Volunteer Laurel updates us on her time at Emmanuel – piggy backs and sex education

Volunteer Laurel updates us on her time at Emmanuel – piggy backs and sex education

Week Two: starting the holiday program for the children at Emmanuel


My first full week at Emmanuel began with beautiful weather, which was perfect for the morning of netball that we had planned.

Luckily the t-shirts with positions drawn on them went down well- the children didn’t want to take them off at the end of the match and wore them until I left that afternoon!

It was great to take the children out of the centre, since there is only a small yard there with not much space to play and the teenagers share it with the crèche children. I taught them a few drills and I was pleased that there were easily enough children for two teams, so they then played a long match in the sunshine, before getting bored and switching to soccer.

Most of the children played in jeans and bare feet on the hard netball court, but this didn’t hinder their skill or enthusiasm and other children from the township walking past came to join in. Eventually it was lunchtime, which meant piggybacks up the hill back to the centre, with the odd break for photo-shoots (the children here love having their photo taken, frequently calling out ‘shoot me’! ).

The next day I did a workshop on sex and relationships.

This was quite challenging, since there were around 30 children at the centre that day and I had to try to pitch it at the right level because their ages ranged from about 10-20.

Although the children have sex education at school, I was told that it can be quite hit-and-miss because the subject is largely taboo in Xhosa culture, so some teachers may feel uncomfortable discussing it.

The children are used to 1950’s style teaching in their schools
(a product of the fact that classes are often as large as 60) so many of them seemed surprised to be invited to speak and give their opinions. None of the boys said anything but I noticed a few reading the powerpoint slides very intently. I hope that I taught some of the children something and at least dispelled a few myths (such as that boys can have a contraceptive injection, which a couple of girls thought to be the case!).

We also discussed the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships; there was some debate about domestic violence, although the vast majority considered it unhealthy. Interestingly, the general consensus was that the ideal age to have children is 22- my age, which might explain why I’ve been asked when I’m getting married so many times!

Mid-week I had a meeting with Thembeka, who is generally responsible for the orphans and vulnerable children at the centre and we decided to organise a talent show to raise funds for them. The children are desperate to go on daytrips and to camp, but with the Department of Social Development announcing a couple of weeks ago that Emmanuel’s budget is to be cut by 73.4% for the next financial year, there will be not be enough money for food and electricity, let alone activities for the OVC’s (the Department gave no explanation for the cut ).

The OVC’s are a very talented group; they have a choir, a traditional dance group, two poets and they also like performing comedy sketches and plays. I wrote a play with them loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, except that the rival families are South African and Zimbabwean and there is a somewhat happier ending! Some of the boys also asked me to teach them some hip-hop moves so that they can do a hip-hop dance. This made me a bit nervous and wishing I’d done some dance classes, but after watching a few tutorials on youtube and some music videos for inspiration I managed to help them put together some choreography to ‘Wait your turn’ by Rihanna.

After a fun, busy and active week I had time for some relaxation with Miki and two of her friends on the weekend, since we took a trip to Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival.


Week 3: Diva Viva and Bush Park Reach

Before we could advertise the talent show, we needed to secure a location, so one morning it was decided that Zolani (one of the OVC’s) and I should go down to see the councillor to ask to use the local hall. Zolani appointed me to do the talking, and as we sat in the waiting room I felt anxious and frustrated with myself for not wearing smarter clothes. In the end the councillor wasn’t there because she was at a meeting with the mayor and the hall turned out to be booked up on the day that we’re holding the show, so we’ve decided to have it at the centre.

It’s important that we keep costs down, so I wrote letters to some local shops asking for donations of products that we can use as prizes.  Me, Zolani and Thembeka spent an exhausting day traipsing around the local shopping centre delivering the letters. We started in large chains such as Spar, Pep and Shoprite and got a lukewarm response- some shop managers were simply rude, while others were sympathetic but there was too much bureaucracy involved to deliver our letter to head office before the show.

In the light of this, I suggested that we target smaller shops instead and we chanced upon a shop called Diva Viva, whose owners donated 26 pairs of shoes, two ponchos and a scarf!

Thanks Diva Viva!

Their kindness and generosity immediately lifted our spirits and the three of us laughed as we struggled to drag two full bin bags and a giant sack across the shopping centre and into the car. The plan now is to try and sell some of the shoes to make money for the centre, since there are too many to give away as prizes. The only problem is that most of them are sizes 7 and 8, so we’re in search of ladies with big feet! With location and some prizes secured, the following day was spent poster-making and writing letters to local performers inviting them to the event.

I also did a workshop with the children on drugs. With unemployment in the townships so high, there are problems with alcoholism and drugs. Some of the children told me stories of their experiences with their friends and family and we discussed peer pressure and debated whether people who take drugs are more fun. This workshop was easier to conduct than the one on relationships, although there were still times when it was difficult because the children spoke to me in Xhosa, and I had to work out which drugs they were referring to, although I think that we figured most of them out in the end!

Last week I was only at the centre for four days, because I took Friday off to go to Cape Town with Miki.

On Wednesday I had a meeting with Estolene, the project manager at Emmanuel, who told me that in the tradition of former volunteers who had worked with the OVC’s, some of my volunteer contribution would be used to take the children on a day out. With the centre struggling so much financially, I hadn’t anticipated that this would be possible and we had less than a day to plan the trip! I was also worried because the weather forecast wasn’t good, but Estolene told me not to worry about the rain. Luckily she was right and the rain never came.

Good Times at Bush Park Reach

We had a wonderful day at Bush Park Reach, a huge expanse of land with acres of space, zebras, springboks, squirrels, a log cabin, treehouses and even a chapel. The children could play football on a full-sized pitch, climb trees and play on ropes, swings and slides, which they loved. We also made hot chocolate for them and bought meat for a huge barbecue. Unfortunately I had to leave a bit early to get to Cape Town, but I hear that the children stayed until around 7 that evening! The outing was a great way to spend my last proper day with the OVC’s and I hope that it will be a great memory for them too.

Next week, things will be quite different because the children are back at school, but I hope to go on some home-visits with the carers and to finalise preparations for the Talent Show on Saturday.

Interested in volunteering at Emmanuel –take a look here

Emmanuel have recently created their own website –  take a look here

To read Laurels earlier blogs click here

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