The Real Africa

Our IBD experience in South Africa was full of crazy touristy stories, as you can see in the blogs of my teammates, but our work with loveLife allowed us to discover the other face of the country: the townships. We visited 4 townships in 2 days of field work, one near Cape Town and other near Johannesburg, with the objective of watching and interviewing our client’s “groundbreakers”. These groundbreakers are 15 to 25 year old folks from the communities that after passing a selection process and training program work full-time with loveLife for one year organizing activities for kids in schools and clinics.

The first day we visited Langa and Gugulethu. The experience was eye-opening from the moment that we saw the mass of thousands of shacks extending to the horizon in a plain separated from Cape Town by Table Mountain, as if it had been erected to hide the township from the sight of the capetonians. We visited 2 clinics, 2 schools and a Y-center. Y centers are facilities owned by loveLife where they organize activities for kids in the afternoons, so they have an alternative to the typical undesirable activities kids do in the townships after school.

The highlight in the clinics for me was to see the contrast between the huge brand-new flatscreen TVs that were installed in both receptions with the decadent state of the walls and benches were people were waiting with sad faces. In the school the scene was way more joyful. We heard a great speaker explaining to 14 year old kids how to stay HIV free by using protection when having sex, making for a basic sexual education course they had never received. It was actually amazing to see how he connected with the kids in minutes so they started sharing questions and thoughts that they would probably never dare to ask even to their friends or parents.

The experience at the Y-center was truly inspiring. The groundbreakers had a halo of optimism and energy that surprised me. After being all day watching the environment were these guys had grown up I didn’t expect it at all. When they spoke with us they were more positive and self-confident for the future of themselves and their community than I was at their age. But it wasn’t just their words, among other cool stuff those kids were actually even broadcasting radio that could be listened in the whole township from that place!

The other highlight of the day was lunch. The 3 non-vegetarian members of the team devoured a bowl of beef fillets and pork sausages with our bare hands and without any sort of side in Mzoli’s, the most famous BBQ place in the townships near Cape Town. For our vegetarian teammate we payed a quick visit to a brand new shopping mall in Gugulethu. I’d recommend a visit to anyone that isn’t convinced yet that serving the bottom of the pyramid can be both profitable and positive for the community at the same time.

The second day we visited Soweto and Orange Farm. They are famous for different reasons: Soweto is where the anti-apartheid movement started and Orange Farm is the largest, poorest and dangerous informal settlement nowadays. We visited a clinic, a church and another Y-center.

We found the same mixture of poor basic infrastructure, awesome TVs and inspiring teenagers, but the highlights of the second day were Orange Farm in general and a groundbreaker in its Y-center in particular. Driving to Orange Farm we saw the most bleak view in the whole trip: hordes of kids walking in the highway trying to jump into
pick-ups to save walking kilometers to their homes through a semi-desert and improvised stalls in all intersections selling food covered in dirt. But in that place I found a teenager that as soon as I told him that I was from Bilbao (Spain) he replied with the name of the soccer team of my hometown, Athletic of Bilbao, and, most
surprisingly the names of the 3 key players of the team (something that nobody from outside Spain even in Haas had ever done in my life)!!!

—Pablo Alvarez

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