A Mile in Another’s Shoes
By WorldTeach Namibia volunteer Sarah Ritten, Summer 2016
“Ubuntu:” a person is a person only through other people. Throughout my summer spent with WorldTeach South Africa, I learned exactly what it means to live a life of the African Traditional Religion term, “Ubuntu.” It is only through helping others and empathizing with others that we fully feel connected to the world. My internship with WorldTeach and the experiences I had because of WorldTeach showed me just how important “Ubuntu” is for a community and all its members.
Throughout my summer in South Africa, I had the incredible opportunity to work with the Family and Community Motivators (FCMs) in Masiphumelele (Masi), a black township outside of Cape Town. The Family and Community Motivators are a fantastic community group that runs out of one of the local preschools. It started in 1999 with the hope of increasing awareness about early childhood education in the poorest families in Masi. Women from the community decided to target extremely poor families in Masi with children ages 0-6 in order to teach the parents about creating a better life for their little children starting at a young age. In order to do so, the FCMs decided to visit each family about once a month and check on the child and family’s well-being.
Since then, the FCMs have grown in size and ideology. They recently partnered with an American NGO that focuses on spreading awareness about public health concerns. Now, the FCMs split each home visit between educating parents about early childhood education as well as talking about topics such as HIV/AIDS, the importance of immunizations, and child safety. Two FCMs go to each home visit in order to maximize the short time of two hours. While one FCM talked to the parents about the daily topic, the other FCM and I would bring puzzles and games to play with the children. During the games and puzzles, the FCMs usually spoke in English in order to expose the children to the language of their national tests at a young age. After each visit, the FCMs and I would discuss the children’s developmental levels as well as any social issues the parents were dealing with at the moment.
Every Thursday morning all of the FCMs would sit around a table and discuss the different issues their families had been dealing with during the week. These weekly meetings were extremely emotional for the FCMs and me because these families were dealing with so many problems on top of the fact that they were living in the wetlands. For example, every single family said that they were struggling to stay healthy because their houses get damp every time it rains. Children and adults alike said that they were catching a cold, dealing with the flu, or even struggling to cope with TB because of the poor conditions of their houses every time it rains. Additionally, many families were struggling with alcoholism, domestic abuse, and sometimes even rape.
After one of the Thursday morning discussions, I thought long and hard about the conditions in the wetlands, particularly the damp houses after the rain, and my time spent with the FCMs. One of the FCMs mentioned to me that many of the children in the wetlands run around barefoot because they do not have proper footwear to deal with the rain and puddles that fill the wetlands year round. This simple statement sparked a light in me: I was going to start a fundraiser for rain boots. I started a gofundme page to raise awareness about the Masi wetlands and to raise money to buy boots for some of the children we were working with.
After an overwhelming outpouring of support and donations from friends and family, I had raised over $1,000 in three days! I bought out every single store in the surrounding Cape Town area of their rain boots for children ages 0-6. In total, I ended up buying 227 pairs of rain boots, one for each child we were working with, as well as new notebooks and pens for the FCMs to take field notes. On my last day working with the FCMs, I surprised them with an entire truckload of rain boots and new toys for the children. They were so joyous when we dropped all of the boots off! Although I was exhausted after the day of handing out rain boots, I have never felt so satisfied. It was incredible seeing the children in Masiphumelele wearing the rain boots I gave out, and I know they will get so much use. I am so glad I was able to give back to the place and program that gave me so much over the course of the summer.