After school on several different occassions I went up to 126th street to volunteer for Association to Benefit Children‘s location at Echo Park. I worked with kids from the preschool who were doing after school. I played with them, cleaned up after them, and taught them some math. There were two after school teachers and about 10 kids, so they had their hands full, so my being there gave them a little bit of a break. This organization does great things for the children of the area, and it was really a great experience working with them because I was able to have fun with the kids while also feeling I was doing some good for the children and parents of the area and for the teachers who work there (Plus, it gave me a serious newfound respect for preschool teachers).
The South Africa trip with Envoys gave me two of the most interesting weeks of my life. I had not previously traveled outside of the United States and the approximately twenty-seven hours of nonstop travel only to our first hostel was definitely a wakeup call. When we landed we took in the townships formed of squat shanties along with small concrete homes and the beautiful mountains and sea surrounding Cape Town. It was all breath taking. In only a thirty-minute bus ride through South Africa we saw the beautiful landscape the country had to offer, and the vast differences between the poor and wealthy areas. In Cape Town while we did travel to a township named Langa I feel like we really began to experience the community in our second hostel in Port Elizabeth.
One of the countless community services that we did was with the church youth. We split into a few groups with the people from the church outreach program and walked to a home where we would give them nourishment and do so with some church singing. As we walked through the township we passed many people, our loud drumming and voice accompaniment reaching their ears. The group walked to a slow beat and when we reached the home all sound stopped. We quietly filed into their backyard after walking past their faded red gate. We were asked to stand at the front of the group since we were the visitors and waited as the owners of the home prepared for their numerous visitors. The backyard was small and overgrown with dandelions and other weeds, laundry lines flying overhead in the wind. As we were ushered into the home we were told that the women we were presenting the food too was blind, but could hear us. The home had a kitchen with a sink and a counter; there was no color and no windows. We passed a closed door connected to the kitchen and filed into the living room. There were three couches set up in a square with multiple seats in the space between.
The visitors sat down first, almost all of us crowded onto a small couch in front of the blind woman. Everyone else came in sitting down in empty places and many stood in the doorway and the kitchen. Two of the younger boys in the church outreach group brought in the bags of food we were presenting and placed it on the floor in front of the woman. This room had one window and a front door, both had cloth over it blocking out the light and a room was seen through a door on the left wall of the living room. Once we were seated the church group began to sing many songs filling the home with their beliefs. They had brought the church to this women’s home. The home and I filled with warmth, seeing the community reach out in music and prayer to help their neighbors and bring the church (a second home) to them was amazing. After countless soul full songs we were asked to bless the food and present it from us (the visitors) to the owners of the home. The man who lived with the woman thanked us multiple times before we left and as we walked out of the room each visitor shook the woman’s hand. She smiled and nodded as we each took her hand and left.
Interactions with the people in South Africa were definitely some of the best parts of the trip. Many were so happy about our presence and always wanted to take pictures with us and asked us so many questions about our homes and lives. You can learn so much about people even when talking to them for such a brief moment. That small piece of their life is so interesting and different to hear about. Talking to random people in the city was so much different, these people seemed to want to reach out and many New Yorkers seem to take any look towards them as hostile. I had never been asked so many times if I was going to come back to see them and their country.