Disaster Shakti – Botswana, South Africa – Team Journals

June 18th 2007, Cape Town, South Africa
Gargi Roysircar

We began to prepare ourselves for our South African outreach by first personally experiencing the beauty and historical challenges of South Africa. A breathtaking, state-of-the-art cable ride that rotated, while simultaneously lifting steeply and vertically, took us to Table Mountain. I was ready to press the easy button! The symmetrical cutting and flattening of rocks though centuries of erosion made me imagine thousands of artisans and masons chiseling rectangles and squares to some classical design. I imagined thousands of gardeners planting in crevices low-growing shrubby vegetation with bright yellow, red, and fuchia flowers and berries. I was viewing an extraordinary natural wonder of rock and foliage diversity as I looked down to the brilliantly sun-lit coastal line of Table Bay and Cape of Storms. Colleen, our guide, pointed to us Robben Island, whose crashing white waves and green foliage hid its housing of the dark, cruel history of apartheid.

Robben Island The fun of Table Mountain was completely wiped out by Robben Island’s history of prison camps and forced, non-productive limestone mining labor. Here Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters, which included high school children, were classified and separated by the shades of their skin color. For example, Black South Africans were not allowed to have bread or jam with their breakfast, while Indians and other Asiatics were given a minimum ration of these delicacies.

Photo Caption: Tim Gillespie, Gargi Roysircar, and Amanda Blanchard of Disaster Shakti with Mr. Sparks, our tour guide who was an African Nationalist and imprisoned in Robben Island along with Nelson Mandela. Our sociopolitical education in the history of apartheid inspired our advocacy for community outreach in South Africa.

My heart filled with national pride when I read the enlarged prison pass of Billy Nair, an Indian, Hindu by religion, who served time twice in Robben Island. Indians fought side-by-side with Black South African Nationalists. Indians were banished from the cities into Bantutowns along with Blacks. With the development of Bantutowns, husbands and wives and families were separated. Children were abandoned. Biracial children were considered illegitimate. In fact, 60% of South African children were considered illegitimate. All this happened so recently in the history of South Africa and of the world-in the 1970’s and 1980’s-when in the U.S.A, we were beginning to enjoy the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement.

Nelson Mandela has lived a free life for only 16 years, after being imprisoned for 27 in corrugated tin-roofed huts. As an outsider and who heard stories of the British colonization of her country of origin, India, all her growing-up years, I am confused by the talk of forgiveness and reconciliation. To me forgiveness and reconciliation are the issues of individual relationships rather than addressing through community activism and education the large-scale oppression and eradication of minorities. Will the history of apartheid be forgotten by the generations to come and how will they learn to prepare and protect themselves from another potential Nazi-like assault on their humanity. But I am speaking from the limitations of my worldview and cultural encapsulation and what I am saying may be truer of yesterday than of tomorrow.

June 19th 2007, Cape Town Day 2
Gargi Roysircar


School teachers are on strike for higher wages; so we did not go the school we had planned on visiting. We went instead to a crèche, which turned out to be an even better trip. The crèche is part of a women’s empowerment program, called Philani Nutrition Project. Philani’s coordinator, a 20-something Black South African, in whom I had my first glimpses of the future socially progressive leadership of South Africa, got her master’s degree in social work from the University of Albany, She told us that today poverty, unemployment (40%), instability, and violence are central to the life experience of township and squatter communities in South Africa.

When references are made to townships and squatter shacks, one means where Black South Africans live. There are large numbers of malnourished children and destitute mothers who are the most vulnerable within these townships. The townships consist of rows of tin-roofed shacks and outhouses, very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer, with no city-distributed electricity. Here Black South Africans were moved to from Cape Town during apartheid and where they continue to live. The township dwellers have ingeniously pulled into their homes pirated electric lines. However, when one of these unauthorized lines catches fire, fifty or so shacks are burned down immediately. The townships are located in the city’s outskirts and some touch the borders of lush golf courses of private golf clubs. The third world meets the first world in improbable ways. The government has planned the removal of the townships to be replaced with concrete buildings. To get into these residential buildings, people need to get on a list. I saw a few scatted buildings and single homes in these townships, whose demolition, it appeared to me, might take another two decades. And perhaps more.

