I think we found our favorite nightclub in South Africa.
After witnessing effective education and empowerment initiatives in action among men and women facing challenges of poverty and HIV/AIDS in George, South Africa, we followed our friend Laurie, an American rooted in the community for 22 years, into the nearby townships.
Rain fell on the streets of Thembalethu and Borcherds; gray skies collapsed on ramshackle structures.
Stories cried out from under every surface.
Colorful houses dotting the hillsides of Peru. Our visit to the far outskirts of Lima, where the forgotten live together under extended-family roofs and break backs and bread and experience more profound senses of “home” than you or I might ever know…
We pulled into the parking lot of an old nightclub where razor wire stood juxtaposed with welcome signs, and Laurie gazed out over the surrounding streets, pointing to neighboring homes where at-risk youth struggle to find their own foundations.
Late-afternoon sunshine pierced through the brooding clouds, and Laurie led us into the building to witness their after school program in action.
The after-school drop in center is provides youngsters and at-risk youth in the community with “two nutritious meals, clothes, life skills training, literacy classes, counseling, spiritual input and loving care.”
In a reclaimed nightclub.
I loved it!
Cornelius, a young leader and role model at Kidstop, speaking to the group of drop-in kids
Their mission is straightforward: community workers visit the neighborhoods daily, building relationships with kids on the street, inviting them to the drop-in center. They identify youngsters who have fallen or are likely to fall through the cracks at home and in the schools and make the way to link them with reading and writing programs, social workers, community resources, and they facilitate strengthening family ties whenever possible.
Wonderful staff and volunteers like Betty juggle responsibilities of preparing meals and loving on the kids
Cornelius finished his lesson for the kids and soon there were shrieks and laughs and pounds of running feet.
We weren’t there to volunteer or offer an outsider’s helping hand. Ted and I simply observed with open eyes and listened with open ears, excited to hear stories from a community fully engaged in helping its own.
Kids running every which way, strewing bicycles and skate boards and scooters around the apartment complex parking lot, blowing bubbles and yelling names, crying over bruised feelings and smiling over first-time visits to vegetable gardens. Our life at the transitional housing project before departing Oregon to see the world…
Okay, yes, we were there to observe…but with all the excitement in the room, we couldn’t help but say hello and play for a bit!
We shared the camera and swapped names and smiles.
We heard stories of progress and change, stories like the one of this fellow below: an at-risk child who grew up to serve as a gifted adult helping children navigate the very same road he walked…
The girl second from the left? Jacqueline. Tall and thin, bright eyes. Pink shirt, pink headscarf, pink cheeks. Two siblings in tow. Seventeen years old: a ninth grader. Since connecting with Kidstop, she’s returned to school and is working hard, carrying burdens on her shoulders, but now sharing the load with people feeding hope and love into her life.
Truthfully, we were in and out of these kids’ day in the blink of an eye. We didn’t have time to really connect with more than one or two, but I’ll treasure this picture, knowing it represents legitimate, deeply invested work of local leaders serving to meet the needs of youth in their own community.
In the previous post, I mentioned the quote:
“We know the problems. We need to spend our time talking about the solutions.“
No matter where you are in the world, these are the solutions to the problems.
The brilliant light-bulb over the head is not about givers moving overseas to solve foreign problems, it’s about women and men planted in their own communities, willing to give their concern and affection, willing to love and serve their very own neighbors.
This post is part of our twoOregonians Tour the Cape series featuring quintessential and offbeat South African experiences, one-of-a-kind accommodations and beautiful B&Bs, respectful wildlife programs, social service projects, and landscape photography from the South African Cape.