Our stay in Stellenbosch was one of the longest this whole semester, but it was a very good twelve days. We split our time between Stellenbosch and the nearby township, Kayamandi, where we did our work projects those weeks. Stellenbosch is situated in beautiful wine country, and we were fortunate enough to experience that aspect of the culture on more than one occasion. I’m not a wine connoisseur myself, but even I enjoyed the wine tasting and tour that we went on towards the end of our stay.
One of the whole group’s favourite places was known simply as ‘The Farm’, and we were very happy to have four of our dinners there. The majority of our other meals were taken at the camp we were staying, so it was always a treat to drive to the farm for a fancy meal, which was sure to be delicious, and almost always included dessert. We were able to experience more Afrikaans culture through attending two sporting events: a cricket game in a nearby town, and a rugby game played between the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town. The two are big rivals, so it was a packed and (for someone not a fan of sports) interesting game.
Our experience in Kayamandi was similar, and yet very different from our other work projects. Our contact for Stellenbosch (and generally the Western Cape) has been Johan. Johan’s vision was that we go into the community and figure out what their needs are and start from there. We were encouraged to go in with the mindset of empowering the people to make changes themselves, and to think about longevity of projects as well as many other factors. A big thing that Johan emphasized was North Americans’ habit of going into a place and trying to fix it, thinking they know how to do exactly that. And I’ve definitely seen examples of that in places we’ve visited, where white people have come in, or maybe not even gone to that length, but simply assumed what the needs of the community were and sent something to “help”, or gone in and made “improvements” where others were more necessary. I think Johan taught and/or reminded us of a lot of valuable truths about work in developing areas; truths about listening and learning, and not assuming in our ignorance. So what did we do? Our groups were quite split up, enabling us to work on a number of different jobs. We were budgeted a certain amount of money, and three days to actually work on the projects. We had groups doing everything from painting a mural on the outside of an elementary school classroom, to a group sanding and varnishing a room at a community centre. We worked at a couple of community centres, such as Kuyasa and Legacy, which worked on improving people’s skills and often had programs to help students with their school-work.
As long as we spent in Stellenbosch, it came to an end just as quickly, leaving not just one or two members of our group longing for more time in the quaint wine town. The University of Stellenbosch, which we toured, was a lure for some, the vineyard-covered countryside for others. Never-the-less, it was onto our next location (near Bonnevaile) that we departed for on the 16th, to do some good ‘ole sleeping in tents.
~ Caitlin Dyck