Office of the President - The University of Texas at Brownsville
FEBRUARY 16, 2014 SPRING 2014, No. 5 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cape Town - "Khayelitsha" is a Xhosa word meaning "new home". It is the second largest township in South Africa after Soweto. The township was founded during the apartheid era of enforced racial segregation. The population is estimated to be between 700,000 and 1 million people. Roughly 76 percent of the population is younger than 29 years, and HIV prevalence has reached 25 percent.

Approximately 90,000 care-givers receive child support grants. Housing is predominantly informal, which means that residents live in shacks built from discarded timber, corrugated iron, and other recycled materials.

*Note: double-click video to Play/Pause.
We drove through the township with a young lady whose family still lives In Khayelitsha. She was one of the few lucky ones who received an education. Every day, she would ride the train for two hours to attend school. She said her father insisted that she be the one to end the cycle of severe poverty for the family. She has completed her education and has now become a devout and passionate advocate for the township. She refuses to live elsewhere; she said she feels it would almost be disloyal to not remain to help.

We continued what seemed to be an endless drive through the densely populated township of shacks. In some areas, one electricity pole acted as a sort of maypole tethered by wires to 10 to 20 shacks. None of the shacks had toilets or running water. One outdoors community faucet would provide whatever fresh water was available for the residents and what we know as temporary port-a-cans were the only toilets available.
Just as most would have given up hope that any solution was possible, we were taken to a large warehouse that had overnight been converted into an exhibition hall of altruistic, enthusiastic “do-gooders” who were in fact making a big difference. One of the groups had organized around soccer and named itself "Grassroots Soccer". The group had strategically organized around the notion that kids would show up for a game of soccer. Once there and after tasting of the fun of a soccer game, they would be taught about safe sex and the dangers of HIV. Both boys and girls then became coaches themselves to bring others to the makeshift soccer fields. It was absolutely magical what one soccer ball in a dusty field with dutiful coaches could do to change the pattern of rape, children having children and exposure to HIV.

Exhibitors at the event were all Ford grantees. Some helping transform shacks made of corrugated tin and scrap lumber into modest brick homes. Another called "Men Care" helping men discover the important role of parenting for both men and women.

Most of the organizers were young women and men who themselves had grown up in the townships. Others were Afrikaners who live in Cape Town and felt a responsibility to help. One of the men I met was from Vermont who had decided to move his wife and two young sons to Cape Town to help out. They had committed to this work for two years; they were on their third year.

When I asked folks how they dealt with what at times felt like an insurmountable set of complex and enormous problems, they each in their own way said, "One child at a time; one house at a time."

The University of Texas at Brownsville
The University of Texas at Brownsville
Office of the President
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