The GoGlobal Blog

First Days at Service Site

First Days at Service Site

Hello again. Welcome to the second installment of my blog here in South Africa.

The thing that I want to focus most on in this entry is my service placement. I am working with St. Anne’s, a shelter for domestically abused women and children. It’s a nonprofit organization that takes in women and their children (aged 0 to 5) who have suffered domestic abuse. They are given housing, daily childcare, food, and a variety of resources to deal with their circumstances – they all work with St. Anne’s social worker and are helped through legal processes, doctor visits, and anything else they might need. Additionally, the shelter provides skills sessions for the women, like jewelry and candle making, job preparedness, and computer training. They also have individual assessments and group therapy sessions, and outsource to counselors and doctors to get each client the help they need. All of the steps in place at the shelter are geared towards helping the women work through their trauma, and prepare them to leave the shelter and become employed, and take care of their children. The women are usually there for about four months, and as needed, St. Anne’s has second and third stage homes separate from their main house and offices.

While I am here, I am mainly working with the social worker, Coleene, assisting her in whatever she needs. With her, I will mostly be helping with administrative business – filing, data entry, contacting ex-residents for various reasons, etc. However, apart from administrative duties, I will also have the opportunity to help with the skills workshops in the shelter, probably running or helping on on computer skills or career readiness sessions. I am very excited for this hands-on aspect of my work here, and hope that I get to know the women and help them through these projects. I may also get to see more of what the social work department does, through sitting in on conversations with the women and possibly accompanying them to court.

I’ve been to work at St. Anne’s three days now – I was placed nearly two weeks ago now, and go every Tuesday and Thursday. To give you an idea of what my week looks like, I go to normal classes at the University of the Western Cape on Mondays and Wednesdays, am at St. Anne’s from 9am-3pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and go back to UWC on Fridays for two classes specific to my program – only with the 17 other people in my program. My days at St. Anne’s so far have been largely introductory, and spent getting oriented to the people and the organization in general. It’s an interesting atmosphere because the staff and the shelter itself are housed in the same location. The shelter consists of two buildings, one with the front office/reception area attached to it, and the main house beyond that, with bedrooms and a kitchen. The second building has more bedrooms, a kitchen, the crèche (where the children spend their day), and the skills room, computer lab, and staff offices. So while I have been working mostly in Coleene’s office, I’m very connected to the shelter itself, and I’m excited to hopefully soon start seeing the skills labs and becoming involved.

One of the benefits of working within the shelter rather than separate from it is that I’m able to get to know the entire staff – not just the administrative and social work departments. As part of my orientation, I am sitting down with different people and getting to know about them and their role. One of the most intriguing conversations I’ve had, since I got to South Africa in general, was my sit down with the day house mother, Rabecca. As house mother, she develops a very strong relationship with the women as she, in addition to cooking and delegating their schedule during the day, helps them heal and become the best parent they can be. The thing that most struck me about our conversation was her emphasis on deeply caring for the women and their well-being, as well as the difficulty of this task itself. “It’s about humanity,” she told me.

She wants to be able to connect with the women in any way that they’ll let her, and push them to their highest potential. This perhaps seems like the obvious job of a house mother, but the way she spoke about her job made me realize how incredibly rewarding her role is. She didn’t mask or pretend that it wasn’t difficult, or that she struggled with it at first, but now she has been at St. Anne’s for a little over two years, and realizes that she will always be learning and finding out more about herself through the women. Her emphasis about showing respect and humanity is what stood out to me most about our conversation; I am excited to be working with an organization that directly impacts so many woman and has staff that care deeply about the outcome.

A note about service – a common criticism of students studying abroad is the “white savior” narrative, in which students think they can come and save a community, even though they are only there for a short period of time and cannot make a deep impact. This often comes out of “white guilt” as well, in which students seek to help only to make themselves feel better about their inherent privilege. I like the program that I’m in because we do stay in one place for about six months, so it is a longer period of time, but still, it’s not enough, and it’s difficult to justify our being here – do we have genuine intentions? Is it right for us to work with these organizations or schools for only half a year, only to pick up and leave? And there are problems with this, I’m not going to say it’s a perfect program. But instead of thinking about our service sites as organizations or schools that “need” us, rather Melikaya, our program director, encourages us to constantly take the time to step back, listen, and learn, rather than always jumping in with ideas and suggestions. The truth is that we don’t know enough about these communities to pass judgement or often even give our opinions. Rather, Melikaya reminds us that this is an opportunity to learn from another community and their way of doing things, and apply what we observe here in South Africa to our work in the US. The service work we do here should be a continuation of what we already partake in in the US, and we should continue it with even more passion and knowledge when we return. So, it’s not perfect, but we are still able to help how we can, and ultimately, hopefully, it is a mutually beneficial experience for us and our site.

Besides my first few days at my service site, my last two weeks have consisted of a music festival in the beautiful Kristenboch Gardens, a sunset hike up Chapman’s peak (pictured), a sunset boat ride at Cape Town’s waterfront, attending a wine festival in Stellenbosch (a suburb about half an hour outside of Cape Town), seeing Black Panther (would recommend), and continuing with my four classes. Other news – update on the water crisis – Day Zero has been moved to July, which is exciting, but we must keep the same water conservation efforts we’ve been practicing since we got here in order to keep pushing it back. Additionally, you might have heard that South Africa went through a transition of power, with former president Jacob Zuma resigning on February 14 as a result of large pressure by his own party, and Cyril Ramaphosa (Zuma’s vice president) being newly elected. I’m still learning about South African politics, but briefly, Zuma was president for nine years, but his presidency was riddled with scandals, including him being charged with rape in 2005. He currently has 783 charges of corruption against him. All of the South Africans I’ve spoken to speak poorly of Zuma and are happy about this transition of power. One of my professors even compared Zuma to Trump! Again, I’m still learning about politics here, but that’s a short summary of what has been going on.

So yes, there’s my one-month update here in Cape Town. I’m appreciating this city more everyday, and hope to keep exploring, hiking, and learning. See you soon. x

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