Firsthand Experiences From Lisa and Joanie
Note from the Air back from Cape Town
and I are on the way back to the states on our last leg of this amazing
journey. While I reflect on our experience there are so many emotions
and parts of our trip that I must try to convey to you.
was probably the most compelling of the locations we visited while in
South Africa. It was filled with surprises from the beautiful waterfront
and money that dominates this area, to the miles of shanties and
poverty that you pass while driving out to the fabulous wine country.
stayed near the waterfront and if this is the only area you visit while
in Cape Town you might think this is part of South Africa is well to do
and not in need. However, our trip included visits to the YMCA's of
Cape Town, Athlone, and Cape Flats which showed a completely different
side of this part of the world. The work these Y's are doing is
heart-wrenching and beyond anything I had ever seen in my history with
We split into groups the first day in Cape Town. One
group spent time at the Cape Town Y and the other - the group I chose
went to the Athlone Y. We were all to meet back at the Cape Town Y for
lunch after our visits.
When we arrived at the Athlone YMCA
location there was no fitness center, no pool, no gym. It was just a
building with offices and a large room where they greeted us. They broke
us into groups of two and sent us off with one of their "home care"
staff. Each of us had a little different experience, but I can only
I was paired up with Lilian and a board member,
Trudy, from the Nashville Y. We jumped into Lilian's rather old- by our
standards- four door car and off we went. Lilian proceeded to tell us
that we were going to a woman's house who the Y takes care of. As we
arrived on what looked like a decent street, Lilian put "The Club" on
her steering wheel and told us to lock the doors.
The daughter and
caregiver met us at the door and we were guided back to the bedroom
where a woman lay under the covers. Her hands and feet were mangled from
arthritis, her legs were a bit swollen, and she had sores on her back
and buttocks from diabetes. She wasn't a big woman, but she could not
take care of herself due to her condition.
After we said hello and
told the woman who we were much to my surprise, the care giver began
removing the woman's clothes and bathing her. I became a bit
uncomfortable as this was all new to me. Luckily, Trudy leaned in and
told me she was a nurse so I tucked in behind her and let her lead the
way. Trudy was a great partner and we helped each other through it all.
chatted with the woman, the care giver and Lilian throughout the bath.
The care giver was so gentle and even removed and changed a dressing on
her sores. She put lotion on the woman, powdered her, put clean clothes
on her then put her on her walker. We gave them all hugs, a few gifts
and off we went.
The next home we visited was of a man, Mr. Lewis,
in his 80's with the early stages of Alzheimer's. What a sweet man he
was. He talked about his wife and how he was going to talk to her
tonight when she got home and tell her of our visit. We learned that his
wife had died a year earlier. We also met a man from the Y who helps
Mr. Lewis with his exercise. We chatted about his granddaughter and Mr.
Lewis, then finally left for our next stop.
Lilian then took us to
the health clinic where hundreds of people were waiting to be seen or
to pick up their medications. The Y has a program where they help people
with their medications so they don't have to wait hours for it. I found
it very interesting that many of the patients were waiting outside
smoking a cigarette.
We went back to the Y after this stop and we
all shared our experiences. They were all a bit different but what we
learned was how socially responsible the Athlone YMCA is and how much
they are doing for their community. These people were so generous and
giving and they are making such a different for the people of Cape Town.
next Y we visited was Cape Town. This was quite a bit different. They
have a large residence, a Y Zone program and several others. I did not
spend time here due to my trip to Athlone. What I did learn from one of
their directors was about their drug and gang prevention program.
Brandon goes right into the heart of the community and finds kids who
are on drugs, selling or in gangs and tries to help through their
programs. He's a former drug addict and gang member so he "gets it".
There is another Brandon from the states who has been in Cape Town for 6
weeks doing teen programming on a grant.
The last Y we visited on
our trip was the Cape Flats YMCA. I could never have imagined what I
would experience that day and how it would change my life forever. That
morning we began our journey in 3 vans filled with mostly white and a
few black Americans. Our driver went deep in the heart of the worst
poverty I had ever been exposed to. As we drove in we passed people
grilling chicken feet, whole chickens, and many other things outside.
