Thursday, 16 February 2012

Strandfontein Homestays!

Last Sunday we arrived in Strandfontein and after church we headed off in pairs to our new homes for the week.  Anticipation, excitement, and a little nervousness filled the air as we began our first homestays.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but I think I speak for the group when I say that we all felt incredibly welcomed by the Coloured community of Strandfontein.  The warm hospitality we experienced was greatly appreciated and very encouraging.  When the bus picked everyone up in the morning we had fun sharing stories of the time we had spent with our host families including enjoying delicious suppers, visiting relatives, walking on the beach, and sometimes just relaxing and watching TV.  Being apart of a family for a week was a very meaningful way to get to know the community and gain insight into their culture.  Personally, I found it very interesting to see and hear first hand about remaining racial tensions between Coloureds and Blacks.  I also enjoyed getting to experience a more relaxed lifestyle as compared to Western society (which tends to be focused more on efficiency than people).  I think we can learn a lot from the way these people live their lives honoring and valuing relationships.  Here people very purposely greet and say goodbye to everyone they are with.  Most of us observed the close connections our families had with their extended family, gathering together quite regularly.  Even fairly relaxed service days during which the locals didn’t seem to mind us taking lots of breaks taught me that slowing down can create space to engage and appreciate the people I was working with.  Hopefully we can find ways to take some of what we saw and experienced in Strandfontein such as gracious hospitality and valuing relationship over efficiency and apply it to our lives back home.  Next Sunday at church the change in all of us was evident as we all said our goodbyes to our host families.  We exchanged contact information, took pictures, and some even tried to plan future meetings.  There were lots of hugs as we tried to portray our gratitude for an amazing week!  
Homestays were clearly an integral part of our time in Strandfontein, but we also had many great adventures together as a group.  On Monday we continued our apartheid education by visiting the District 6 museum where we learned how a vibrant Coloured community was destroyed when it was declared an all white area and residents were forced to relocate.  Later we spent two days working to start community gardens as part of a food security program.  An attempt up Table Mountain on Thursday was foiled by clouds and wind but we still had a great day exploring the waterfront area of Cape Town and learning about conflict resolution.  The week was finished off with a visit to Robben Island which included a tour conducted by an ex-political prisoner who called the very prison we walked through his home for 5 years.  The week was rounded off by lots of time working on our tans at the many beautiful beaches in the area.  Life is always busy and exciting here in South Africa!  

Written by: Carol

Monday, 13 February 2012

From Deserts to Beaches and Everything In Between

After our wonderful time in the desert (which will be passed on shortly via the incredible musings of our very own Laura) we headed to south to Simon's Town.  It's a small little town on the coast of South Africa close to Cape Point, also known as the Cape of Good Hope.  What a marvellous week filled with all sorts of relaxing and adventurous activities!  The week started off with a bang... or should I say a fall?  Skydiving was on the menu and twenty-four of us ordered it.  The skydivers went off early in the morning to experience what it is like to fly, or fall, with style.  A quote from midair:



A couple of days later the team met up with the one and only Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Yes that's right.  The Archbishop who has played such an incredible role in mediating peace in South Africa by heading up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid ended.  Archbishop Tutu spoke to us about the importance of youth being involved in the world and answered questions we had about South Africa, apartheid and where the country is today.  The Archbishop is a wonderful person with a great sense of humour and will remain a highlight that won't be forgotten any time soon.

As the week went on we continued to relax on the beach, hanging out with penguins and seagulls, looking out over the ocean wondering what is under that beautiful blue water.  Well a few of us decided to find out by climbing into a cage under the sea to see what there is... and there was plenty!  In the words of one of the divers, "We're gonna need a bigger boat!"  Why you might ask, well because we saw huge great white sharks! Jaws in real life!

All in all it was a wonderful and relaxing week.  Loving the beaches and fun times.

Love from the warm, sun-soaked beaches of South Africa.

Till next time.

Wtritten by: Hugo

meeting Archbishop Tutu

Larissa, Sandy & Kaitlyn

Tausha, Lisa, Carol & Sandy braving the winds at Cape Point

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A new perspective

Our week in Pretoria wrapped up quickly, and before we knew it we were on our way to learn about black culture in Soweto.  There were many heartbreaking moments - when we visited the Apartheid Museum, our trip to the Hector Pieterson Memorial (in honour of those who lost their lives during the Soweto uprising in 1976), walking through the tin-shack townships... It's sometimes hard to know what to do with those experiences.  Sometimes you wonder where God is in all this.  Especially when you think about your life back home in Canada.

