#B2BSummer16: Pierce McConnell Blog

Return So here goes, my return to the place where I had felt that there was unfinished business Landed in Capetown at 3am and heard it was meant to be winter in South Africa this time of the year, I thought this was only a myth, so I only packed 2 jackets with me. It is at least 0 degrees when I got outside the airport and believe it or not it was winter time out here. Both times I've been out here before, when you get off the plane it never feels like your here, yet regardless of the months of all the fundraising. With all the build up and the long journey and then as you drive to George the 2 miles of shack’s, huts and bits of timber for houses is a township called Khayelitsha. That's when it suddenly starts to sink into you that your here, you see literally what you picture in your head when you first hear the words South Africa and poor. Seeing is believing I guess, but it all depends on your perspective of seeing it. As this was my second time out here, I couldn't help relate it to Blanco in so many ways and think about how much undervalued people are really are. This is because I don't see their colour, religion or poor people. All I see is how undervalued they are to society as some of the most special and talented people I have ever met come from a township a couple of hundred miles away.

Motivation Returning to Africa has completely re-motivated me for returning home in terms of work, university and personal life. I feel that I needed this as when you arrive home from your first time out here you feel like a new person, a person full of energy, motivation, passion and determination to reach and fulfil all your goals and targets that you have set yourself. Sometimes when we arrive back we get caught back up in society and take your foot of the Pedal and procrastinate on everything you were so determined about not so long ago. It can be really hard to get that back and I feel that everything has fallen into place at the right time and I think between South Africa and the R-City camp in July, it has pulled me right back to where I need to be to get to where I want to be.

Appreciation One thing you never fail to take away from this place is appreciation. It gets threw round a lot but the more time you spend out here the more you really do become. You'll always say to yourself; I will be more appreciative when you see or experience things like out here, but how many of us treasure the appreciation daily back home. We all seem to get caught back up with how spoilt we really are, after a while of being home or seeing something that's made us appreciative, but I can't stress to you how lucky everyone of us really are. To have dinner, never mind options,to have shoes on your feet, to have someone that cares for you, to have some sort of education the list goes on. Because we are some of the luckiest people on this planet and this isn't to say that we don't have our own problems because certainly we do, none of us have the perfect life but somewhere out there is someone facing a tougher situation than we are in much tougher conditions.

Relationship Last year I built a relationship with a young girl called Muna. She is 5 years old, a big bright smile and always up for a laugh. This year I was so excited to be reunited with her as last year she had a big impact on me and my journey in Africa. My first encounter with her this year was when I was walking down her street to see if she was about and she was holding a young baby (her nephew) and she shouted there's Pierce there's Pierce and she left her nephew off and out she ran. That feeling you get when your in the township and knowing you had an impact on the young people, enough for them to remember you a year and half later is something you will never ever forget. What got to me was on our way up to the park there was a little squad of us walking up and she turned to her brother and said something in Afrikans. so I asked Donovan who is fluent in English and Afrikans what she was saying and it was " we're safe with Pierce" and automatically because of the issues, circumstances and environment of Blanco you start to wonder why she said that? what's going on? what made her say that and what makes her think she is safe with me about?

Having built a strong relationship with Muna and some of her family, I had the pleasure of meeting her mother and getting to know her over the past few weeks. A couple of days ago I got a text from her mummy, so I phoned her and was only expecting a conversation around when the team would be back in Golden Valley (The Township were they live) but she was disclosing information to me around her life and her kids. She said because she done this as she feels that I play a big part in their lives, and that she thought she needed to tell me this. The story took me by surprise and pulled on the heartstrings a lot. But after hearing this story a lot of things started to make sense to me. How I mentioned how Muna said to her brother that they are safe with me and how she can be stand offish at times. This young girl is only six years of age and what she's been through nobody never mind a young girl should have to face. But I have nothing but pride for her, how she can be who she is and still smile despite some of the things that have set her back. It has made me realise that sometimes back home things happen and I tend to throw the head up and think the world is against me, but these are minor problems at times and if a young girl can still stand strong and see the light in the darkest of days, then surely I can get up and carry on when things aren't going my way. It may have only been a short period of time but it has been an absolute pleasure building upon the relationship with a young girl that is so special and unique and I count myself lucky to have met her.

Variety of experiences Away from Blanco we have been lucky enough to experience other places of George one which is the Thembalutu square development programme which is top class. The work going on is quality, Thembalutu is one of the toughest places in George and Helalouise and Shan Marie the two women that run it have offered a programme that is sustainable and outstanding. They offer a safe and positive environment for the young people, kickboxing sessions for self defence, this is due to Thembalutu being a very rough area. They also offer meals after school, homework help for those lucky enough to attend school, and with all of this they teach them to clean up after them, show manners & a system that can prepare them for the future.

