As I make my final decent into Dallas Fort Worth International Airport I am filled with joy thinking back on what an amazing summer I had in South Africa and the amazing people I met along the way. I learned so much that I don’t even understand the impact this trip has had and will have on the academic, career, and personal aspects of my life. It was an unreal experience with its ups and downs but the things I learned will be with me always, even if I am conscious of them or not. I am also filled with great sadness that this amazing experience is over and I will and 10,000 miles away from the people whom I have grown close to over the past six weeks. This was hands down one of the best and most significant experiences I have experienced in my life thus far.
Cape Town, Western Cape
My personal holiday!
Cape Town was unbelievable. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather that must have followed us there. We had an unbelievable view from Table Mountain and a magnificent view of the sunset over the Atlantic, my first time to witness a sunset over the Atlantic. I went to Robben Island and had a tour by a former prisoner. My bother, dad, and I went diving in a shark cage off the coast of Seal Island in False Bay (like on Shark Week!). My brother and I caught a view of the biggest Great White Shark of the day less than a meter away from us. It was Awesome!!!
Wednesday afternoon we flew back to Johannesburg where Conrad met us to fetch us from the airport. That evening we went to dinner with Conrad and Viki, since it was our last night with both of them. Thursday we went The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg that borders Parktown. We went to view the campus and help the process to set up a exchange program with ILR and Wits fro next summer. The rest of the day was spent packing and getting ready to leave Johannesburg since our internship with National Council and QASA was finished. Luckily Ari was in JHB on Wednesday and left Thursday afternoon, so when we returned from Wits I said farewell to Ari. Thursday Des and her husband Mike took us to dinner at the Emperors Palace Casino to say farewell. Friday Eddie departed for Kenya and my parents arrived. Saturday I left for the mother city, Cape Town, and the surrounding wine lands with my parents, brother and grandmother.
We are staying at the Cosmo Zone guest house, a bed and breakfast in Bloemfontein that is owned and run by Sean Moodley’s wife. Sean ran the diversity workshop we attended in Durban with QASA. The accommodations are very nice and the breakfast is delicious.
Tuesday we spent visiting the economic empowerment initiatives in the Free State. We first visited the Botchabello workshop which was in a very poor area. The workers there make teddy bears for Barloworld, a car dealership chain, beaded key rings and bracelets, and piecework for manufacturing companies. They are paid by the amount of work they are doing and according to the specific contract they have. The bead workers get paid the least amount which averages at about R120 per month. This works out to be about $16 per month. We brainstormed ideas on how to pump up sales by thinking of retailers to contact and some new products they could make. We also made suggestions on how to clarify the payment scheme to the current workers as well as future workers. After this we sat down to have a try at making a beaded keychain. Annamarie and Eddie beaded a cross key chain. I unsurprisingly opted out of making a cross key chain and made the second option, a ball. Of course I quickly came to discover that the 3-dimensional ball was not quite as easy as the two-dimensional cross. After about two hours Annamarie and Eddie’s key chains looked like crosses and mine eventually resembled something similar to a ball. It gave us perspective on why there is a limit to the amount of production and money these workers can make because the work is tedious and time-consuming. Of course the workers were much quicker and better at the work than Annamarie, Eddie or I was. We then went to Kapano another one of the economic empowerment factories where they were doing piecework manufacturing electrical parts, assembling plastic flowers, and leather works including pillows and ottomans. We then met with Nthabesing to talk about sensitization in the workplace and watch the video she made to give in her presentations to employers. Wednesday we visited the Jean Webber home on the APD premises that houses people with physical disabilities some of whom work at the APD and other who work elsewhere. The home provides care attendants at all time of the day for the residents. We helped them to brainstorm ideas on how to manage care attendants with attitude and disciplinary problems.