Philani crècheAt the Philani cooperative, women, young and old, were weaving carpets and making arts and crafts, while toddlers played around and watched their mothers and grandmothers weave. A front-store sold the women’s handcrafts. Our outreach team members immersed themselves in layers of carpets, handicrafts, and jewelry; we could not buy enough of the exquisite ware. Children of the crèche, 2- to four-years old, sang and danced to show us what they had learned. Some were African songs and some were nursery rhymes that we were familiar with and in which we joined. Watching the children joyously perform and our joining in and clapping with them was most heartwarming for me. There is life, hope, learning, and employment in the slums. Philani services include nutrition intervention, education provision, skills training, and HIV/AIDS education. Philani outreach workers go house to house seeking out malnourished and at-risk children, with the goal of teaching mothers to use the resources that they do have to raise healthy children at home.

Photo Caption: Philani Nutrition Project cr̬che for infants 2 Р4 years of age.

Late that evening, I was finishing up in my laptop a keynote speech that I was to deliver the following morning at a conference. I did not want to disturb my roommate, so I was writing in the hotel lobby. A waitress brought me from the hotel’s restaurant a tray complete with coffee, cream, sugar, cloth napkin, spoons, cup and saucer, none of which I had ordered. I was taken aback with this hospitality. I was even embarrassed. I fished out some coins from my purse, apologizing to the waitress that I did not have the right denomination of paper currency in Rand. The young woman told me that the coins amounted to more than what she gets paid per hour (about 2.00 U.S. dollars) and that she had enough money for transportation that night to her township. Somehow, this young woman knew I needed coffee to keep me awake.

Earlier that evening, we dined at Africa Café, the finest restaurant in Cape Town, that serves about 30 dishes from different parts of Africa. Our outreach team of about 21 members was joined by the Philani staff and their friends. We were truly a multiracial multicultural group seated at two long wooden tables. The table dishes consisted of bright handmade pottery. Waves of food arrived at out tables and empty bowls were whisked away gracefully. Basumati rice and lamb curry were also considered African food, which delighted me because I realized that the spice and silk trade started by Vasco de Gama linked India with South Africa in food and cuisine several hundreds of years ago. The dinner banquet ended to the sound of African drumbeats and songs, and we went back to our hotel having purchased a variety of African pottery.

June 27th Disaster Shakti Outreach in Johannesburg Days 1, 2, 3, and 4
Gargi Roysircar

The four days we worked in Johannesburg, I connected with South Africans in many different ways and at different levels. We visited the Parents and Children’s Counseling Centre in Soweto. Soweto stands for Southwestern Townships, where Black South Africans were resettled in homelands away from Johannesburg. In local colloquialism, Soweta stands for so where to? At the Centre, a social worker presented a written case report of a 14-year-old girl who is HIV positive. This girl was raped prior to her HIV diagnosis. The girl lives with her brothers, only few years older than she. The case presentation was of high professional quality.

HIV/AIDS MuralThe three social workers and our outreach team members had enriching conversations on the interface of care for HIV/AIDS, trauma, adolescent stress responses, an adolescent client’s social and emotional needs outside of HIV treatment, child-headed households, and parent-training with heads of households who are barely out of adolescence themselves. I felt connected professionally in a dusty shanty town half-way across the world from New Hampshire. The community counselors, who are volunteers from the township and paid a stipend, spoke off the challenges of going into the hostels for male laborers in their township as well as visiting with prostitutes who have moved into environs of the male hostels. Here the community counselors do home-based HIV/AIDS education.

Photo Caption: HIV/AIDS public health announcement on a wall in Soweto township served by community counselors from the Parents and Children’s Counseling Center.

The community counselors liked being able to reflect at our case conference on their own hurts and pains arising out of the extensive service they provide women and child clients. Unlike the social workers, they receive limited supervision and support because large numbers of community counselors are doing outreach in townships. By listening to the testimonials of the community counselors, we were their witness and social support for one brief morning. The community counselors were talking about their need to debrief just as we the U.S. outreach team members meet for group processing for at least an hour and a half every evening after our day’s work. Here again was a professional meeting of minds between South African and U.S. outreach workers.