Another place we had the joy of visiting Pacastop High school where we got to sit in on some classes. So me and Largey went into a year 8 class to see how their education differs from ours back home. I was blown away to say the least, despite their facilities, the class itself, what was out of this world was the topic of discussion. It was around humanity and treating everybody as human, and not by their race, religion, background etc. To see that this class was going on with 11 and 12 year olds I couldn't help but feel that our education system could take a leaf out of their books and teach some of real things in life that can really help the world move forward.

Reflection I feel that in my second time round in South Africa I have been a lot more reflective than I was during my first trip here. The first time I felt that I was so caught up with excitement and the feelings that I was going through here, that I never got to empathise and think about the people that I was working with, their circumstances and their life as much as I wanted to do. I think working alongside and facilitating some group work sessions with the R-City Blanco team has helped me with this as we done a session on single identity. This session entailed “where in the community is important to them and why and who's important to them”. Through this is was clear to see passion this group have for their own community and the change they hope to make within in it. Their hopes and dreams for themselves and the community was inspiring to everyone, they come from a run down poverty stricken community, yet still have such a positive, ambitious and caring mindset.

I have seen some things over here that have really stuck in my head and replayed themselves over and over. As we were leaving Golden Valley last week some of the kids were crowding the car and we couldn't reverse and there was one kid doing nothing. However one of the older ones grabbed him and threw him back, but straight away the young kids friends were straight over to back him up, and got at the older one. Even though we don't want no harm or fighting happening, this stuck with me because the township is a rough place and from knowing the group of younger ones, I was slightly proud how they stuck up for one another despite it being someone a few years older. There are so many issues that these kids face on a daily basis and it was good to see that they can count of each other and they have that we unit.

Another thing that stuck with me, was when we took a trip down to Port Elizabeth for the weekend and on our way home we passed a multi-million pound football stadium that was built for the World Cup. This was used for 4-5 games and only used a 2-3 times yearly. I found it disheartening because 10-15 minutes away from this multi-million pound stadium are poverty stricken communities where people live in wooden shacks and kids haven't a stitch on their backs. This brought me right back to Blanco as all this money was spent to host a few games in a football tournament, yet all this can happen so close by. All I could think of was that even if a small fraction of that money that was pumped into that stadium was to be invested in facilities in Blanco, the people of these townships would have a real pathway to reach their full potential and make major difference in not only their own lives but everybody that surrounds themselves with these amazing people.

Teamwork and support Coming out here for a month and the roller coaster journey that it is. One thing which I think is vital is a strong and supportive team and that we had. From the breath of fresh air with SJ, Natasha, Megan and Tori and the experience of Largey, Chelsea, Katie and myself it had a great balance every one was unique and had qualities within them that would shine throughout their time here. Whether it been 10 days or a month you were here for it didn't matter, with Sarah Jane being a natural leader and probably the most organised person ever, to Katie and how caring she is about every person she comes across, Chelsea and how energetic she is despite running around for 5 hours already, to Largey and his perseverance to get things done no mater what barrier lay ahead of the challenge, Natasha with her humour and easy going attitude among the young people, to Megan and her down to earth attitude who'd of took her time and never seemed in a rush with anybody and Tori with her positive attitude no matter what the days threw at her. Throughout all this though, the support for one another was first class. There was laughs together, cries together and every other emotion that you could think of, but one thing for sure is we had the time of our lives out here and created memories that will live on forever here and back home.

Each of the headings above the sections are just some of the things you never fail to take away from this journey.

B2B The best of the best, this programme is out of this world and a stretch ahead of everything. Over 100 young people have been through this programme already in 3-4 years and I guarantee that every person that has been through it has took away something. This shows each year as every team that goes out has full support of the previous participants and they continue to show their support no matter what, which shows what it meant to them. From all those that have experienced this journey, 7 past participants are ready to make the step onto their degree in community youth work this year, 7 out of 100 might not sound a lot, but that's just this year in a class that's only offered 26 places, that speaks volumes in itself.

Some people think that when you embark on an journey like this that you must want to be a youth worker or you have to be afterwards, but this isn't the case. I have been lucky enough to experience this journey with some unbelievable people and with the wide variety it has to offer, you find your true self out here and others have found the inspiration to reach their dreams whether it be teaching, journalism or nursing and that is the joy of this programme. It gives you experiences in so much different pathways.

I myself have been a young person on this programme at 16/17 years of age, only finished school barely any qualifications to show, had in my head that I wanted to be a youth worker, but was never to sure if it was really for me. With the right guidance, advice, group sessions, one to ones, support, confidence installed in me and the ultimate South Africa experience put on a platform for me by the people behind this project. It glued all the pieces together for me and helped me become the person and youth worker I am today with still so much ahead of me. Thank you to everyone who has helped, not only me in this journey but the other 100 young people who have came back challenged and their mindsets broadened in some sort of way.

“You haven't lived until you've done something for someone who can never repay you" I use this quote not about myself, but for the people of Blanco and the people of George, for they have done things for me, that I will never be able to repay them for

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