UBUNTU – people are people because of other people
One of the social workers from Philani looked confused and pointed at my t-shirt. She asked where we heard the word “ubuntu” and why it was on our shirts. We told her that we found the word in one of Desmond Tutu’s books and thought it was an accurate representation of our project in South Africa. We told her that the definition we have been working with is “people are people because of other people.” She agreed with our definition and seemed impressed with our knowledge of the term.
We wanted to make connections and relationships here, with the environment, with each other, and with the people we meet, in order to better know ourselves. Ubuntu is exactly what I found today at Philani in Khayelitsha. I volunteered in the educare center and found that the teacher and cooks there truly cared about the children. In turn, the children were very appreciative and well behaved, as though they had a sense of what these people were doing for them. Without these women, the children at Philani would not have clothes on their backs or food in their bellies. To me, that is the true meaning of ubuntu.
Philani: To get well
I feel heavy with the brutal truth about the living conditions in Khayelitsha. Yet, I also have been uplifted and enlightened by the generous people working at Philani. The women involved with this world-changing organization are so unbelievably strong, determined and beautiful. Each one cares for at least 40 malnourished children and 20 pregnant mothers.
Anneka and I went on some home visits with a woman named Tombi this afternoon. Tombi is the outreach worker for a section of Khayelitsha. She visits homes and checks in on women and children that need her help. As we walked through the narrow paths between the shacks made of corrugated metal I lost the ability to speak. I walked in silence, taking in everything around me, while trying to hold back tears. We went to several homes. Each family had a heartbreaking story. Tombi translated the story of a man and his wife, both my age, who are HIV positive. While their 3 month old daughter is not HIV positive, she has many health problems. She is recovering from a heart attack and suffering from malnutrition and pneumonia. The father has been out of work because his eye is infected and he can’t afford to treat it. I looked around the one room shack, and chocked back my emotions as he explained how his family gets sick every year when the winter rain floods his home. When we left this family, part of my heart stayed behind with them.
There were many incredible moments today, but the highlight was when a group of women at Philani sang to us in their native language. Their voices lifted our spirits and brought us to a state of ecstasy. They drew us into the middle of the floor and there we danced and sang and laughed. I’ve never felt that genuinely happy. I could have cried. I wish that I could surround myself with such beautiful and real people everyday. These women are my heroes. They create their own power and use it to benefit others (ubuntu.) These are the souls that make a difference and slowly change the world for the better.
It hadn’t hit me until today how impoverished the townships are. In the U.S. people tend to only take care of their kids and feed themselves. In the townships people have to look out for each other. In South Africa one in four people is malnourished and a majority is living off of government grants.
When I first got to the Philani Health and Nutrition Project I was excited to see the beaming faces of the children there. Then I thought about how serious these children’s situations are. Each child at Philani is either orphaned or living in absolute poverty. The second most shocking thing to see was how small they were. Having worked at a kid’s camp for 5-6 year olds, I was surprised to see how small the children were at the Philani Educare Center. Although it was sad to see the horrors that these kids live with, it was uplifting to know that Philani is there to help. I know that as long as I live I will never forget how a wave and a thumbs up from one of us lit up the faces of the children we were playing with.
SN, Chris, Cliff, and I had the opportunity to repaint the bathroom of a Philani Child Nutrition Project. It was one of the handful of skills we exercised today. We also engaged with the children and their guardians, sand with them, worked together with them and much more.
At Philani they really emphasize helping now and not just when you get the chance. So on that note, the coordinators put us in work groups and sent us on our way. Some helped with the children, others walked in the townships to see how they live and the rest of us worked.
The one thing all of us did together was learn. We learned how others live, how those less fortunate survive, and we also learned the importance of lending a hand when possible.
It was honestly one of the most rewarding feelings to walk into that bathroom with a mission and come out on top (covered in paint).
Now I understand when everyone says this is a learning journey. We all learned a new skill today and I feel because of that our journey to Philani was quite successful. We also had so many clothes that they ran out of boxes, which was quite rewarding. Overall, today was a day of learning and reward. It was some of the best fun I have had on the trip and I can’t think of the last time I felt so needed.
Today when we went to Philani we were split into groups. Some people stayed to help at the educare center and others went out into the township to see how the social workers interacted with the people they help. My group went to help clean and paint at two of Philani’s other locations (they have five in Khayelitsha alone). From there we were split again. One group went to mow lawns and fix and paint a bathroom. My group, which consisted of me, Shannon, Max, Sara, and Emanuel, went to an educare center about 5 minutes away to help a teacher paint her classroom. At first we didn’t have enough paintbrushes so Shannon and I painted half the room pink and Emanuel painted the other half mustard yellow with a roller. Sara and Max went to play with the kids outside. After a good half hour of painting Teresa, the woman in charge of everyone painting, came in with the paint we were supposed to be using. There became a split. On one side there was Teresa, who wanted the entire room bright yellow. Our group sided with the teacher, who liked the pink that was already on the walls. Teresa had to return to the other group leaving us and the teacher. Needless to say the room ended up pink and mustard yellow. When I needed a break from painting I went outside to greet the kids. They were singing and dancing around Max and Sara, until they saw me. What happened next was a blur, but I ended up flat on my back dogpiled under fifteen 3-4 year olds. All at once I was being pushed, pulled, tickled and snuggled. Someone was playing with my hair while someone was showing me their hula hoop while someone was climbing in my lap while someone was examining my ring. After what must have been 15 minutes I noticed two 2 year olds, a boy and a girl. I noticed them because they were the only quiet ones. The boy had a constant airy smile and the girl had a look of awe and curiosity. From under the pile I reached to them and they slowly made their way over to me. They took turns gently putting both their hands on my face. They didn’t say anything, just looked into my eyes. They looked past my eyes into my inner person. It was like having an entire greeting, introduction, and conversation just looking in their eyes. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
What I noticed with all the kids is that I didn’t need to entertain them. They just wanted me and my attention. They took turns sitting in my lap and cuddling, demanding all my attention. Of course this would often turn into a swarm of faces and smiles. When it was time to leave the kids followed us to the gate and waving goodbye.
Today was the day that I was most looking forward to on the trip. We finally visited the Philani Child Health and Nutrition Project. We were going to deliver all of the clothes and money that we had put our heart and soul into collecting.