This looks like some historic castle or museum, but it’s actually part of the Palazzo Montecasino hotel, which is where I stayed for the two weeks we were in South Africa. I came to realize that most South Africans are either very rich or very poor with a small…growing…but still small middle class.
A Long Way to Go
Here’s a look at what some of the homes in Soweto. The government is building more, trying to accommodate that growing middle class.
But, what shocked me the most was that if you don’t have access to a car or money for the bus or taxi, many people walk to where they have to go. Do you see how long this road is? All I can say is, that wouldn’t be me.
Driving along, I noticed that there were lots advertisements painted on walls specifically for HIV testing. As you may know, South Africa has a huge HIV/AIDS problem (the highest of all African nations) that doesn’t seem to be improving even with access to education and medicine.
An Amazing Coincidence
We were in the bus driving along as the tour guide pointed out Archbishop Desmond TuTu’s home and low and behold, look who happened to be outside and waved hello! The guide said in all his years of giving the tour, that has never happened before.
A Moment of Silence
We visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum in Soweto. Pieterson was just 13-years old when he was killed during the June 16, 1976 student uprising in Soweto. He has become a national symbol of youth resistance to apartheid, but there were many children that died resisting the police that day. These bricks hold the names and birthdays of just a few of them.
This photo is outside of the museum and has become synonymous with the 1976 student uprising, protesting the right to learn English and not Afrikaans in school. It shows Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying Hector Pieterson and Hector’s sister Antoinette, running towards help. Hector had been shot and was taken to a nearby clinic where he was pronounced dead.
A Helping Hand
This is Diepsloot, a township in Johannesburg. It’s one of the poorest areas in the country with mostly shacks. The kids are here to meet some of the people who live here and find out what they can do to help.
Here are some of the kids I followed while in the shantytown. I spoke to one boy in the group who just started crying. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he felt bad because he realized how much he had at home compared with little they had here.
A Complete Waste
The field worker who showed us around the shantytown told me that everyone has one place to dump their garbage. When it becomes too full, they start to burn it because the city only comes by once a week to empty it out.
A Brother's Love
This is Taban. He’s 19-years old and is the sole provider for his two younger sisters. They are OVC or orphaned and vulnerable children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. When we met, Taban had finished school but was unemployed. He spends most of his time cooking, cleaning, and even mending his sister’s clothing. The kids were there to ask Taban what they could do to help him and his family.
Words Can Explain
Every night, the kids who return to the Herronbridge School, where they stayed, and blog about what they saw and who they met that day. It was really therapeutic for a lot of them.
Here’s a shot of the kids in Makro (which is like our version of Costco) where they are buying items like soap, toothpaste, diapers, and canned food items in bulk. The number one request of the families we met was food.
This is Noctula Gama and she’s 4-years old. The kids bought her a new ball and jump rope but she seemed really interested in the two pencils I gave her.
A Giving Heart
Here’s Jordan Ratley, one of the 30 kids from Bushwick, giving Desoutu what I believe was a box of milk. She’s only 17 and lives in a house provided by Hope Worldwide (an international charity organization) with her brother and sister.
This photo is a little random but then again so was seeing a bunch of women plucking whole chickens on the side of the road. I’m used to seeing my poultry come from a package in the supermarket so I just had to take this shot.
We visited two after school programs in Johannesburg. The kids here welcomed us with a song while another group put on a short play. As someone who had to wear a uniform for most of my school days, I sympathized with these young women. Although, their colors are a lot nicer than mine ever were.
The other after school program was what they call a “kid’s club” for orphaned children. The kids loved playing with each other and on the swing set nearby.
My Little Friend
Here’s CNN’s special correspondent Soledad O’Brien and her new little friend, who I believe was just trying to figure out why we were all there.
Each child at the after school program got a goody bag which included stickers and star shaped sun glasses. This guy is looking too cool in his shades.
The sign on this building is right next to where the after school program is held. When I asked someone about it, I was told it was left over from the days of apartheid when not even in death, could Blacks and Whites intermingle. I have no clue as to why it remained.
Plots Are Us
Malaak wanted the kids to see how some of the grandmothers have started community gardens as sustainable means for food and revenue. Here we learned how to properly plant and turn over the land.
Lend a Hand
The Mariah and Benjamin get their hands dirty finishing a mural at one of the after school clubs. Mariah’s t-shirt of course reminded me of home.
Be the Change
Once done, the kids left a “Be the Change” mural incorporating elements from both New York City and South Africa all the while encouraging other kids to learn more about HIV/AIDS.
We visited Constitution Hill where the Old Fort Prison Complex, held political prisoners like Nelson Mandela and Ghandi. These doors however held the White prisoners who had individual cells. The Black prisoners were all grouped together in one, large room.
Welcome to Suncity
During the last few days, we got to kick back a little at Suncity, Africa’s premier holiday resort. We went on safari and then enjoyed our farewell dinner there.
This is not a postcard. I actually took this photo of an Impala while on safari. I was looking for something more exciting but this ended up being just so beautiful.
Well, I wanted more exciting and here it is—a Rhino at dusk. We all got a very quiet once our guide told us that South Africa has a high number of deaths based on Rhino attacks. Who knew?
At the farewell dinner, the entire Journey for Change group got a chance to sit, eat, sing, and dance all by this amazing bonfire. Even though we were there towards the end of July, it was pretty nippy during the evenings. Who knew South Africa’s winter could be so cold?
After two weeks with these amazing kids, their mentors and group leaders, I have to say that the first ever Journey for Change trip abroad was an absolute success. These kids will never be the same and have come home since to touch and teach others about the work they did in South Africa. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photo diary and will do your part to help someone in need. After all, you don’t have to go all the way to South Africa to do that.
Trip of a Lifetime
Hi, I’m Wendy Wilson, the News Editor for ESSENCE.com. Just about a year ago, I got the assignment of a lifetime. I traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, with Malaak Compton-Rock (seen here) and the 30 kids she selected from Bushwick, Brooklyn to be a part of the Journey for Change program.
You may have learned about it after watching CNN’s “Black in America 2” or read my story in the August 2009 issue of ESSENCE. I wanted to share my personal photos with ESSENCE.com readers so that you, too, can be a part of what we witnessed in South Africa.