Saying Goodbye

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              It is now a few weeks later and I have finished the handover notes that my coworker and I have compiled and she is now having her last day with the organization. She tells me it is bittersweet to leave the organization that has given her so much, but now that she has completed this project she feels confident in leaving the program. I am also feeling bittersweet about her departure, on the one hand I am extremely proud of her and on the other I know her absence will be missed by the organization. Her experience is one that I hope everyone who works with the organization has. She first started off as a participant of the Unemployed Youth program and then became a facilitator before she took up her role as coordinator of the program. She has thrived in the organization and excelled at her job. She is now leaving Ready4Life to work with another nonprofit that works in the townships that has offered her a position as the head of educational programs. I am so excited to hear about her progress and truly believe she has such a bright future ahead of her. I think she is the perfect example of a success story for the organization and proof that their training works to help empower the participants to find new opportunities and learn valuable life skills. I am thankful to have worked so closely with her and to learn more about her own experiences with the organization.

            Her last day was spent in our regular Friday meetings with the facilitators where we gave feedback on presentations and discussed updates and what would happen in the next few weeks. I was also able to catch up with the facilitators about their groups. Most of them just had their graduation the week before. I was excited to hear that the one group I had been working closely with during my time here had all students pass the course. This was the group I went to lunch with in my first few weeks. I also got a chance to attend one of their session in which we held mock interviews to help students prepare for future job opportunities. I was even told that some of the students found job and had started that week. I was so proud of them and glad to see that they were able to get the most out of the course. During the meeting I noticed that the facilitators were sad to see my coworker go, but they were also excited for the new challenges they would face with a new leader and with more responsibility to continue the program.

This was the group I followed during my time in PE. This was taken on the day I conducted mock interviews.

This was the group I followed during my time in PE. This was taken on the day I conducted mock interviews.

 

 

New Project

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On Monday I was told that my co-worker, the coordinator to the Unemployed Youth program I was working with, will be leaving the organization in a few short weeks. Since my current projects depended on her input and follow through, I was worried that the work I was doing would not help the organization in this time of transition. I was also surprised to hear that the organization had not yet found a replacement for the position. When talking to my co-worker, she expressed concern over the stress of completing her work and leaving the program in a good position so that whoever took over was able to understand the responsibilities and needs of the program. After a long discussion, she explained what she wanted to do before she left the organization and together we came up with a plan for a new project that would detail the current status of the program and all projects as well as responsibilities and procedures. I am excited about this project because it will help the organization with a new procedure for when an employee leaves and will help settle my coworkers nerves about leaving the program. I spent most of the week deciding on the correct format, pertinent information and helping my co-worker organize her thoughts and files before starting to write the report.
Over the weekend I took a trip to Baviaanskloof with two other interns and the founder of Ready4Life. This was a chance to see some stunning nature away from the cities and the touristic attractions. The nature reserve has beautiful landscapes, wildlife and unpaved roads that require a 4X4 truck. Other than enjoying the scenery, our group got a chance to have some great conversations regarding our time in South Africa. My favorite part of the weekend was getting the chance to hear about the founding of Ready4Life and the vision and goals of the organization. She told me about what motivated her to start the very first program of the organization and how she became a development worker. I got to ask about the structure of the organization and her position on the board. I am glad I got the chance to get to know her and get some advice and opinions about my own future. The weekend was a great chance to relax and return to PE with a new perspective.

Moving Week

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***Disclaimer: My internet connection here has become very poor and I have had trouble uploading my blogs. Hopefully I will get better internet soon so that I can post more recent blogs, but for now this will have to do.

            This week the office is moving to a new location closer to the city center. Therefore everything is complete chaos. I got a chance to get outside the office and go on the museum trip I worked on last week. We changed the location to the South End Museum that tells the story of the local history of the apartheid. I went with three different groups to the museum to learn about civic responsibility.

            The first half of the event was an informational session about the history of the museum and its purpose. The presenter explained why it was necessary to tell the story of the South End of Port Elizabeth and the role of museums in the community. The second portion of the visit was time spent exploring the exhibits and answering questions. It was my duty as the Ready4Life representative to observe the event and provide feedback. I was given a set of questions that the students were expected to answer. My co-worker initially drafted the questions, and myself but the museum staff altered the questions to match specific exhibits in the museum. When I saw the final set of questions I realized many of the questions were asking for students to list names and dates of information that was provided in the museum. I don’t believe this was the correct format for the students as it encouraged the students to just look for the answers rather than interact with the exhibitions. The facilitators who were present all agreed the format should be changed so that students focus more on understanding the history and the museum. During the exploration most students felt rushed and continued to jump from room to room searching for the answers to the questions. This caused the visit to become chaotic and the lack of sufficient time to view the exhibits caused the students to panic. I recommended that next visit the student be given more time in the museum itself and to shorten the time for the presentation.

