Hi everyone! My name is Alicia and I am a junior Psychology major and I spent my summer on the other side of the world in Cape Town, South Africa. So what exactly am I doing, traveling between these townships and going to the Lalela office in the mornings? What is a township? Why did I even come to Cape Town in the first place?
I found an internship with Lalela Project in mid-February thanks to the help of the if i could… programme. Lalela Project is a nonprofit organization that gives kids the opportunity to become leaders, entrepreneurs, and to think creatively, critically, and actively through educational arts. The teachers on the team develop intentional curriculum to create a supportive environment for these students to thrive and grow during an otherwise unstable time. Townships refer to the underdeveloped areas outside of urban areas that were, until the end of apartheid, reserved for only non-White residents. The children in these townships are exposed to gang violence, physical abuse, and drug abuse right from the day they are born. Lalela Project works to give them a safe space during these high-risk hours after school officially ends.
What do I even do at Lalela? In the mornings we begin every single day at 9:30am with a meditation session, a check in, and an ice breaker to pump up our energy. Someone reads a passage of sorts, while we all close our eyes, breathe deeply and mindfully, and focus all our intention and passion towards another day of worthwhile work for the inspirational students. Once done with that, we take a moment for each team member to talk about how they are doing and their goals for the day and how anyone could help out. The final piece of our meeting involves really silly and sometimes chaotic ice breakers. These are not the icebreakers I’m used to. There’s lots of shouting and dancing that requires one to never ever be self-conscious. I’ve grown accustomed, and I’ve become a huge fan of just flailing my arms wildly without caring that someone may think I look stupid. After this, I do administrative work in the mornings in the office, cleaning, sorting artwork, writing the newsletter, until 12:30pm when we all gather our materials and flag down one of the taxis to take us off to the schools.
The curriculum is always different and the days are never the same. We have to be quick to react and adapt to situations because there is so little structure within the townships. There are no regular teachers who are paid to teach in the primary schools, so the students lack any sort of dependable resource beyond what Lalela can provide. Sometimes school lets out hours later or earlier than we expect, and there’s no way to communicate with students about changes in Lalela’s schedule unless we can catch them in person.
Regardless, I found that my presence was awkward at first, but I quickly created warm friendships and connections with students. I no longer felt like a stranger, because my students came to hug me and play with me once I stepped through the gate.
I requested to work with age group 1 (grade 1-4), since I have always adored working with younger kids. The energy they bring is always delightful (sometimes draining). Kids are just kids and I come across some of the same questions here as I did back in the States when I worked with kids the same age.
“How do you spell your name? I drew a picture of you and me! Are you married? HELP ME DRAW A LION! How old are you? Can I play with your hair? You look really nice today!!! Where are you from? ALICIAAAAAAAA LOOK AT ME! Are you sure you aren’t married??”
I’m so grateful for my time in Cape Town. The people I met and the places I’ve seen have impacted me in a huge and positive way. Everyone asked when I would return, and I’m so excited to say that I’m thinking about returning in December when it will actually be warm in South Africa!