Monday July 30, 2008
Today we visited the Emilia Learning Center. It is a project of the Free State APD that houses and educates children with severe multi-disabilities. The center is in a township of Bloemfontein. The area is impoverished, the drive there we passed informal settlements and small brick homes. Two of the owners were very kind and showed us around their homes. The first home we went into was made of tin and had two rooms. The total square footage was about the size of my freshman year dorm room at Colgate. The bedroom had two beds and we were told eight people stay there. The shack did have electricity but did not have running water. Women were pushing wheelbarrows of water containers down the gravel road. The next informal house we visited was a two story home. The owner wanted a two story home but was unable to afford the building materials so he built his family a two story home made of tin. The home had stairs and a shower/closet and they were even in the process of expanding out towards the back for more space. The owners were very proud of their home and very kind to let us view it. The amazing thing is on the 5 kilometer drive back to APD we saw at least 15 Land Rovers, Mercedes, and BMWs. This was my first opportunity to see the income disparity here in South Africa and it was shocking.
There are currently 35 students staying at Emilia and 16 care attendants who work in shifts. The children stay there during the week and receive all three meals from the center. The children at the center were very excited to have visitors. One child in particular was so happy for us to be there he would stand with us and follow us everywhere. He held my hand and kept doing a handshake with Eddie. He was such a sweet child with the most heartwarming smile. We looked at the files they had on the children. One child had severe brain damage from a gun shot wound. The child was not yet ten years old.
We were given the opportunity to spend time in Bloemfontein at the Free State APD. This was the location we were originally planning on staying, but we were unable to find accommodations for the entire length of time. This is a provincial APD like the Chatsworth APD we visited in KZN. People involved with the NCPPDSA have said that the Free State APD is the most advanced and their initiatives can definitely be a model for the other APDs. Each province has their own challenges and conditions that they face based on the demographics of the population and the infrastructure of the province. These factors may limit the transferability of the programs, but the Free State has overcome many challenges of its own and battles with others everyday.
We arrived Friday and had an overview of the NPO and their projects. They have a Transport division where they transport persons with disabilities around Bloemfontein and also to other locations in the Free State. They charge a minimal fee for their services. Transportation is a major issue everywhere in South Africa and is a huge issue for persons with disabilities. South Africa is very spread out and the public transportation system is very limited. Many people use mini-buses. These buses will either not stop for persons with disabilities or will charge them double fare for their wheelchair. People who live off of the disability grant from the state barely have enough to live on and can not afford cars. For people with physical disabilities it is very difficult to have transport to a job, so it is a vicious cycle that contributes to the unemployment of persons with disabilities. Access is another department the APD is making progress on. They do Access audits for the tourism and hospitality industry including accessibility for employees.
The Chatsworth APD is the provincial office of the Association for People with Physical Disabilities in the KwaZulu-Natal Province (KZN). They run protected workshops, have educational centers for children, physical and occupational therapy facilities, and social work services. They had a learning center on sight for children with severe multi-disabilities. The teacher who runs the center works with the children at school and have their parents come in to train them on how to practice and work with their children at home. The goal of the center is to work with children to work them up to integration into a traditional school. This is not always possible for all students but success is obtained.
We visited two of the protected workshops. One was on the sight of the Chatsworth APD and were working on two projects when we visited. The first project was assembling and packaging curtain rods. The other project was disassembling tampons that were wrapped to tight. The workers had to take the plastic wrapping off, then take off the cover, and finally take out the string. The cotton was then placed in bags and recycled they received <ZAR1 for every plastic gallon bag full of cotton.
The second workshop had a woodworking shop and parts assembly as well as the curtain rod and tampon project.
The staff at the APD facilitated our first encounter with Durban curry. It is amazing. We had a Bunny Chow, which is Durban Indian Curry inside a hollowed out loaf of bread. It was delicious. This is a Durban specialty originating in the apartheid years, when the Indian Restaurants were not allowed to have plates so the restaurants circumvented this law by serving curry in a loaf of bread. I miss Durban curry already.
These are the projects and work we did with the Quad/Para association of South Africa.
