The challenge is the fact that our community is mostly Black and from our history, the White community has more money. The first assumption of the host families in Khayelitsha is that we are bringing money to the homes, missing the point that we are bring learning to their homes. It becomes difficult to convince or change the mindset of the people when we explain to them that we are a cultural exchange program. Some families say they are not interested and others keep quiet and refuse at the last moment. My responsibility becomes huge because I have to go out and look for another host family. I then had to explain again what the benefits are and what would be some of the challenges. I then have to be the mediator between the volunteers and the host family in the sense that they have to know the rules. The challenge is that South African volunteers are expected to be more tolerant in the process yet complaints do sometimes come from South Africans because of grim reality that humans are humans no matter where they come from. For me that is interesting because the host families say that South Africans are lazy and Canadians are wonderful. I need to do more research about that reality because I need to find out what that does that mean.
One cultural shock is that in Khayelitsha people cook for everybody and the visitor may or may not step in. It is also a shock when people do not sit at the table together to eat. The Canadians who live in the city are not used when people take their food and eat wherever they walk to in the house. They want family to be sitting at the table for instance at six o’clock in the evening and expecting people to phone if they are going to miss dinner. In Khayelitsha that is not happening and people are fine with that. People here eat whenever and [wherever] they want to. It is surprising to note that there are similarities. The Canadians who are Aboriginal are okay with [the idea of eating whenever, wherever].
[Even before the volunteers arrive to the community] we have information sessions and meetings where we sit and tell the host families about expected challenges [as well as provide an over all brief ] about the entire program. We would divide the information in different components like the bathrooms, the kitchen, the yard and roads and tell the families about the community.
We encourage the host to have meetings and conversations with the volunteers. We tell the volunteers to ask for permission and communicate with respect with host families and obey the rules laid in the house. We encourage the volunteers to be honest. We know that we cannot do anything to do with people’s honesty or dishonesty. We put it out there for awareness.
We usually [make a] special occasion of a farewell when volunteers leave their host families. It is done to thank the host families for their love and companionship. This group presented gifts appreciating the love and generosity. Each volunteer counterpart pair gives thanks to the host families in front of everybody. Most host families come but it because sad when some cannot come. We know that some days in South Africa like Saturday is quite busy with funerals and a time to relax and meeting relatives.
We usually have a meeting after the program is done and talk about the challenges we had. Debriefing is done separately respecting the aspect of confidentiality.
It is not done inclusively but separately because everybody can joke about the things we talk about. The beauty about Khayelitsha is that they always see past that. The host families always want to see more of the volunteers and want to be part of the program in the future.
Some host families see the exchange program as liberating since they can sit, talk, eat and sleep with whites in their houses. For instance, one host family confessed that it was fun for her because she never thought that she could instruct a white person. As a domestic worker she was always told what to do and her self-esteem has been low for quite a long time. She is now positive and gained confidence in her and feels she has equal footing with her white employer and the tone at work changed for the best. That is the positive impact of this program because it is liberating everyone and removes masks in every nation.
The white South Africans are afraid to come to the [township].There is more of fear going on with the South Africans, whether it is fear of change or a fear of moving forward or a fear of not trusting ourselves. We do not really pay attention on process of building our nation and how to go about it, navigating our path and the path that will be followed by the next generation. It is sad to note that our eyes now are on what we want to achieve.
I think there’s a lot of fear going on with the South Africans, whether it’s a fear of change or a fear of moving forward, or a fear of not really trusting ourselves to be able to do certain jobs or get things done. And we always make sure that things are done, you know, but we don’t really pay so much attention as to the process of how to go about them being done. We will pick up stones, one or two to build a house, one stone Makhaza, one stone Harare, but at the end of it the house will be built. Whereas in another mind, if I can afford it, if I have access tot his, I can just buy one or five thousand stones in one area and build my house and then it’s done. Then that’s the process, that’s easier, it makes sense to me. But for us the eye is always at what we want to achieve. That’s how we are built. With what we want to achieve, as to how we want to do it, that’s always something that is not always being expressed or being recorded. And if it does, then it means frustrations, it means fear, it means sadness. It means, it means stupid.
It means whatever. So I won’t speak about people not coming into the township. We are the reason why at some point. We are the reason why because even ourselves, we’re not okay at some point to live in Khayelitsha or to be in Khayelitsha, or to be a “Khayelitshian”. And then that puts a pressure on someone not to be easily convinced to come and take a bus into Khayelitsha. But we find all of these Canadians, all of these people not from here, that come here and they do these things and they feel good about themselves and then they leave. And they don’t see anything wrong. And when they go on the other side, they’re being questioned and challenged. And they start to question other things: Why didn’t I do that? Maybe this is the case. But the beauty is that if we were to have South Africans to come in here, they still live here.
