What is it like to be a volunteer for six months in an remote South African village? What is it like to live together with the descendants of the Sotho tribe? Fascinating and highly challenging! Yet the forever lasting sunshine and the pure simplicity of Africa are still being missed.
Tubatse, situated of the northern part of the South African Republic, in Limpopo district. The community was founded in 2004, and the living standard is incomparable to the European one. Astonishment came over my face when I arrived there in April of 2015 in order to begin my 6 months long voluntary project. Of course you have imagined before what Africa might be like, but when you are really there, in reality, everything is changed…
Silent tranquility passes your soul over when you walk on the red sanded roads, then you look around and see the dying nature caused by iron ore and coal mining. Everything is loosing their colours ; leaves of the trees are swallowed, they are hardly breathing but those butterflies in your belly are alive and colourful, you are excited because you are there!
Naked children are running and cheering around and you hear the sound of the splashing water and chattering women. They are shouting to each other and sharing the newest gossips while their hands are scrabbled and sore from the washtubs.
You walk further. Observe. It is around 2 in the afternoon, you notice groups of man gathering on the corners smoking rolled tobacco and drinking beers. The sun is glowing, the air is dry, it seems like even the time has stopped.
This is an ordinary picture of the village of Tubatse where the unemployment rate is close to 45% of the population which is an absolute mix of Zulu, northern Sotho and Sotho people. These people have an every-day struggle for living and supporting their families because of the immigration wave from Pakistan.
2015 in the South African Republic. Twenty-one years after the apartheid – enormous change of a country’s history – that has marked the people and its memory is still sensitive.
„Blacks are never equal to whites. The whites are above us and this is accepted by blacks. You whites will always be smarter, richer and more beautiful. „ … Said by the new generation. “We have to pretend and maintain it on the surface. On the other hand, in the reality here in our land equality between blacks and whites will not come”, commenting the locals.
A huge amount of curiosity, hope and honest helpfulness were leading me to start my project work.
Women in the village working all day long
It all started in a very negative sound “We do not need your help, but give me some money!” sounded the first Sotho man I met.
My eyes got widened, but then why would I be shocked? I am a white girl who found herself in another kind of world, sometimes, the world of stereotypes, where the white skin is the symbol of money and power, a kind smile can be a direct sexual call and well-meant can be the easiest target of emotional exploitation. Facing all these made me feel disappointed, yet I have decided to be in the project till the end and see what my experience has to teach me.
During my 7 months in the South African Republic I created myself a new tiny life; a life that was lonely and monotonous with the company of large spiders, bugs and insects. I got so used to this life in a way that made me enjoy it to the end. With all the personal struggles; like carrying water every day, the lack of electricity or washing my clothes by hand. I have learned how to cook sweet potato and pumpkin puree and if I hear music I have to move. I had no social life, local people kept the distance, only few conversations about my well being and non-existing salary were the way I could satisfy my needs of communication or feel some friendly touch. I tried to concentrate on my work since I constantly believed there is a lot to do.
The focus of my project work was based on the community; the improvement the living standard, the importance of education, nutrition and hygiene.
My work place was a Community House located 2 kilometres away from where I was living. I worked together with two local women to whom I have to be grateful for their company.
My project was mainly to prepare and give presentations and courses in which I tried to raise awareness of the importance of hygiene and nutrition.
Later I was teaching and giving lessons about Europe; about our culture, our way of thinking and simply about our life and daily routines.
I think I can say that my job was successful since the kids learned that Hungary is not a neighbour country with China and that snails are served as appetiser in France. These things might not seem to be important if we think as modern europeans but for a small remote community it is a glimpse into another world, my world.
My personal aim was to show something new, to give the younger generation more perspectives in life. I found myself challenged in this task: how do you show different perspectives in a place so marked by their history, a place that for so long was defined by hate, separation and fear? How do I explain that the world is bigger and better when all your life is here… in this place! Why would you need bigger and better if you are happy where you are?
Some of my young students
My question in the end is; What is the real change I can leave behind after 6 months as a volunteer in such a foreign land? Should i try to change anything at all?
I think the real change should happen inside me, and when is the case share my new perspective with others. We should fight for the change to become strong enough to motivate and help each other, to encourage ourselves and others to dare to dream and when the time comes not to be afraid to get out in the unknown, to believe and continue our journey wherever it takes us.
Petra – March Team 2014