            After the trip I was invited to walk with the group to get lunch. I was glad for the opportunity to speak and get to know the participants of the program. At first I was not quite comfortable speaking up since most participants were speaking Xhosa and the occasional English that was spoken mostly discussed family, friends and the community. I was happy to just listen and watch the interaction among the group. Then I was asked a few question about where I was from and what I was doing here in PE and how long I was staying. These questions not only showed their interests, but also allowed me to participate in the conversations. Soon the conversation is mostly English and I am able to continue to follow the discussion and I am thankful that I can understand them despite the slang and broken English. During lunch we talked about the trip to the museum and the program overall. I really enjoyed hearing first hand accounts of what the program means to them and what they enjoy about it. One woman told me that without the program she would never have been motivated to find a job and learn new skills. She is looking forward to graduation and to using what the program taught her. One of the young boys in the group told me that he always thought he would have an informal job, he didn’t think he would have the skills or the opportunity for a chance to work for a legitimate company. He says he wants to work as a mechanic in a shop in town that would provide a stable income. This was the first time I was able to see how the program has directly affected the lives of the people I have met.

Exposition

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         On Wednesday I got a chance to participate in my first project. I traveled outside of PE to the city of Uitenhage where Ready4Life is expanding their unemployed youth program. We were hosting an exposition day where several local businesses came and provided information on potential opportunities for employment in the region. I was there to help promote the new program in Uitenhage that would teach unemployed youth life skill and prepare them for the job market. Many of the people who came into the exhibition were interested in the jobs, but unsure of what steps to take after getting an application. Our program would provide them with training and knowledge needed to potentially obtain one of these jobs. I really enjoyed the getting the chance to talk to the members of the community and try to convince them of benefits of participating in the program. The new program was starting the following Monday and we managed to get 90 people to sign up for the course. As this is a new program, I am excited that I was able to participate in the initial recruitment of participants and see what kind of people are interested in the programs. I also discussed with my coworker a plan to work further with this program. I will be updating the manuals used to teach participants about life skills as well as work on the evaluation of the program. The rest of the week I was assigned to alter the curriculum for one week of the course that involved a day trip to a local museum. I was tasked with finding a replacement to the museum used in previous years, as it is now closed, and with meeting with the management to discuss specifics as well as the content covered during the day. I learned from this week how challenging it is to get participants to commit to the program as well as the difficulties that lie in working with unemployed youth. The program requires a minimal fee from participants to ensure their commitment and to cover some of the costs. Convincing young adults who do not have an income to pay for a course is a challenge, which is why the expos are important to show how Ready4Life can aid the community in improving their skills and providing better opportunities. I also realized for the first time the challenges with not speaking the local languages. I was dependent on my coworkers to translate or speak about the program. This week I was able to work with the program I will be developing and see for myself what people will be participating. This weekend I am going on my first trip to see the local coastline, the forest and go bungee jumping. My birthday is also this upcoming Tuesday so I am looking forward to celebrating here in PE with my new friends. I will post again soon about the following week soon.

Arrival and awareness

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            The long flight wasn’t so terrible. I slept most of the way and watched a lot of movies. I landed and made my way to the home I will be staying at for the next two months. I met the head of the organization as well as many of the other interns, volunteers and permanent staff. I will be referring to all of them by their first initial for privacy reasons. I won’t describe each of them since I will most likely mention them in later posts, but for now the main person I will be working with is Y, she is head of the youth unemployment programs and will be directing most of my work. I will detail more of the projects I will be working on later, since my first few days I was mostly given background information and a general idea of the work I will be doing. Soon enough it was the weekend and the volunteers and interns were mostly enjoying a calm weekend in PE. We went to the beach, watched a few movies, made an African BBQ (called a brie) and visited the local market. It was a great chance to get to know the people I will be working and living with as well as familiarize myself with a city.

            On Monday I was given a tour of the city, in particular the townships that are located outside the city center. This was a great opportunity to understand the area in general and to see the community I will be working with. First, we stopped in the city center and saw a few of the general tourist spots. As we continued to drive, we moved further from the wealth of the inner city and moved towards the townships. These areas are informal settlements that are the home for most of the black and colored population. We drove through several areas. Some were fairly well kept. The houses were small and perhaps a little run down, but there were security gates and satellite dishes and multiple cars in the driveways. Then as we moved deeper into the townships there were many homes built of wood and scrap metal. These homes had no running water, electricity and had ten to fifteen people living under a tiny roof. There were lots of children walking the streets despite the fact that it was school hours. This was not the kind of poverty that is often described when talking about Africa, this was not a rural village, and there were plenty of marks of a modern lifestyle. There were small shacks that sold cellphones and illegal electrical wires that taped into the grid and ran to some of the homes. To many of my fellow volunteers and interns, they have never seen poverty like this and have commented on how shocking the conditions are in these areas so close to an urban and thriving city. For me the experience is different. I have never lived in those conditions, but I am not as surprised by them. I have seen the informal job sector up close in my own community, I have visited the homes of those who live day to day and have helped those who cannot afford shoes or clothing for their children. I also know that my own family came from modest upbringings and lived in the barrios of Orange County. Rather than shock me, seeing the townships showed me how much this community has in common with my own. Listening to J describe the community I continued to see similarities including the problems with healthcare, education and employment. I could go into more detail, but I think I will leave this topic for another entry. As for the rest of the tour, we were able to visit a local school that Ready4Life partners with to provide volunteers to help teach English to students who are struggling with the language. This tour was a great introduction to the city and now I have a better understanding of the people and communities I will be working with.

            After my first full week in PE I feel more comfortable and certain about what I would like to do during my time here. I am now busy planning my next week and will be sure to post again soon about the Expo I attended yesterday.

“If you don’t l…

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“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”- Maya Angelou

I hope to learn here in South Africa how to help change these communities for the better and how to change my own perceptions of  the world based on the experiences I have here.