A Dandelion Bouquet in Khayelitsha
Cape Flats, Western Cape Province
September 14th, 2006
Ina has been doing God’s work on the Cape Flats for over 30 years. She is a faculty member at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and has recently given up her field of choice, Social Work, to specialize in something that for her requires dire and immediate attention, Poverty eradication. Following President Bernstine’s lead when he had insisted during the SAPP team visit in 2005 that we must visit the Townships, we made arrangements to visit the Flats on the last day of our brief stay with the wonderful faculty and staff at UWC.
Nothing can prepare you for the traumatic experience of being amidst over one million people living in squalor and fear, beyond the fringe of any hope at all. That is except Ina and the other handful of dedicated folks who venture there. The danger there is very real and palpable. Violent crime statistics soar in the Flats with personal contact above all other categories. This means that assault, rape and armed robbery cases often involve people who know one another.
Recently Nobel Laureate, the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, sadly commented that South Africa has “gained its freedom but lost its soul.” He went on to explain that the years of brutal and inhumane treatment under apartheid had entirely voided the people of their tribal ways of personal respect and honor for each other. He insists that until individual dignity is restored South Africa will never reach its enormous potential.
Perhaps the good Reverend might benefit from a visit to “Philani” an oasis of “Hope” in Khayelitsha, we certainly did. Ina explained that she and a number of women who have been trained as weavers are making a difference for the undernourished children there. Over 50% of the children in the townships are undernourished but Ina and the women are making a noticeable difference. The children are often AIDS orphans who find their way in a method that was not explained to the neatly walled compound.
Phalani is a compound consisting of a few sturdy block buildings surrounding a small grassy space with a sandy play area for the little ones off to one side. The largest building along with the clinic and classrooms are where a transformation takes place.
We entered the weaving area where a dozen or more looms were being used to create a delightful array of wall hangings, throws, place mats and other beautifully colored and well designed items for sale. So, of course, as good tourists we bought what we could carry. The entrepreneurial mind and skill sets of these women cannot be over stated. Recognizing that I had only a few Rand at hand I asked if they took American dollars. To my surprise and joy, they not only took them but also gave me a good rate!
As we prepared to leave we stopped by the playground to meet the children, robust happy little ones about 4-5 years old. Once their shyness abated they started high fiveing Ina and Kevin and myself (although when one is three feet tall it might better be termed low fiveing). At any rate one child started to play a game of his own invention with me and the others quickly joined in. One after another began to pick dandelions and ever so gently place them in my open palm. Soon my hand became a veritable dandelion bouquet. As we said our good-bys and entered the car park my heart filled with a mixture of sadness and pure joy never experienced before.
If there is any point to this story it is that thanks to the Leadership of Dan Bernstine and Gil Latz, PSU has received an open and heartfelt welcome and opportunity to come and help these wonderful people to “regain their souls” and to share in the bounty we enjoy in Portland.
Charles M. Saunders