The GoGlobal Blog

Top of Table + Approaching Community Development

Top of Table + Approaching Community Development

Hello friends. Welcome to the fifth installment of my blog during my semester abroad in Cape Town.

Firstly, I’m going to add some pictures at the end of this post of my trip to Zimbabwe / Zambia / Botswana a couple of weeks ago. There’s not much else to say about that trip other than to describe it in one word: euphoric. Victoria Falls is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, or likely will experience again in my life, and is generally quite amazing – I would recommend to anyone. Enjoy the photos of rainbows, waterfalls, and animals I’ll attach!

One notable thing I did during these past two weeks was climb Table Mountain. Despite seeing Table every day while being in Cape Town, I hadn’t yet been to the top. We made it up on accident; we started on a different trail quite far from Table, and walked around Devil’s Peak – the mountain next to Table – and ran across a trail (Platteklip Gorge) that would take us to the top of Table. We’d already been walking for about four hours in the very hot sun at that point, and we were all basically out of water, so the hour-long steep hike up was difficult. As per usual, the payoff from the views at the top made the five-hour day completely worth it, and we made it up in time to watch the sunset, which was…. good. I run out adjectives to describe the skies here, so I often resort to simply calling the incredible and beautiful sunrises and sunsets I see as “good,” rather than taking the time and energy to make a sordid attempt to actually give them an accurate representation with words. So the view from Table Mountain was good. Hiking, in general, is one of my favorite things to do here – the walk just around the mountain always gives a different perspective of Cape Town.

Other than finally making it up to Table, we’ve gotten back into our school and service routine, while going to various excursions on weekends. I visited two markets in the Cape Town area – Old Biscuit Mill, which is in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town that isn’t far from Observatory, the neighborhood where we live, and incidentally also where my service site is located. The other market we visited was the Hout Bay Market (in Hout Bay), which is about thirty minutes away. If you’re coming to Cape Town and looking for recommendations, I would highly encourage you to visit either of these markets as there was lots of good shopping and food.

Last week, we visited Lotus Park, a township in Cape Town, and talked to a community leader named Fraser, about his work and his development efforts in Lotus Park. It was very cool to hear about real community development efforts occuring in Cape Town. We have been learning about community development in our Grassroots Leadership class theoretically, so it was refreshing to actually hear from a person who works with a community on a daily basis and has been working on a project for a long time with success. He emphasized communication with the community itself and the people who have real knowledge about what should be changed. The main thing that is emphasized in our Grassroots Leadership class is people-centered development, in which the members of the community are consulted and thoroughly involved in changing their community. This is a bottom-up approach, and is preferable to a top-down approach which is usually a bunch of people who don’t know about the community attempting to implement policies that don’t actually create the change that is needed.

Fraser’s approach reminded me of an organization I worked with in Peru, which promotes indigenous peoples’ rights in the Andes. The organization was formed in conjunction with the native peoples because the communities were passionate about sharing their heritage and way of life with outsiders. They also wanted to form relationships with the communities around them in order to help their biocultural heritage and promote agrotourism. The non-profit organization uses representatives from each of the communities in order to implement tourism programs that are true to their culture and beneficial for the indigenous people as well. They constantly communicate with the indigenous people when thinking of new programs and trying to fix problems. This model, which is sort of a mix of both a top-down and bottom-up approach, I think, is an ideal way to approach community development, and can translate to development efforts in my own communities. It is similar to the approach Fraser spoke of in terms involving and valuing the local peoples’ input, encouraging them, rather than coming in and taking over as an outsider.

While it was very cool to talk to someone who has had a large hand in transforming a community and our conversation gave me hope for our own ability to help our communities, talking with Fraser also made me realize how incredibly difficult it is to implement change. We (referring to the students in this program) all have big ideas for how we want to help marginalized groups and create change on a large scale, but we have to realize that often we can’t focus on those big ideas, and instead we should look at concrete ways in which we can make a difference, like focusing on building a community center. It was eye-opening to hear him talk about the process and the length of time it took to build one building – the practical elements of that, like obtaining permits and building one wall at a time.

So yes, that’s all. Hope the little note about community development perhaps makes you think about the difficulty currently facing those attempting to create change in underprivileged communities, and the most effective way to do so. Again, enjoy these pictures from Victoria Falls. See you in a couple weeks. x

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