Last Wednesday I met with Chenge from Young in Prison (YIP) about the possibility of working with female prisoners ages 12-21 at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison. The information was not encouraging. My only options at Pollsmoor Prison would be from 10:00-12:00 daily, and I’m class until 10:00 or 10:30 every day except Monday. Apparently that two hour time slot is the only time of day that the girls are not in lockdown. Can you imagine a twelve year old in 22 hour lockdown daily?
After feeling pretty hopeless about YIP, I went to see St. Michael’s home for abused girls on Friday. We met with the woman in charge, Claudia. The home seems like a really great place… but I didn’t quite click with Claudia, and I didn’t see a clear place for me there. I didn’t get to meet the girls, and I know that would put a different spin on everything, but it didn’t feel quite right. After that, I was getting more and more stressed out and frustrated about service, feeling like I didn't have a place here at all.
This Monday, however, I gave YIP another shot, maybe as a secondary project. We went to the YIP office, which is in a really cool building that apparently has a lot of historical significance (Maybe I’ll get back to that in the future when I know more!). It’s a tiny little office in two rooms, and there are only four full time staff members and two full time interns. I loved it. I loved the atmosphere, and the people, and the unstructured, kind of hole-in-the-wall way that the organization works. Just a few people can really get a lot done. Best of all, I was exposed to many opportunities. Apparently YIP is completely disassociating with Pollsmoor Prison because, sadly, the administration there is impossible to work with and pretty much not allowing YIP to do much of anything. But, the staff member went around and introduced themselves, their field of tasks for YIP, and what we could do with the group. Everything sounded wonderful to me, but one project really stuck out. I, with another guy in my group Mark, will be designing a curriculum for a literacy program for Bonnytoun, an awaiting trial center for adolescent boys (ages 14-18). Bonnytoun is essentially a prison, but, from what I understand, it is somewhat more of a nicer setting, and the boys are given access to various programs that YIP runs. Some of these programs are: magazine making, soccer, Thai boxing, lifeskills, games, karate, and literacy. Many of the boys cannot read, and most of those that can read at a very low level. As of now the plan is that Mark and I will spend a few days in the office, researching, meeting, and doing those sorts of tasks related to designing the literacy program… but I will also be spending a couple days a week on site at Bonnytoun, working with the boys on literacy with the program already in place. Implementing a program is a huge challenge because of the high rate of turnover of the boys, as they go to trial, and new boys enter. The goal is to produce a curriculum for a program that is so specific and clear that anyone can pick it up after we leave and implement the program without us. I’m excited, and I love the combination of work that will have a clear, concrete result, with work that is hands-on and interactive with the boys.
I haven’t seen Bonnytoun yet, but will be seeing it for the first time in about three hours. I will also be going back tomorrow to work with the literacy program. I’m sure I will have more to report on the outlook of my service in a few days.
Classes have moved out of our living room to various locations on or around campus… these locations are temporary until more permanent classrooms are found, so we’re up in the air every day about where we will be meeting the next morning. I’m loving my Xhosa class (language). It’s pretty easy to read Xhosa because it is so phonetic, but we started learning clicks yesterday, and that adds a challenge to the mix. I have learned greetings, and words for family members, titles, and a few other things. (“Molweni,” the opening of my post, means hello to a group of people.”). Yesterday’s class was especially interesting because Tandeka, our professor, talked about various aspects of culture as well. She talked a lot about the significance of clan names. Your clan name comes from your forefathers, and you take the clan name of your father. It is separate from a surname/last name, but you also introduce yourself to others using your clan name. Tandeka emphasized the significance of this, because you cannot marry or have sexual relations with someone of the same clan name, even if they are from another place and you have never met them. If two people have the same clan name, they are considered brother and sister, and any sort of sexual relationship would be incestuous. Tandeka also talked about the significance of traditional healers, and of all the ceremonies performed in the Xhosa tradition.