South Africa: Day 8 (Dietrich Morovian Primary School and Table Mountain)

(I know the formatting is messed up, but it's better than the alternative. . . I thought I had lost the whole post. When I try to fix the spacing, it goes all skewampus. . . sometimes Blogger drives me crazy.)

Our day started out with a meeting at the Mugg & Bean with Victor Sables. If you remember from my previous post, Victor is the managing director of the Big Tree Foundation. He was the man who responded to the radio station request when we were looking for a non-profit organization to help us import our shoes. We had agreed to distribute a small portion of the shoes in the Western Cape to act within his foundation's mandate and qualify for the tax exemption. 

Big Tree Foundation helps supply school clothes to 15-20 schools in the Winelands District of the Western Cape. There are approximately 100 students per school who need help, and the number of schools they can help each year is dependent on the funding they have available. When Jacques first put me in touch with Victor, I told him that he had found us the perfect organization to work with. But it wasn't until we sat down and met with Victor that I realized how unique their foundation really is.

Victor grew up in poverty, so when he sold his business in 2001, he devoted himself to providing opportunities for less privileged children. And he truly believes, as we do, that education is the key. As he was explaining the way his foundation operates, I was shocked when he told us that there are no overhead costs. And by no costs, I mean zero. He receives no income from the organization, nor do any of the other board members. He works out of a home office, and he covers the minimal operating expenses (phone, computer, internet, etc.) himself. Victor also works as a freelance graphic designer and donates fifty percent of what he brings in to the Big Tree Foundation. Because businesses and organizations know that he contributes such a large portion of his income to the foundation, they choose him over other graphic designers and supply him with a generous workload. 

After learning from experience, Big Tree Foundation now operates with vouchers, rather than worrying about sending the teachers with cash. Donations to their organization go one hundred percent straight to uniforms for students, without any room for corruption. Victor explained that, theoretically, donations could actually be made directly to the stores that he has arranged to buy to uniforms from. 

Victor was very interested in talking with us because he had some questions about fundraising. Big Tree Foundation receives a large portion of their funding from  the ABSA Cape Epic, an annual bicycle race in the Western Cape. They also have a program set up where they build small little stools that are sold at local stores. But he had never just asked someone for money or done any real fundraising. So he was intrigued to find out about our experiences with our Shoes for South Africa project. 

Steve and I have been involved with more fundraisers than we can count. In just the last few months, we've had the Junior League of Ogden Annual Fundraiser, the Dining for Dollars event for the Sonora Grill Scholarship Fund, and a pancake breakfast for scout camp.

We briefly discussed some different ideas and strategies, but left, telling Victor that we would continue to think things over and see what we could come up with. We are still in the brainstorming stage, so I encourage you to take a look at their website and let me know if you have any ideas. 

And just because I am so impressed with Big Tree Foundation and what Victor is doing for students in the Western Cape, I'll go ahead and include some things from his organization's booklet: 

Our Vision: We see education as the key to a future where people are respected and able to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty, changing the future of our county and the world. 

You can make the difference. . . 

While some children might complain about having to wear a school uniform everyday, many learners in poor and more vulnerable rural communities often only have a school uniform and no other clothes. Often this one outfit is worn through and ill-fitting. Perhaps their shoes and socks are full of holes, worn through as they walk miles to school and back every day. Perhaps they do not have jerseys. They often have to wear the same clothes for school and play at home for days without a change. This is reality for most children in the rural communities in and around Cape Town. The parents are often farm laborers or season workers which means money is used for food first and a school uniform is a luxury. 

How would you manage if you had to walk for three or more kilometers to school with shoes that are too small and no socks, or no shoes at all? What if it rains?

Our mission is to be the Tree that provides the shelter and creates the conditions for education and learning to flourish. 

How do we do this?

We request the teachers to provide us with a list of children and their needs. Sometimes it is a rain jacket or jersey and sometimes it is much more. . . from underwear to the complete uniform. A formal visit to the school to confirm the need and identity of the learners is soon followed by a bus trip to the local store where the children are provided with whatever is necessary.

Providing these young learners with the basic uniform could mean the difference between attending school or dropping out because they are too embarrassed to continue. Three pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, shoes, pants, shirt, jersey for $50 USD. 

"One must be the change one wishes to see in the world." -Mahatma Gandhi

Some of the schools that Big Tree Foundation supports are quite rural, so Victor chose a school for us to visit that was closer to Cape Town. Because we were only donating a small number of shoes to Big Tree and because the students were in the process of "writing their exams", we decided that the best way to distribute the shoes was to use them as rewards for students who scored well on their midterm tests. So we really just went to visit one of the schools and drop the shoes off, rather than actually hand them out to the students. 

Oh, and there were also a few other things that came up in our meeting. All of the schools that Big Tree Foundation supports wear, not only uniform clothes, but also uniform shoes: black dress shoes. The students we were helping in the Western Cape wouldn't actually be able to wear these Converse All Stars to school. "But many of these students have no shoes to wear outside of school," he assured me. And then Victor mentioned something about fights. "Will there be fighting over these shoes?" I naively asked. "Well, yes, of course. But if we distribute them properly as rewards, then we can limit the fighting." 

