While we are here in Cape Town “acclimatising” (read: drinking wine, buying junk at the mall and blogging about our purple car) we thought it would be a good idea to visit some of the programs that ASAP supports in the townships of Cape Town. With that in mind, on Tuesday we set off to Nyanga with a woman who works with the Etafeni project there. Etafeni means “open space” and the project is named after the literally open space in the township where the group first started meeting. We had a few pieces of bedding and blankets that had been donated out of the blue to ASAP and our task yesterday was to visit some people in Nyanga and give them some of these materials. First we spoke at length with our guide for the day, the irrepressible Baba, a great-grandmother who first became involved with Etafeni when they visited here in 1983 to talk about child development. Since then she’s been through training in counselling (which implicitly means HIV/AIDS counseling) and now works as one of the leaders of Etafeni and recruits young mothers herself.
Our first stop was one of the most needy families, with an HIV-positive mother and two children. The family lived in a lean-to tin shack in a shanty town part of the township (most of Nyanga is a shanty town, but some townships have better quality housing). Seeing how this family lived was eye-opening, even after having travelled in poor parts of India, especially since the mother has been too ill to care for the children in the past and seemed to have little in the way of family support. We learned afterwards that one of the children was actually a niece and was being cared for by this lady, which is a typical story in HIV/AIDS afflicted communities.
When we stopped at this first family, Baba just hopped out of the car and left the door unlocked, then called us over to meet the family. I thought this was probably the sketchiest place I could possibly park a car in Cape Town, but I didn’t want to make a fuss of going around locking all the doors either – there were definitely a few people watching us arrive. After we’d been inside a couple of minutes, a small boy popped his head around the door to say that another, “naughty” boy had opened the door of the car. We went outside but the naughty boy had run away. The other kids were all pointing to where he was hiding. He hadn’t taken anything, even though Baba had left a bag of groceries in the front of the car, which was what he was after I think. After that incident I decided it wouldn’t be rude to make sure all the doors were locked if we were out of sight of the car!
The day progressed with a few more visits to different families. Many of the people we met were grandmothers who are caring for their grandchildren since the parents have died of AIDS. One was an 85 year old who we found cooking the evening meal for the children who weren’t home from school yet. It looked like she’d lived a hard 85 years, and we learned later that her 5 daughters had all died of AIDS, so she was caring for two or three young children on her own. It is exactly this kind of situation which ASAP aims to relieve by supporting and growing community organisations that can help elderly or child-headed families survive and provide extras beyond survival such as real nutrition, child development and counselling.
We didn’t take our camera with us, nor was have been much opportunity to take pictures since we were visiting families in their homes, but I did get a quick snap with my phone of the proposed location for an Etafeni playgroup. The playgroup will meet in a converted shipping container (a popular structure in the townships, as far as I can see) which will be placed in this shanty town.
The day after these visits, we had a very positive experience at a different township-based community organization, which Alex has promised to write about in a separate post.