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.