There were rows of containers where they set up hair salons, food
vendors, and other types of businesses. No air conditioning, no running
water, and in most cases no electricity. Only those with generators have
People were everywhere and I must say I was a bit
nervous as they watched us driving through in our vans. I felt like I
was in the movies driving through the crowds of people peeking in our
windows. The only reason we were not bothered was because the Y is so
respected for the work they are doing. We were the only white people in
the area and after visiting the Apartheid museum and learning more about
how the whites treated the blacks I can understand why they hated us
and probably many of them still do and I cannot blame them.
pulled up to a container and were told to get out - this is the Y. All
27 of us piled into this container and walked through. It was a health
clinic where they do HIV/Aids testing and give out condoms. We were told
that 1 in 2 people test positive for HIV. The coordinator explained to
us that they try to educate the people and get them to use condoms to
prevent this disease from spreading. They also educate pregnant women so
they do not pass it to the child. If they stay on their vitamins and do
what they need to do they can avoid passing it to their unborn child.
coordinator shared her story with us. She had a child at 15 and did not
know where to turn. She got involved in the Y program and now is
studying to be a counselor and she is helping others. She began crying
and we all cried with her. These YMCA staff are truly amazing, caring
The next stop on our Cape Flats journey was to a
school. When we arrived, we jumped out of the vans and headed toward the
playground. Some young boys were playing soccer with a half flat ball
and a homemade soccer goal. They didn't seem to care and were happy when
some of our guys played with them.
All of a sudden we began to
hear women singing. I look over and about 15 women with scarves on their
heads, African dresses, some of them without many teeth and of all
shapes and sizes, are dancing toward us. I have never seen anything like
it. They were simply fabulous. They danced and sang all to welcome us
to their YMCA. When they were finished I hugged them all and told them
how much I adored them. I began to cry and the emotions overwhelmed me.
As I turned around I saw a young woman who was the coordinator of the
clinic. I hugged her and broke down as I told her I loved her and that
we were going to help. I left this place a different person and as much as we have helped them, they have helped us.
They are full of life despite their conditions. We have much to learn
from these women of all ages, sizes and backgrounds. I was touched by
their generosity and their spirit.
The last part of our trip to
the Cape Flats Y included a couple of dance numbers by some of their
teens. These teens developed the program, choreographed the dances, put
them to music, and performed for us. This is an African dance
performance and the teens were great.
There is so much more to
tell about the teen program, the camp, the trip to Table Mountain, the
trip to the wine country, the friends and fellowship. However, I will
close with a story of a young woman named Malikah from the Cape Flats Y.
Joanie and I listened to her story and were moved by this young woman.
She is now 17- her birthday was today. She came from a home where her
mother was a prostitute and her dad was an alcoholic. She was abused and
broken when she found the Y's Young Women's program. This is a program
for young women to help them be strong and reach their potential. The Y
staff meet with these young women for 1-1.5 hours a week to help them
with their problems and be a mentor to them. Unfortunately they are
losing their funding so we must find a way to help.
shy with little to no self-confidence and was unable to speak in front
of a group. We watched her address us as confident as any young person
we know and Ricky, the YMCA director shed tears as he talked about how
far she has come. She is in school and she hopes to go on to University.
closing, I hope that you have gotten a sense of our journey through
South Africa and the YMCA's we visited. It was a trip of a lifetime and I
am so thankful Joanie was able to share this with me. Joanie and I will
be making several presentations with pictures and stories. We met so
many incredibly generous people throughout our travels not only in South
Africa, but from the U.S.
There are 11 YMCA's who are part of the
South Africa Coalition led by Norm Joyner, who by the way did one heck
of a job organizing this. We thank Norm, Tom Valentine (YUSA), Kevin
Washington from Boston, Eric Mann from Jacksonville, and Baron
Herdelin-Doherty, YMCA of San Diego County CEO, for driving this
initiative for the US.
We look forward to the continuing
partnership and invite anyone who want to help to contact me at
[email protected]. This is real social work being done by real people
and this is inspiring Y work. I'm so proud to be a part of the YMCA
staff and I thank you for reading our story!
Good Day- Lisa and Joanie