Lessons from Durban, South Africa

The following is an article written by Millersville University student Franchezca Taveras on her study abroad experience in South Africa.

Lessons from Durban, South Africa

Summer 2008 was a life changing experience. I had the opportunity to study abroad in the University of  KwaZulu-Natal as well as work as a volunteer in Streetwise, a non-profit, non- governmental organization  (NGO) in Durban, South Africa.

Streetwise has been serving the community since December 1988, and for nearly 20 years has helped  street boys to rehabilitate from their life style in the streets. The organization offers the children humanitarian aid, helps trace their families, life/social skills, and bridging education. The organization has also helped impact national policy regarding street children, and informed communities of the problem by providing families with prevention methods.

There are many factors that force children to make the streets their homes among these include, poverty, sexual and/or physical abuse, parent’s drug and or alcohol addiction, lack of resources, neglect, community violence and HIV/Aids (one of the main factors and still increasing.) In 2004 is was estimated that more than 10,000 children were living in the streets of urban areas in South Africa, however that number has more than doubled in the past four years.

I participated in the first three steps of the program which are 1) to outreach by building trust in the streets by learning the “street culture”, 2) to facilitate short term rehabilitation which includes basic needs, social skills and medical attention, and 3) after care if the child is reconciled with his family and community. I built close relationships with many of the children. However, it was not until I wondered the streets at night that I realized how unique and strong these children really are.

I was impressed with their smiles and optimism. The older ones would assure the younger ones were taken care of and would receive some food. There were many subcultures I encountered but one thing they all had in common was the level of maturity and the reasons that brought them to the streets. That first night I could not sleep, I even vomited various times thinking of the living conditions these children were forced to live in. Next morning, when the children ran towards me back at the school, I could not stop smiling, because I felt so proud of them….I looked up to them.

From that day forward I began seeing things in a new light. At first I could not understand how these children were so brave to make that transition from the streets, how they smiled and laughed everyday regardless of their hardships.They appreciated the small things we take for granted. Like school, food, and love.

I thought I went there to offer my help and make a difference, but they did more for me than I did for them, they gave me a new perspective to life, and motivation I never had. One of the things some of the older children said to me when giving me my goodbye letters and hugs was to please finish school.

For more information or interest in getting involved visit www.street-wise.co.za and next semester on February 13th come out and support the organization. It’s for a good cause…the kids.

by Franchezka Taveras