From the Centre, we walked through the dusty, unpaved, paper- and glass-strewn paths of the township hostels to reach Project Accept, where HIV/AIDS testing and education are conducted. The person-in-charge of Project Accept is an actor-performer who manages the project as a part-time job. I am extremely impressed with how HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programming is widespread, openly talked about, and announced in public billboards and building walls in urban slums. I have not seen such public acknowledgment of HIV/AIDS in the United States. While the South African government offers some financial support, most of the HIV/AIDS work is being conducted by non-profit or religious organizations, including Catholic as well as Jewish charities. The community counselors told me that they need sturdy shoes to do their door-to-door counseling services in the townships. On paper they mapped with pen and ink their foot sizes, which I am taking back to Antioch. I will do fund-raising to send sneakers to the counselors and, hopefully, also a check to the Centre, so that shoes can be bought for the township children that the Centre serves.

Late that day with a smaller group from our outreach team, I visited with the faculty and graduate students of St. Augustine’s College, a masters and doctoral granting institution, similar to Antioch, and which, also like Antioch, has a values-based, social justice orientation to teaching, research, and scholarship. We had an energetic, powerful dialogue on the ethics, competencies, and empowerment features of activism and how we can achieve peace and reconciliation by embracing biculturalism, biracial collaboration, and respect for human dignity. The St. Augustine doctoral students’ dissertations are along such philosophical lines, be they Black or White South African or Afrikaner. I find this to be an amazing ideological shift within a decade, after having noted and personally sobbed over the history of apartheid as depicted in the Apartheid Museum, Hector Peterson’s Museum, and the Regina Munde Church.

Hector Peterson MemorialHector Peterson was the first Black high school boy, about age 12, to be shot down by the police in Black student protests and uprising on June 16, 1976. The students were protesting against the imposition of Afrikaans as the language of instruction, which would replace the English language that was reserved for the better quality education for White students. The high school students were protesting such Bantu Education policies. Anywhere between 300 to 1000 Black and Indian school students as well children, some who were as young as six years of age and who were playing in the streets of Soweto, were killed on June 16th.

Photo Caption: Museum for Hector Peterson, age 12, first Black high school student to be shot on June 16, 1976. More sociopolitical education to strengthen our motivation for community outreach to children and adolescents.

At Regina Munde Church, where school students had gathered to pray, the police opened fire. Bullet holes and other signs of physical assault can be seen in the walls, stained glass windows, and the church pulpit. The high school students gave momentum to the African Consciousness Movement, which was different from the mission of the African National Congress’ (ANC) fight for civil rights. It was the school children’s revolt that brought forth the South Africa that Nelson Mandela and the earlier generation of freedom fighters had envisioned, and for which they were either killed or tortured and imprisoned. Winnie Mandela, in and out of prison, brutalized by the police and prison guards, and banished to townships, embraced the school students’ fight for African Consciousness. She joined the students’ ranks as a leader, while still keeping alive in the 70’s and 80’s people’s memory of Nelson Mandela and the much reduced ANC party and its declining influence.

What a political change in South Africa within two decades, so well represented by the multiracial ideology of the faculty and doctoral students of St. Augustine. Here at St. Augustine’s, which was founded in 1999, I made intellectual, pedagogical, and multicultural connections. I would love to teach in this institution one day. I would not have said that I would love to teach in a South African university 10 to 15 years ago. However, I need to remind myself that even though we do not have color apartheid, we still have in South Africa economic apartheid, neighborhood apartheid, city versus rural apartheid, etc.

The first day in Johannesburg, we had a day of learning through a conference that our team leader and sponsoring association, AMCD, had organized. The purpose of the conference was for us to learn from our team members who were making presentations on their respective local, regional, national, and international outreach projects, which were also accompanied with some basic evaluation research. We learned about Palestinian-Israeli peace dialogs among friends and neighbors; college students doing clean-ups of a toxic waste site in a village in Mexico; doctoral students consulting with school counselors and doing parent-training in a southern city in the U.S.A.; a doctoral student studying the racial climate of a school and making suggestions for a culturally competent school system in the U.S. A.; training graduate students to do Hurricane Katrina relief work by using Paulo Friere’s social justice model, and many other fine presentations. Some student team members gave poster presentations.