We evaluated the basic computer training being done at the KwaZulu Natal Digital Village. The program is offered by QASA in their Ashley Village self help center in Durban. The students learn the basics about Microsoft 2003 Operating system and Office applications they also create their CV. QASA collects the students CVs and information to send to companies to help the students gain employment opportunities. The training and the setup was very well done and the instructor, Dean, knew his stuff. Many of the students struggled with English which made it even harder for them to get used to the computers on their first day. The students struggled figuring out the left and right clicker on the mouse, so we suggested labeling them, a small yet helpful improvement. Another suggestion we made was to have a screen available for the instructor to use to demonstrate as he teaches. We reinforced QASA’s decision to hire one of their staff members, S’phelele, full time and invest in her for training. S’phelele speaks Zulu, one of the national languages and the most common language spoken language by the students. Not only will she help the students with translating but also she will assist Dean with students who need extra attention in order to keep the course flowing. A daily quiz will also be given to all the students to reinforce the daily objectives to improve retention of basic computer skills.
Also at the KZN Digital Village we created a presentation on job interviews. It is a power point project that gives an overview about the interview process, how act during the interview and how to prepare for the interview. Most of these people have never had a job interview and many have never held a formal job. We tried to give them tips on how to overcome their lack of job experience. We gave the presentation twice, once for each group students while we were there. S’phelele will take over the presentation for the future classes. She and Dean will amend and change the presentation as need be once they notice what is and is not working for the students.
We are writing a business proposal for implementing recycling centers at all 12 of the QASA self help centers. The proposal is written for the centers to recycle paper, glass, and plastics. Household recycling of these materials is almost non-existent across the country. The aim of the project is multi-faceted. QASA is offering a service for consumers to be able to recycle their waste in their own neighborhood and help the environment. QASA will not charge anything for recycling but will target the neighbors and help them to take place their recycling in the containers. The money collected from the sale of the waste to collection companies will go towards self sufficiency of the self help centers for their running costs. The more important and potentially lucrative aspect is the exposure to and networking with the community. The idea behind this is that the neighbors may offer services and donations to the centers; they may also become customers/supporters of the center and their entrepreneurial initiatives. Ari, Eddie and I brainstormed these ideas over dinner one night. We figure that people who are socially conscious enough to recycle their waste are willing to support and donate to the self help center. While the income from the recycling will be helpful it is the relationships with the community that will be the most beneficial for the residents and the income in the long run. We are hoping the recycling centers can expand to include other ‘Green’ initiatives and will also expand community awareness and connections.
QASA and National Council sent us to a Diversity Workshop at the Chatsworth APD. Sean Moodley and Fanie du Toit were the presenters for the workshop and were excellent. Sean is on the board of the Free State APD and the Desmond Tutu Diversity Trust. Fanie du Toit works for national council and does sensitization training.The workshop was very applicable to diversity and sensitization in the U.S. and was extremely informative about apartheid and the effects of democracy on society in the past 14 years. The workshop was directed towards the disability sector and at the workshop the amount of diversity in the room was lacking. The group was 75% Indian and there were only 5 black people in the room. Even more shocking was that there was only one person with a disability in the workshop. The presentation was thought provoking for me and hopefully for the other people in the room who all work for either QASA or the Chatsworth APD.
July 3 – July 10
I am currently in Durban, we arrived last Thursday evening. The bus from Johannesburg allowed me to see the beautiful countryside. The landscape of the country is so varied. In Johannesburg it was a moderate climate with mining dumps dominating much of the landscape. The road between the two changed from wheat fields to buttes to the Drakensberg mountain range. Durban is defined by a tropical climate with rolling green hills on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
In Durban we are staying under the gracious hospitality of Ari Seirlis, the National Director of the Quad/Para Association of South Africa (QASA). He is putting us to work and hosting us at his home. Since we have been here we have been very busy. We visited the QASA the QASA self help center in Durban, Ashley Village which houses a call center and a computer training center. We attended the first class of the week to help register the students and make suggestions to improve the training program. We are also working on a CV template for the students at the center to create their own CVs, a part of the training program. There is a challenge with the current template because many of the students have little to no work experience and need a way to spice up the CVs. We are also creating a presentation to present to the students to prepare them for a job interview. We are working creating and working on other projects here too. Today we visited the Association of Persons with Physical Disabilities of Kwazulu-Natal, the provincial office of the NCPPDSA. It focuses more on providing services for the people in the province. Its services include outreach programs, rehabilitation, education, and sheltered employment centers. We were able to view the centers and gain perspective on what the provincial directors are coming from in the strategic planning sessions we attended.
