respect for others! Good manners cost nothing and the trivial things that we get worked up about are usually meaningless so why waste your energy, keep you energy for the things which we can change! I hope the rest of the team have an amazing experience, i have enjoyed so much being part of your journey. Now get me home to Waitso & Codie!

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