Student - June 11, 2009

BLACK & WHITE CONTRASTS IN THE RAINBOW NATION

Great, but really heavy. That’s how VHL student of Regional Development & Innovation Liana Boogaars describes the last five weeks in Cape Town. Although she already knew the town well, she saw it now through different eyes, working with Cordaid. She was there with four other students to launch a project on waste processing in a township.

Visiting a local youth organization in Cape Town with the Urban Challenge group. Liana is second from the left.
‘We’ve all learned a lot. We’ve seen what’s involved in setting up projects in developing countries. And that it’s not all plain sailing, but that you have to build trust step by step’, says Liana. She and three Dutch and two South African students won Cordaid’s Urban Challenge for a plan in which children play a role in processing organic waste in Philippi township. The idea was that school dropouts would learn to grow vegetables in gardens around a community house. They would learn other skills too, with the ultimate aim of getting them back into the school system. ‘Let’s hope our plan is as good in practice as it is on paper’, said Liana to Resource before she left for South Africa at the end of April.

In the past five weeks the students have been getting to know a number of educational projects in the townships which seek to give children confidence or to stimulate mothers to grow vegetables near their homes. ‘Then we got the idea of creating a network between all those organizations who know nothing about each other’s existence.’

And their own project? ‘What is new about our plan is that we focus on dropouts, who are a big problem there’, explains Liana. So the project was welcomed with enthusiasm by local organizations, two of which have come forward to work with Cordaid on starting up the project.
However successful the visit, it has had quite an impact on Liana. She knew Cape Town well; she’s got family there, her boyfriend lives there, she has lived, worked and done an internship there. ‘But now I saw the city through different eyes. It was as if we were in four different worlds every day.’ By this she means the slums and the Cape Flats, ghettos with a lot of crime and drugs. And then there are extremely wealthy neighbourhoods and the middle-class area where the students stayed in a lodge.

Apartheid is still clearly visible in the various sections of the population, Liana found. ‘People think very much in terms of colour. In the township, the children shouted ‘the whites are coming’ when they saw us approaching. South Africa presents itself as the rainbow nation, but the reality is different.’

The extreme poverty made an impression on the students too. ‘One day it rained in the township. Everything gets wet then, indoors and out. You see sick people inside their homes in wet clothes, just a few hundred metres away from luxurious villas. The people in the townships are very smart, but they don’t get any opportunities. Hopefully small-scale projects like ours can make some changes.’

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