Jonathan Gorrie is a Trustee of Restless Development and he recently had the opportunity to see our volunteers in action in South Africa. As part of our celebrations for International Volunteer Day, he shares here his perspectives of what he saw on the ground.
An opportunity to see Restless Development in action on the ground was too good to miss when I was in South Africa recently. This was part of a holiday with my wife Rachel and 16 year old son Adam. Our holiday took us to Cape Town, through the wine region and across the rich farmlands of the Western Cape to the popular coastal holiday area of the Garden Route.
Driving on through Port Elizabeth we were into the Eastern Cape, which in contrast is one of the poorest provinces of South Africa. This is largely due to the poverty of the former homelands – territories set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa as part of the policy of apartheid – where subsistence agriculture predominates.
We met up initially with Sithembele Zondeka, Programme Manager, in the bustling centre of King William’s Town and followed him for about half an hour out of town ending up in a community reached along a long dirt road. We joined four volunteers (Matsiriso Ngobe, Abongile Mtsheni, Ngcinikhaya Jalisile and Busisiwe Diza) and their Field Officer (Yethu Dorana) at a secondary school where one of the classes had stayed behind for a sexual health and awareness session. With South Africa carrying the largest HIV epidemic in the world, this is one of the most pressing issues facing communities like the one we were visiting.
The session started with a great icebreaker of a dance and a song that everyone joined in with gusto (in picture above).
The facilitators then ran the session that included the class brainstorming in groups on the things that they thought of in relation to sex and some of the myths about sex. It was amazing to see the enthusiasm and spirit with which everyone entered into the exercise, although very quickly the issues of HIV, rape and suicide came up – clearly issues that were known and real in the experience of the group. The facilitators were adept at coaching, questioning and enthusing the pupils. I think Adam probably learned a lot.
After the session we chatted to the volunteers about their experiences with Restless and their hopes and aspirations. It was great to hear (and see) the confidence and skills that they had gained through their involvement. Finding their next steps in an environment where a high proportion of young people are unemployed and few from their community could aspire to university was clearly very tough.
One girl wanted to set up and run a net ball club and had talked to a coach who was willing to help. One of the guys wanted to turn what he was doing already on producing music into a local academy as a creative and social focus in the community. He had already produced a song warning about the dangers of STDs called Focus which is great – listen for yourself. What Restless can do to support such aspirations was something that Sithembele took away to discuss with the team.
We went back to East London and out for a great dinner with Frank Harle, Country Director, and heard about the programmes and projects in the pipeline. It sounds like the office is going to be very busy. The next day before we left on the flight home we had time for a quick visit to the Restless offices and to meet some of the rest of the team.
It was great for me to finally see Restless on the ground albeit briefly – the enthusiasm, dedication and skills demonstrated were amazing to experience.