Immediately, I was feeling some regret. Had we planned the wrong fundraiser? Had we picked the wrong shoe? Should we have just raised money for school uniforms? Would people have responded as well to a fundraiser like that? Would we have been as excited about a fundraiser like that? With those questions swirling through my mind, we drove just outside of Cape Town to the school. 

Thankfully, there were some good side conversations in our van that lightened the mood. 

Derrick (pointing at a girl walking down the side of the road): Gcobisa, do you know her?
Gcobisa (shaking her head): No, and why do you think every black girl you see is my friend. 

Kaleigh: I want macaroni and cheese!
Gcobisa: Mmmm, macaroni and cheese is my favorite food. 
Derrick: I thought lasagna was your favorite?
Gcobisa: Yeah, that's the same thing. 
Everyone (in unison): No, it's not!

And then we arrived at the Dietrich Moravian Primary School:

There were a few students outside, getting water:

A few students walking back from from lunch: 

A small little playground with this cute mural: 

And barbed wire along the fences: 

I asked Victor if the students lived in the shacks across the field. "Yes, some of them. I can show you where some of the others live after we finish here."

We started out in the Grade R classroom, which is equivalent to kindergarten in the United States. 

Most of the kids were dressed in school uniforms, but there were a couple who weren't. Including this little girl with no shoes. 

Most South Africans don't smile for pictures. I usually had to coax one out of them. 

This little girl was my favorite: 

The principal, or headmaster, was not there, so it was the assistant headmaster who showed us around the small school: 

He took us to see his class, the Grade 7 students. They were in the middle of their exams, so I had to hurry fast to take a few pictures: 

For every picture of a student smiling and looking at the camera, I have about three with them covering their faces with their hands. They were all quite shy. 

I felt bad for disturbing the classes in the middle of their tests, but Lucy asked if she could see the third grade class: 

They warmly welcomed Lucy and Rachel into their classroom: 

The class stood and recited something in Afrikaans: 

And willingly posed for a class picture: 

I did some quick experimenting with my new camera lens.

It was easier to catch smiles on these kids' faces because the whole class was giggling:

We boxed up about 40 pairs of All Stars in random sizes: 

And posed for a quick picture with a few of the students: 

Victor even took a few shots so I could jump in:

And then, as promised, he took us to see where some of the students stay. 

Victor told us that there were some students who live in these old horse stables: 

He offered to take us inside, but suggested that we leave the kids in the car. He had previously taken his children there, but it turned out to be to a little too overwhelming. 

This sweet woman kindly invited us inside her home. 

The pictures aren't very good because there was no electricity, which meant no light. 

She walked us around and showed us the dining area and where her two children slept. But what we couldn't get over was that these horse stables actually had horses in them. 

And a variety of other animals. I'm sure you can imagine what it smelled like. 

This family was living in the stable. With the animals. It was difficult to hide the shock on our faces. 

After we left, Victor kept apologizing, saying that he didn't want to be depressing because we were on holiday. But he was grateful that we wanted to see what things were really like for these students. And grateful that we were willing to help. We thanked him for showing us the school and told him we would keep in touch. 

On our way back to the freeway, we stopped so I could take this picture of the pretty fields: 

Victor pulled over behind us and told me that I needed to go back to the other field, where the workers were. "Those are the parents of the children who go to that school," he told us. 

I walked a little ways down to the field, and then I waited for them to come closer for a better picture. 

It felt like I was seeing something right out of National Geographic: 

I wish I wouldn't have felt so rushed with everyone waiting for me. And I wish I would have been a little more bold and gotten in closer. And of course, I wish I had a better camera. . . but still, the whole thing was pretty amazing to see.

There was some silence before Steve and I started talking.

It's so easy to oversimplify the solutions. And the problems.  

But the whole thing prompted a discussion about what we wanted to get out of this trip, which eventually led to what we want to get out of life. We want to expose our kids to things like this. Not to make them feel bad or guilty for what they have, but to help them understand the depth of their blessings. And their responsibility to serve others. While one small project in one tiny corner of the world certainly isn't going to solve a much larger, very complicated problem, it's a step in the right direction. You can't solve all of the problems, but everybody can do something to help. And we should. 

I don't want to leave everyone hanging, so I'll go ahead and skip forward to some of my later conclusions. Throughout our project, there were quite a few people who asked why we chose Converse All Stars. Earlier, I explained that All Stars are significant to our family because it was Derrick's first pair of shoes in the United States. About a week before we left, Derrick very excitedly, yet humbly, looked over the shoes that were piled up in our living room and said, "Do you realize this is a kid's dream come true? Here in the U.S. it's just a pair of shoes, but there, it is a dream come true."