A South African educational psychologist spoke of her psychological and assessment work with poor children in townships around Johannesburg. I gave the keynote on psychology professionals and students’ purpose of doing social justice work in communities, how we get started on such work that is not included in our professional curriculum, and the professional competencies of advocacy work. I was given one directive by our outreach team leader-that I needed to be inspirational to set us off on our South Africa-Botswana outreach project. I think I did exactly that because I wrote and spoke from my heart and deep convictions. My listeners gave me a standing ovation.

July 4, 2007, Gabarone, Botswana, Southern Africa, Days 1, 2, 3, and 4
Gargi Roysircar

Johannesburg saw its first snowfall in 26 years. Gabarone, the capital of Botswana, dry for two years, experienced a few sprinkles. I like my comings and goings in Southern Africa being associated with weather developments. In Southern Africa, where it’s winter now, days are bright, sunny, and crisp under clear blue skies. The nights are cold under star-lit brilliance. The night before I left Keene, I got myself an EMS fleece and climbing shoes, both protecting me well from winter Harmattan winds and the dust picked up pedestrians and traffic.

Like political refugees of past apartheid South Africa and economic refugees of current Zimbabwe, you can walk from Johannesburg to Botswana and find yourself in a Southern African country different from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Gabarone is laidback, stable, and safe. The University of Botswana is well funded, showcasing fine buildings and infrastructure, the best library in sub Sahara (all glass-walled), an Olympic-size swimming pool, and parking lots filled with Mercedes Benz, which belong to faculty members. The public relations Dept. at the University is very similar to Antioch’s public relations dept., except that in Botswana there is a provost for public relations. The provost told us that the University’s public relations’ most pressing need is to maintain the school’s current big university image and 25-year-old-history in order to offset the challenge of a competing public university that will be developing soon in Gabarone and appropriating federal allocations and student enrollment.

The counseling and educational psychology curricula are similar to those in U.S. universities. The University faculty and staff are encouraged to seek professional development and higher education degrees in Western countries, with tuition and expenses all paid for by the University. A master’s level counselor of Career and Counseling Services of the University expressed an interest in applying to Antioch’s clinical psychology program this coming fall. He loved our AUNE website, and after spending a day or two with me, he was even more convinced that he would like to come to our school. He obtained his master’s degree in England. We spoke of his taking the GRE and TOEFEL, and he said that the Univ of Botswana would fund his education in Antioch. I have learned that the benefits for Botswana from its diamond trade will last another 35 years. I have also learned that the unemployment rate is 50% and that 1 in 5 persons has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Gabarone is in the midst of modernism and traditionalism in mental health services. We experienced this in our visits to the academic department of counseling/social work as well as the Career and Counseling Services in the University, Lifeline Botswana community mental health agency, Kgolagano College of Theological Education–a community college that teaches pastoral and evangelical counseling, Botswana’s only Women’s Shelter in Gabarone, and guidance services in govt-run elementary, middle, and secondary schools. Our outreach team broke up in small groups and for two days we did outreach in these community organizations. The counseling and educational psychology curricula are similar to those in U.S. universities. The services provided by Career and Counseling Services are similar to U.S. college counseling centers, serving the developmental needs of undergraduate students. However, unique to university services in Botswana is its HIV/AIDS counseling and educational services and working with students who serve as surrogate parents to their younger siblings because their parents have died.

On the other hand, the College of Theological Education stresses on evangelical counseling that is contextualized in Southern African cultural and religious traditions. The faculty and students said that they were not able to locate pastoral counseling books with a multicultural focus, and that they did not have the expertise to produce scholarship in counseling that is based on South African spirituality. We had an energetic conversation on multicultural spirituality, with significant ideas articulated by the African American faculty and professional staff members of our U.S. outreach team. I am familiar with some recent books on spirituality in counseling, and if these are relevant to the discussion we had with members of the Theological college, I will mail these to this school. The chief reverend/pastor of the school is an American from Los Angeles, and he was wearing an Oregon t-shirt!