We spent the weekend at the beautiful Durban beach. We saw the beach wheelchairs that allow people who use a wheelchair to go onto the beach. They are a great item to increase access as well as promote awareness for everyone who sees them. It is a talking point to educate people about disability and the organizations that support the chairs. The water in Durban is very warm even in winter. I spent my time on the beach while Ari rode his bike with hand petals along the beach front. On Wednesday we went to a touch rugby league. Unfortunately for me there was not an opportunity for me to join a game, which was probably a good thing for any team who would have let me play. Athletics are not my strength given a natural lack of hand-eye coordination. We are going to the Durban Sharks rugby game on Friday, and I am very excited to be watching, where I belong.
Cheers for now,
June 20- July 3, 2008
South Africa is an amazing country. Everything I heard about how friendly and hospitable the people here are is absolutely true. People have invited us into their homes and treated us like we are family.
We are staying at the Dave Lewis Lodge in a part of Johannesburg called Edenvale. It is a Bed and Breakfast run by the Quad/Para Association of South Africa (QASA). It has a very comfortable atmosphere which is great since I will be there for a month. We are given breakfast and supply our own lunch and dinner which has been interesting since my culinary skills are severely limited. There are plenty of options to make up for my inability to cook. We have been privileged to have been invited into people’s homes to taste the local South African food which is a very delicious mix derived from the various cultures who have settled in this diverse country. Conrad and his girlfriend Viki stay at the lodge permanently and are wonderful people. It is nice to have such great company here at the lodge that makes sure we are taken care of in all aspects of our stay.
We are working at the National Council for People with Physical Disabilities of South Africa (NCPPDSA / National Council). The offices are in Melville, a more central area of Jo’burg than the lodge. We have been working closely with Therina and the other members of the National Council on their work and employment initiatives as well as outside contractors, especially Mandy who runs a placement agency. Our current project is creating a database of persons with physical disabilities in order to initiate services to get them into the workplace. This database will be a basis for facilitating placement of persons with physical disabilities in the workplace. There are many people with physical disabilities who need employment and many employers who are looking for people with physical disabilities to employ in order to comply with government standards. This database will be used to help training and placement agencies to get people the necessary skills and facilitate communication between employers and PWDs looking for jobs.
I have learned so much about disability just in my two weeks here. Since my studies focus on employment issues, I am very new to the specifics of disability employment. I have learned about many of the barriers to work for people with disabilities that are specific to the South African labor market and universal challenges. We have had the opportunity to participate in two strategic planning meetings. The first one was for the very recently established Committee on Children with Physical Disabilities. This meeting covered a very broad scope of issues and challenges. It was incredibly interesting to realize how relevant my studies have been to many of the issues that were discussed including training, staffing, retention, and education. I also attended the Social Development Committee meeting. This meeting was drastically different since the scope and issues were drastically different than those of the Children’s Committee. The meeting also had very different groups of stakeholders and the divergence of the expertise of the committee members determined the direction and focus of the meetings.
Last Friday I had the opportunity to go to the Lori Animal Park. The park was similar to a small zoo, but housed animals that were rescued or were born in captivity and are unable to survive in the wild. They had baby Siberian Tigers and were allowing people to go in and play with them. It was the last week they were allowing this, so it was a great opportunity. When we were there it became clear why it was the last week. The ‘baby’ tigers were 5 months old and playing with them meant standing in the cage with them while they played and one would occasionally lunge at someone. This especially applied to Mandy who they were relentless with for a while and were very near to popping the tires on her wheelchair. I was leaped on and bit on the arm. I quickly found out that running is not an effective way to get a tiger to stop attacking you. That was the point when I realized they weren’t going to purr and curl up next to me, so I was out of there.
It has been an amazing experience so far. I am learning so much right now about the labor market, disability, and the legal situation in South Africa. I am looking forward to reporting back on the successes and shortcomings of the employment of people with physical disabilities here in South Africa as well as the initiatives of the National Council and QASA.