You know? If they get challenged back in Constantia, then they still have the opportunity to come back. Okay, maybe I should stay another month to understand certain things. Maybe I should stay another week to understand certain things. So we need to be open to that. We cannot only be open to people who speak a different accent than us, who wants to tell us Canadians or Americans and then we start to feel, “Oh okay, and I’ll tell you a lot about our history.” Even white people, they need to know about our history. South African people need to know what black people went through. They need to have [that] conversation, there needs to be a space where they can converse about this.
The Volunteer Centre has tried so hard to get volunteers from the white communities in South Africa, it’s not even funny. We went to schools, we went to radio stations, we went to other organizations. But you see the thing is with all the organizations that are running, most of them are coloured recruitment or black recruitment. Underserved, or whatever, communities. And then when you look at the white organizations, it’s kinda like few people… they really do not have time for that. They are not trained or they are not exposed to such things.
They’d rather go to school, come back to school, play a TV game, or go out with friends, have coffee at McDonald’s, that’s the lifestyle. Come back late, do your homework, and go back to bed. Don’t have to do my bed – Agnes is coming from the township to do my dishes and [make] my bed. Then I wake up and do the same thing again. But there’s no learning. How do you break the cycle? [ I think to break this cycle ]for starters it would be the infrastructure. Maybe a bus that will go via all communities, a bus that has white and black community. A mixture of racial groups. There will be a healthy conversation in the bus. That’s the whole plan.
There are things we cannot change but we need to be okay as a community for ourselves. Even stuff like other shops doing organic things. We have been doing all that all along but now we have to buy those things. What is important for us is the community that is solid, a community that is organized, and once the community is organized everybody will come to that community. Because we make things happen because we are okay with our identity and we can [come together] as a community. It is difficult to [see] what is important; [to see] what we can do for those who want to do something. We will try to ensure multiracialism. There is no trophy in the program but it is our hope that [we] will all be on the same page as a society All the wonderful experiences happens all the time, especially when I have sessions with volunteers, sharing not as a supervisor but as friend. It is worth it to talk, listen, and share insights about the things happening around us. It’s this joy that fuels me, that keeps me going. It is healthy to listen to questions like:
Why are the buses running late, why are the trains not running? Why the internet is down? Why people throwing rubbish on the streets? Why we cannot move out of Khayelitsha? Why are there many people moving around in the township? What is important for me is that the volunteers must get much information as possible. Breaking the rules is okay because in the next four years you will still be talking about it. I am learning so much from everyone, volunteers, the hosts and it is [mentally] tiring, emotionally draining but it is heartwarming if you hear someone thanking me. There are sad moments especially when people of Khayelitsha talk badly about their community as if all is glittering on the other side of the road. People in our Khayelitsha are welcomed with love, and the spirit of Ubuntu is always vibrant.
The volunteers from overseas experience this beauty and embrace it because they see Khayelitsha the way it is. When the phone gets stolen, people start to think again [about] Khayelitsha. [But] this also happens all over the world. People will start saying Khayelitsha is not that safe. One day I way walking with my counterpart and the police van stopped in front of us. A policeman came out looking shocked. He stared in disbelief to see my white counter part walking in the streets of Khayelitsha. He asked her, “Hey! What are you doing here, are you lost? Don’t you know it is unsafe to walk in Khayelitsha?” I was there, but not in their eyes – I was not there. I felt sorry for them because their minds were still locked in the past. I felt immediately that a black person has no value in his or her own backyard. The focus was on my counterpart and I was literally invisible. I told them I was with her, “She is with me.” “Why are you walking with her but you know the area is dangerous?”
I am talking about the person of authority. For me that was the way it is. The fact that black people do not take care of each other is scary. That makes us feel very restless. Just like kids we need attention. We become rebellious because we are not given attention and respect by our fellow brothers and sisters. We need attention; be greeted and treated. Our identity is like leprosy to a fellow brother. Our cultural background adds to oppression at home. It is oppression that silences the bubbly child who is full of confidence. The self esteem is crushed by violence, and the ability to take the risk [to grow] is crushed from one generation to the other. We need to liberate our minds and see ourselves as active participants. In our families we are taught to be fearful and not take risks. What do we do? We wait and wait and wait whispering to this generation and the next to wait and wait and wait. It is the oppression of the mind because our country went through so many [oppressive struggles]; a struggle of abuse, a struggle of people seeing people being killed. People went through so much trauma and want to be healed emotionally.
We are struggling for the things that make our lives easy. For me it does not make sense because a black man now-a-days thinks, dresses and drives a car like a white man and feels okay. I would like to see young ones interested in their lives and be vocal on issues that need attention. If we want freedom we need to make it happen. Yes, we are contributing by voting, but we need to take action and influence each other to be on the right page. There is so much work to be done. We need to talk about the change. We have a responsibility to plant the seed. We have to plant the seed that will produce fruit. We might live to see the book.