Two students from the University of Florida and I spent two days at Lifeline Botswana. Lifeline has an excellent model for training community members and youth as paraprofessionals, who take counseling outreach services into homes, schools, and the community. This training is fee-based, quite extensive with a major focus on micro-skills, and it includes a large component on personal growth and self-awareness, the latter materials reminding me of the self-reflection methods I use in training students to gain multicultural self-awareness. I am bringing with me Lifeline’s training materials to learn how I can adapt these to train my students in community outreach. I have also learned about the improvisation of street theatre, which community counselors use in working with adolescents to educate them on alcohol and drug abuse. Street theatre and liberation theatre were also used in Black townships in South Africa in the 60’s and 70’s to inspire the common person to fight apartheid’s oppression. Lifeline appointed me as a community counselor for one day to meet walk-in clients. I felt so enriched to be with individuals and their day-to-day difficulties that I am feeling a strong urge to get back to counseling in my own professional work.

I lugged a huge bag of book donations from Atlanta, through Johannesburg, to Gabarone, and paid excess baggage charge as we departed from Johannesburg to Gabarone. Most of our team members carried one such bag and paid overage. The hassle was worth it. The University of Botswana library had a beautiful exhibit of our book donations. The books were new and the most recent publications in counseling, psychology, statistics, measurement, design, and evaluation. The exhibit was accompanied with a reception held by the Director of Libraries, the Dean of Education, and various library and faculty members. The ceremony for the acceptance of the books was most gracious. When speaking to the Dean, library officials, and the chair of the counseling dept., I learned that I could send by UPS new books that I receive, and that the University of Botswana will pay for the transportation. As the editor of the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, I am sent many recently published multicultural and research books. I wish to donate these because books in Botswana are very expensive, which most graduate students here cannot afford.

I feel overwhelmed by the hospitality, warmth, and gracious modesty of the people we met at Gabarone. Wherever we went, we were offered tea, coffee, and snacks. We received many friendly hugs and embraces. Professionals, students, and staff are very polite and soft-spoken. An Indian librarian at the University of Botswana and her husband, a professor of physics, took me over to their home to share their home-cooked Indian food with them and their children. This invitation was extemporaneous-with no advance notice or prior acquaintanceship. As I return home to the United States, I will miss the humanity and spontaneous friendliness of people of Southern Africa. I am reflecting on difficult issues of re-entry and reverse acculturation for me. I will also miss seeing early in the morning monkeys running on the grounds of our hotel, which will be replaced with running squirrels in my yard in Keene.

June 18th 2007, Cape Town, South Africa
Timothy Gillespie

The journey to Robben Island was a lonely one. The excited and anticipatory chatter that accompanied our departure from Victoria and Alfred waterfront was soon washed away by the steeply rolling waves and the somber reality that Mandela and other political prisoners had made this same trip (on this same vessel) not long before. As we drew further away from the mainland, I experienced an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. The political prisoners here were forced to be not only physically but psychologically displaced from all that they had known and worked for so passionately. Names became numbers, identity reduced to race, interactions between separated groups were discouraged if not punished by solitary confinement. And yet this place haunted by the ghosts of so much loss, suffering and oppression has come to symbolize hope and freedom. The human spirit transcended the physical barriers placed between the prisoners and the prisoners and the mainland. Ingenious methods of connection and communication were devised including notes in bibles transferred by priests, in tennis balls throw over fences.

We as group members and visitors to this place are also seeking connections- with each other and with our contacts here. I find myself reaching out where I can to drop my anchor amidst the uncertain seas of our experience. My draw to connect, I believe, is a protective measure, an effort at establishing trust and formation of a support network with which to weather the storm of our intense experiences to come. It is an antidote to isolation and gauge by which to monitor my own processes of change that will inevitably occur

June 19, 2007, Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Timothy Gillespie & Amanda Blanchard

Merle McOmbring-Hodges, Coordinator of the Office of Internal Affairs at CPUT, warmly welcomed our outreach team to their institution. Students and professors openly hosted a luncheon during which we were able to exchange information and ideas regarding the institutions we represented. Flags of many nations were on display around the room in representing the home countries of current students at CPUT. Following the food and meet and greet we transitioned to their oval shaped conference room where presentations were offered on their innovative HIV/AIDS preventions programs. Both Mr. Ashraf Mohammed and Mr. Peter Leroux (each at different campuses) were obviously excited and compassionate about their cause. Multiple approaches are part of their strategic HIV/AIDS prevention program including community outreach, testing (pre and post test counseling), and care and support groups. The effectiveness of their programs is reflected in the example of a psychologist from CPUT who spearheads testing days that draw students in the hundreds. Part of the success of these programs has been fueled by the administrations willingness to be openly tested themselves.