One of the best parts of our week though, is the time we spend volunteering in Kliptown (the township outside of Soweto).  We join up with ministries and organisations already at work and provide whatever other service we can.  Sometimes that means playing with 30 children under the age of 6 in a nursery school, sometimes that means gardening at an HIV/AIDS foundations, sometimes that means sorting toys at an orphanage, and sometimes it means keeping people company throughout the day.  What always gets me is that among all the heartbreak one can see in South Africa, you never see places without hope.  The smiles on the kid's faces, the passion in someone's voice as they say, "We may not have much, but we are so rich here" and points to his heart, those moments leave you believing that whatever the past, whatever the future, South Africa will move forward.

Our world view is shaped by so many factors: where we grow up, what we experience, the people who influence our lives.  I love Outtatown because it blows your world view to smithereens.  It challenges what you have experience and says, "Have you thought about this?"  It makes God real, because sometimes you don't have the answers and just have to trust that He knows what's going on.  You question the way things are and sometimes you're inspired to make change.  I love our week in Soweto because it leaves us all unsatisfied with how things are.  The hope, as we move forward in our semester is that we are convicted to get involved, to take part, to be like Jesus and make things better - in whatever way we can.

Written by: Sandy Town

Sandy & Brenda - the lady who sells candy at our compound

gumboot dancing in the township

kids to play with at the nursery school

taking on Soccer City!

The Cage

We were trapped.  The gates were locked and the fences loomed too high and dangerous - there seemed no possibility of escape.  All wondered how long our sanity would last in these quiet evening hours at the Mamelodi Compound outside of Pretoria.

Then came the idea.  A simple idea.  It began as a whisper that quickly turned into a roaring cry of, "REVOLUTION!"

Songs rose up out of the compound, beyond the cage and into the starry night.  A chorus of, "Freedom, freedom is coming, oh yes I know" was joined by the sympathetic barks and howls of the compound dogs.

In reality, our quiet evenings were pleasant, as we were given a lot of think about.  A visit to the University of South Africa (UNISA) early in the week brought a lecture on the history of the Afrikaner people, after which we venture to the Voortrekker Monument.  This day brought a combination of hard questions and an understanding of the people that created the apartheid system.

A lecture from Piet Meiring about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was especially impacting.  This man was asked by Archbishop Desmond Tutu himself to be a part of the TRC, to represent the Afrikaner people.  It was such an honour to hear his many stories of forgiveness amidst the incredible pain and sorrow of those oppressed by the apartheid system.

Our week was enhanced by two very different worship times.  Firstly, we joined an Afrikaner youth group for an evening of singing many familiar songs and discovering that worshiping God is not defined by where you live.  The second event had us up one morning 4am to find ourselves out of place on an extremely overpacked train.  We were the only white faces to be seen!  The chorus of voices on the Gospel Train (full of commuters attending church on the ride into town) swelled and the train walls transformed into reverberating drums.  The Gospel Train shouted its praises as even more people packed the doors on their way to work.  Scripture was shouted and uplifting words were preached.  Our very own Sam wisely spoke of how welcome we felt in the midst of this community  and how beautiful it was to be unified.

Later that morning the group pounded out their rhythmic fingerprints at a djembe workshop at the University of Pretoria.  Some of us left feeling rhythmically challenged although altogether quite invigorated.  We spent the afternoon hiding in the shade as we explored the gardens at Parliament.  There we had our first sharing circle experience.  Our group split up into guys and girls and in those separate circles passed around an object and allowed each person the opportunity to share what was on their hearts.

We had a few days during the week for a random array of adventures.  A number of us hit up an amusement part in Johannesburg and later on we had a wonderful wildlife experience at a lion park.  Zebras, giraffes, springboks, lions and cheetahs were among the many animals we got to see from the safety of our bus.  Feeding the giraffes in creative ways - such as holding the food between you lips and having their long, black, scratchy tongue explore your face to find the crunchy morsel of food was a hilarious highlight for many.  We were also given the opportunity to pet little lion cubs, and we wished we could bring them home with us!

Our week ended with many sunburned faces as we splashed about in the water park at Sun City, playing in the lazy river, surfing through people in the wave pool and very discreetly removing the wedgies received from the waterslides.

Fortunately the Cage was not so bad after all, seeing as we did end up escaping quite regularly.

Written by: Lauren Harms

djembe workshop

feeding the giraffes

lunch at Parliament