#B2B2020: Cody Armstrong Blog

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been you will never be the same again”.

Waking up for the past 15 days with our hearts set and content knowing we were in South Africa has been phenomenal. You hear stories, you see pictures but when you see it for yourself the feeling is so surreal. This is real.  We are in Africa. From the start of our B2B journey it’s been a rollercoaster of feeling and emotions, both positive and negative. We came to South Africa with visions and expectations but very element was exceeded which was complimented by the warm hearted souls within Blanco. It’s because of them that Blanco will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

From the minute the team stepped foot in Blanco, they have given every day,hour, minute and second their absolute all. Every opportunity has been grasped by people willing to make an impact on lives, but also seeking impact on theirs, opening the door for relationships to flourish. Through the good days and the best days the support provided by the team has been phenomenal, whether that be through debriefs or a little reassurance throughout the day. You don’t understand the significance of your team until your in SA, they become your only support, friends and your family. I am truly blessed and grateful today tomorrow and everyday to have such an amazing team on this journey.I have solely enjoyed every minute of this life changing experience.

My first day in South Africa, driving past Khayelitsha, which is a township with a population of over 400,000 people, in the combis playing in the background was Good Old Days, the lyrics ‘you don’t know what you got until it goes’ has stuck with me throughout. Numerous thoughts ran through my head. Why are people living like this? Why does it seem that we are the only people trying to help? How can we make things better? but now I can answer all these questions. Golden valley township was a place where I created numerous relationships with my little besties but one that stood out to me was my relationship with Lisa. A bond that was created naturally out of love and comfort, it became clear when she genuinely smothered me with hugs everyday singing beautiful girls at the top off her lungs. My relationship with her is one I will cherish forever. Amongst Golden Valley there was Golden Valley Crèche with children aged 1-5, we attended the crèche numerous times, experiencing the routines of the children in crèche. That is where my relationship with Valery was created. She is just a little light of happiness and positivity running about the play area which is why she’s impacted my life so much. Her willingness to grow comfortable with me and show me that affection has impacted me massively. She was my comfort when I was having an off day.

Blanco is a place where lots of new memories have been born which I will cherish forever. ‘Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory’The circumstances in Blanco was something that ultimately took a toll over me. 5+ people living in shack made of wooden pallets and cardboard stapled to the walls acting as insulation for the house. One double bed, a broken cupboard filled with clothes torn, a few cardboard boxes holding up pots and pans as an acting kitchen was all that was amongst this tiny house. That of which was only one of the houses I seen on my tour of Golden Valley. A single wall divided a township filled with people living off little to nothing, no possibility of income and the thought of no hope or opportunities compared to a bricklayed painted house, with bay windows filled with people living on a constant income of money, hope and prosperity.

Again the questions ran through my head. Why? Through spending hours in Golden Valley and the Scheme, I learnt a lot about the community and the people living within. They care for one another as if all is family within the widespread communities, they vouch for one another when needed. With the conditions they live in, the rate of crime and underage drinking/drugs the young people within the community have no hope, prosperity or even a good role model. They deem their future as worthless before it’s even started, yet no opportunity is being presented to them to make that change, but this is what B2B is all about.

B2B is an international programme which aims to broaden the aspirations of young people within  disadvantaged areas. Just like North Belfast the same applies in Blanco. Through giving them the idea that there is hope as role models we are exposed to the idea that they have none. Despite the fact we are unable to change it all, being positive role models and exposing them to things that hope and prosperity brings can ultimately have an impact on young people.Throughout the whole journey I’ve learnt a lot about myself, blanco and most importantly back home. It sounds so cliché,but when you see the circumstances that these people live in; you truly appreciate what you have. The children are the most warm hearted souls who cling to you because for a few hours a day you give them your time and love. Some children are deprived from love and affection at home due to crime, drugs and alcohol etc. Some young people are deprived from predominant parental figures in their lives. Role models you could say. When we arrive in Blanco, to them we act as a comfort, a parental figure, a family figure or maybe even a role modelWhen I get home I need to work on expressing my feelings and love more, especially toward my brother and younger cousins.

I know I spend more time bettering myself, looking forward rather than looking at what’s right in front of my eyes and truly appreciating what I have. To them having a solid roof over their heads, food and water, a solid income and warmness is paradise and unnatural to them, yet to us it’s something we don’t appreciate and respect and the harsh reality is that it takes for us to go on a life changing experience like B2B to prompt questions and challenge ourselves to why we don’t appreciate these things enough. By working within the school and crèches, it’s made me realise that teaching is most definitely the career choice for me; ive gained experience, I’ve seen things like no other.

From this rollercoaster my own personal journey starts and I hope I can solely use this experience to alter the course of my life and others to impact them positively.If I could give any piece of advice to B2B 2021, it would be once you enter the programme make it your aim to take that mask off and ensure the mask stays off until and after the programme is completed. Once B2B ends your journey starts. Jump into everything the programme presents to you, with your own two feet. Don’t hold back. This is life changing, a once in a life time opportunity; please do not waste it. Let yourself be challenged because ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’.

“Be proud of how far you’ve come and never stop pushing to be the best you can be”

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