On a personal level, we were impressed and inspired by a young Muslim woman who disclosed to us that she is HIV positive and has had the disease for the past thirteen years. Students at the university appear to be personally dedicated to affecting positive change within their university community. Some examples of this include a health educator who is available to students twenty-four hours a day if they desire support surrounding their feelings. We felt honored to be in the presence of individuals who are actively making history and are pioneers to the cause of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in what can be a tumultuous political and social environment. They remain enthusiastic in the face of many obstacles including denial, stigma, and personal risks to themselves.

June 27th Disaster Shakti Outreach in Johannesburg Days 1, 2, 3, and 4
Timothy Gillespie

Following our conference and time in Soweto, we had the opportunity to spend two days at Sithand’izingane Care Project, which provides services to the once segregated townships of Tsakane, Geluksdal and Langaville. The project provides many services to these communities including a drop-in center for HIV/AIDS infected children and mothers, orphan aftercare, a feeding scheme and sewing, beadwork and literacy classes for HIV/AIDS infected mothers and young adults. In previous conversations, Sister Mary, our contact, had requested that part of our cultural exchange include providing some training for the professionals and paraprofessionals working at the site. After meeting with the whole group (approx. 35 workers) our team divided to meet the discrete needs of the professionals and paraprofessionals. The Antioch team collaborated with members of the University of Florida contingent in working with the paraprofessionals. As an ice breaker, we offered a song we felt had some symbolism in the moment- Lean on Me. In admittedly dubious pitches we began only to be joined by nearly every person from the project. They, in turn, offered us a song (and dance) in exchange. Their song was sung in Zulu and carried the message that we open the gates and welcome you in. Our team was then invited and to some degree succeeded, to learn a part of their song. A second Zulu song, I will never give up was then sung by the whole group. This song would be repeated many times throughout our time at the project and became a salient theme.

Much laughter and rejoicing followed our singing, testifying to the rapport that had so quickly been established. Consistent with our culturally sensitive, outreach approach, our team then sought to learn more about the paraprofessionals’ experiences, perceptions and needs. What followed was story after story of paths of pain and suffering that had led these individuals to the sanctuary that was this place we were in. The evolution of this process lead to the description, many times over, of the space that we had collectively created as holy ground. The natural progression of our work led us to the topic of self-care and team members led psychoeducational/experiential exercises in diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. The wrap-up of our day included learning what the paraprofessionals would like from us for the next day, more singing and dancing as well as a hearty meal they provided for us to share with them.

Our second day with the paraprofessionals opened in a similar fashion to how we had ended with I will never give up spontaneously being sung. In response to the paraprofessional’s requests, our second day was focused on specific interventions that they could use with the children they work with. Our team provided a strength based series of experiential exercises focusing on bolstering feelings of self-worth, utilizing narratives to reframe and re-story trauma laden histories as a vehicle for fostering hope and possibility. Consistent with the previous day, our experience was a true exchange as the paraprofessionals engaged in the exercises offering their own sources of strength and stories. The day ended with a ritual closing in the form of a communal scarf dance and meal.

These two days at Sithand’izingane contained some of the most personally impacting moments for me since our arrival in South Africa. The warmth and strength exuded during our time there has truly transformed and heightened my appreciation for the human capacity for resilience and connection. For me this was a place of healing achieved through human relationship and I felt honored to have been invited to participate in this very thing on what I truly experienced as holy ground.

July 7th, 2007, Botswana Process
Timothy Gillespie

Soon after setting down on the dusty tarmac of sleepy Seretse Khama airport in Gabarone, the different pace of Botswana life became apparent. Time was fluid, and some time spent in one place did not necessarily appear to detract from time available to another. I experienced this phenomenon in many ways while in Botswana, but first and foremost during my time spent at a Junior middle school. Although logistics regarding my and Dr. Butler’s (of the Univ. of Central Florida) visit to the school had been arranged some time in advance by our University of Botswana contact, it became readily apparent that we had better hurry up and slow down once we arrived on campus. Our eagerness to engage with students and staff was met with vague and deferring responses. Time would need to be spent just being in each other’s company.