I told someone that story, and they asked how I knew if that was still accurate. Derrick hadn't been to South Africa in eight years. . . maybe that had changed? If anything, All Stars are more popular in South Africa today than they were before. We mostly spotted them on adults, probably because the price. Adult sizes cost 600 Rand, or $60 USD; children sizes cost 450 Rand, or $45 USD. Those prices aren't too far off regular retail prices in the U.S. But the difference is that things don't go on sale in South Africa like they do in the U.S. Jacques explained that to me when we were talking about the clothes he orders for me to ship. In South Africa, something might go on sale for 20 percent off, but that's about it. And never something like Converse All Stars. Most of the shoes that were donated for our project were purchased on sale in the U.S. for around $20. In South Africa, they were worth more like $50. And in South Africa, fifty bucks is a lot of money. 

Of course, it was a bit of a letdown when we found out that the kids who got the shoes through Big Tree wouldn't be able to wear them to school. But later on, I realized that Converse All Stars are the perfect shoe for kids in South Africa because they wash up so well. Kaleigh wore her red All Stars, a pair of hand-me-downs from Adam, for a good part of the trip. They got so dirty. And in the hotel room, with just a bar of soap and nothing else, I was able to wash them up and make them look almost new again.

More on other reasons why the Converse All Stars worked out so well and our strategy with the smaller sizes later on. . . 

Because after our visit to the school, we were on to our next stop: Table Mountain, the flat-topped landmark that overlooks Cape Town. 

We waited for Steve, who dropped us off before he went and parked. Kaleigh had been asleep in the car and woke right up and darted across the road. She almost got hit. 

These three kids seem to be looking more and more alike as they get older: 

Kaleigh frequently points at Adam and tells people, "We are not twins!"

Just in case there was any confusion. . . ?

Derrick & Gcobisa, whose name is pronounced Go-bisa. Unless you know how to click.

Table Mountain is part of Table Mountain National Park. But the park actually encompasses three different sections near Cape Town: Table Mountain, Silvermine-Tokai, and Cape Point.

The Table Mountain Cableway has been running for over 80 years. The obtrusive advertising from Visa (Visa takes you places) was added last year.

Each cable car can carry 65 visitors. The cars rotate, giving people a 360 degree panoramic view as they travel to the top of Table Mountain. The cable cars were designed in a round shape to provide better aerodynamics in high winds. When the wind does blow, there's a water tank below the floor of the cabin that helps keep things steady. 

Table Mountain's highest point, Maclear's Beacon, is 3558 feet tall. The sandstone plateau is about two miles from side to side and features dramatic cliffs. Providing a spectacular view:   

Robben Island is the larger island on the right: 

Table Mountain is believed to be the world's oldest mountain, at least six times older than the Himalayas. It was formed under the sea, about 600 million years ago. Glaciers carved it flat, then the mountain gradually rose, thrust up by tectonic forces. The mountain was originally an island, until the sea finally receded. The Cape's original Khoi San inhabitants named the mountain "Hoerikwaggo" which means "Mountain of the Sea". The first European to climb Table Mountain called it "Taboa de Caba" which means Table of the Cape. Today, Table Mountain is world famous for its unforgettable profile: a flat-topped mountain. It's also famous for its huge number of species, both plant and animal. It was selected as a World Heritage Site, not only for it's geologic features, but because it is part of the single richest floristic area in the world. 

We went and ate lunch at Table Mountain Cafe, but weren't very impressed. Mediocre, overpriced food and terrible customer service. The lady was willing to give me a glass of tap water, but when Derrick asked, she told him no. 

This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip:

The kids like this one the best: 

It was really pretty cold:

Cold enough that Derrick looks like he's about to cry in this picture: 

But Adam was completely in his element. All that boy needs to be happy is some rocks to climb around on. 

I'm glad I stayed behind to take a few pictures of Steve and Adam because we got to experience Table Mountain's famous tablecloth, a meteorological phenomenon that causes clouds to tumble down the mountain slopes like billowing fabric. Legend has it that a retired pirate, Jan van Hunks, encountered the devil on the mountain. And in order to save his soul, he challenged the devil to a smoking contest. They stoked their pipes and have been smoking ever since. Steve took some video footage that I will have to upload later. 

I always seem to get two pictures of Steve and Adam posed like this. And I can never decide which one I like best:

Adam seriously could have stayed out there all day long. Steve had to chase him down to get him to leave: 

He was one happy boy: 

Especially when we reminded him that we were going out to dinner with his new friend, Jamie. We met up with the Potgieters at the Spur, which is a chain steakhouse restaurant, originating in South Africa. They feature a Native American theme. . . yeah, kind of funny. But the real draw is that every Spur restaurant includes a children's play area. And not some little rink-a-dink play structure. We're talking video games, a trampoline, face painting, a foosball table, volleyball, ride-on cars, a ping pong table, and a playground. And an official childwatcher who supervises the kids while you eat. Brilliant? Maybe for the customers, but after going to a few of these, I would never want to run one. 

Here are the two tigers, Jamie and Adam: 

And here is Lucy, the biker dude. (Rachel was the artist.) 

Good company and entertainment for our kids. . . it sure made for an enjoyable meal. And that was the end of another long day.