A slow stroll around the campus and unhurried conversation with the head of school left us little closer to knowing what they would allow/have us do on the following days. What we did gain was trust, connection and an appreciation for the Botswana way of doing things. In that initial period of time, part of our job, it became clear, was assuring our contacts that we hoped that our experience would be mutually beneficial through reciprocal exchanges of knowledge and ideas and deference to a culturally sensitive model of outreach. Though it took some time laying groundwork, the resulting experience was invaluable. Dr. Butler and I met with students in groups ranging in size from 2 to 175. The work and settings we were involved in included classroom observation, participating in student-run peer counseling, speaking about study skills in preparation for upcoming exams and interacting with various clubs (choir, traditional dance, etc.) In the end, the experience left me feeling that we could not have gotten to the place we did any faster- there was no short cut and the time early on was not spent, but invested.

In fact, the alternate understanding of time has operated throughout my experience of this trip in one sense or another. As our stay here winds to an end, I am struck by how quickly 3 weeks can pass and yet how full and life changing they can be. The trip, while discrete in its dates of beginning and end, seems of such personal impact to me that it begs the question of what ripple effects may occur across time.

June 18, 2007, 12:15 a.m., Cullinan Hotel, Capetown
Amanda Blanchard

What an astonishing and breathtaking view atop Table Mountain. I am unsure where the clouds meet the sky, as we seem to be in the midst of them. I cannot wait to see the pictures. I am thoroughly enjoying myself and am so thrilled I decided to go on this journey. I feel so lucky to witness everything that is occurring around me. Sitting here, reflecting upon today, I have an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. If you set your mind to something, you can achieve it. I am in South Africa this evening, completely successful.

Robben Island, I believe, is not something that you can process in one day. I have many strong feelings festering inside of me and hope that in time they can come out, and I can accurately share this experience with others. An initial thought that I had upon returning to the hotel, looking around, and slipping into my down comforter bed was, Wow…I have so much to be thankful for. I felt a bit of guilt as I thought of the brave souls who endured the minimalist of conditions for what they believed in. Dr. West Olitunji (our group leader) teaches me a lifelong lesson. It is not helpful to feel guilty for my possessions and privilege, but to work as hard as you can so others may have access to them.

June 19, 2007, Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Amanda Blanchard & Timothy Gillespie

Merle McOmbring-Hodges, Coordinator of the Office of Internal Affairs at CPUT, warmly welcomed our outreach team to their institution. Students and professors openly hosted a luncheon during which we were able to exchange information and ideas regarding the institutions we represented. Flags of many nations were on display around the room in representing the home countries of current students at CPUT. Following the food and meet and greet we transitioned to their oval shaped conference room where presentations were offered on their innovative HIV/AIDS preventions programs. Both Mr. Ashraf Mohammed and Mr. Peter Leroux (each at different campuses) were obviously excited and compassionate about their cause. Multiple approaches are part of their strategic HIV/AIDS prevention program including community outreach, testing (pre and post test counseling), and care and support groups. The effectiveness of their programs is reflected in the example of a psychologist from CPUT who spearheads testing days that draw students in the hundreds. Part of the success of these programs has been fueled by the administrations willingness to be openly tested themselves.

On a personal level, we were impressed and inspired by a young Muslim woman who disclosed to us that she is HIV positive and has had the disease for the past thirteen years. Students at the university appear to be personally dedicated to affecting positive change within their university community. Some examples of this include a health educator who is available to students twenty-four hours a day if they desire support surrounding their feelings. We felt honored to be in the presence of individuals who are actively making history and are pioneers to the cause of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in what can be a tumultuous political and social environment. They remain enthusiastic in the face of many obstacles including denial, stigma, and personal risks to themselves.

June 27th Disaster Shakti Outreach in Johannesburg Days 1, 2, 3, and 4
Amanda Blanchard

We have seen so many since we last wrote home; I will do my best to summarize my most meaningful moments. At the Nelson Mandela museum, my favorite artifact on display was the first pair of shoes that he purchased after being imprisoned for 27 years. Also in Soweto, Regina Mundi Catholic church was filled with bullet holes and destruction as the government police violated the building and parishioners simply for speaking in their native language. As I prayed in one of the pews, I could feel the unity and strength of this community and its people.

Hector Peterson Museum and Apartheid Museum were both powerful and depressing. Heavy oppression and bloody brutalization of all ages were in display. I couldn’t tear myself away from the videos of townships being attacked. June 16th is National Children’s day to commemorate and remember many children who died in this struggle, Hector Peterson being the first.

After speaking about misery I feel it is crucial to mention many wonderful moments as well! Driving through the countryside on the way to Kruger National Park (a bus ride of 12 hours 🙂 the countryside was breathtaking. I read many travel magazines and am inspired and hopeful to see something as beautiful. What I saw was much more amazing than anything I have ever seen. I cannot put into words the beauty of the vegetation, waterfalls, windy cliffs, and picturesque skies. A camera could not possibly capture its essence. I had to remind myself to remain in the moment to absorb it fully, and those images will be in my memory for a lifetime. I am hoping to be able to share this someday with loved ones.

My experience of Sithand’izingane Care Project was deep, moving, and inspiring. I have a newfound hope in mankind. A genuine relationship was formed and I know that amazing work was done. We were able to facilitate in having the community volunteers give positive feedback to one another and widen their support systems, for even after we left. Some heavy self-disclosures were made, for some people for the first time. We created an environment where they felt safe.

Lastly, I feel obligated to mention two quotes that I overheard volunteers say to each other. I get paid in smiles and I see Jesus in you. The young man who received the compliment was so taken aback he asked for an explanation. When he got it, his eyes filled up with tears and thanked the women who praised him.

I very much enjoyed singing We are the world in unison. I watched that video as a child many times, so to be in Africa, singing it with people feeling truly connected was quite a remarkable moment.

July 4th
Amanda Blanchard

I attended Marang Junior Secondary school in Gaborone, Botswana, today. I was amazed by the overwhelming duties of one guidance counselor. She was responsible for the physical and mental health of over eight hundred students. Mrs. Reginah Gaorengwe counsels students upon requests from teachers, makes referrals to outside agencies, and even serves as acting school nurse. Using an office the size of a small closet, here she conducts her work.

Blair, a student from the University of Florida, and I chose to spend the day at this school. We began the day by having a three-hour session with a young woman who is HIV positive and is extremely neglected by her caregivers. Both parents have passed away, and her maternal uncle has assumed the responsibility of raising her. She is given her ARV’s at 5 a.m. and then gets violently ill, as she does not have adequate food in her system. Mrs. Gaorengwe is very concerned about this child, but also feels uneasy about making waves contacting the uncle. This young woman is very small for her age, and developmentally looks about eight years younger than she really is. She speaks English as a second language, so I feel that some of our work is lost in translation. Blair and I encourage this young woman to participate in strength building exercises. We emphasize her many positive qualities, attempt to empower her, and hope that after we leave, she will continue to be able do this for herself. During this visit she asks many insightful questions such as, Why are you white and I am black?, Why do so many people in Africa have AIDS? Blair and I were taken aback by her honesty, took a few moments, and did our absolute best to answer her questions. I will never forget this brave young woman and feel honored to have come across her path.

Later in the afternoon I met with a young woman who had lost her mother earlier in the week and now had the sole responsibility of raising her younger siblings. This young woman was rather withdrawn and did not engage. She was able to draw us a picture of what her dream would look like if it came true. She drew a picture of herself in a nurse’s uniform graduating from college. I will pray for her that she is able to achieve her aspirations.

A poster on Mrs. Gaorengwe’s office captured my eye. It read as follows:

Aims and Objectives of the Guidance & Counseling Department

  • We exist to bring reality to the young people by providing information on life skills.
  • By sensitizing our pupils on HIV/AIDS issues, we spread the AIDS message.
  • What is the point of our students doing well in Math and Science if they die of AIDS, a few years later because of ignorance?
  • AIDS is a killer  it’s a fact!

Philani Nutrition Project

Photo Caption: June 19th, Philani Nutrition Project. The Director of Philani and a colleague are introducing us to the empowerment activities set up for women. Photo by Amanda Blanchard


Soweto Township

Photo Caption: June 19th, Soweto Township or squatter shacks where Black South Africans live. Photo by Amanda Blanchard


children at the Care Centre

Photo Caption: June 27th, In Soweto, orphaned children at the Care Centre, whose community counselors we trained for two days. Photo by Amanda Blanchard