Two weeks ago the group I will be traveling to South Africa met with Tamarin Simpson, the founder of the Tippy Toes Foundation, via Skype. We will be working with her in sponsoring a summer camp for the children of the community. She talked about the area that we will be spending most of our time working in and touched upon some of the challenges the community faces each day. Interestingly, she also discussed the attitudes and judgments she faces being a white woman in South Africa.
I found it a little saddening to know that being from a different country with a different skin color than the children I will be working with may make it more difficult to form an instant connection. It may take them a longer time to open up to me than what I might expect.
In previous camps that I’ve worked at here in the United States, I’ve found it takes little time, maybe only a day, for the children to feel comfortable being around me. But I recognize that travelling to South Africa to work with children there will be a far broader experience. I can’t expect to share a common culture and certainly not a common history, but I do hope that we can eventually share this one experience of our time together and in doing so share a bit of who we are; our cultures, our histories and our joys.
I do hope that regardless of vast differences that we will be able to build relationships based on respect and a genuine enjoyment of our time together. It is my hope that I will be able to engage some of the girls in the game of soccer with the understanding that in this community in South Africa, girls usually dance while the boys play soccer. While respecting the culture of the children we will meet, I would like to share a bit of my own culture in which soccer plays such a big part. I would love for the girls to see how much fun soccer is and how it brings me so much joy. It is a joy I look forward to sharing. I hope that even if the girls make the decision not to play that at least they know that they have the opportunity to and that they can play soccer regardless of their gender.
Tamarin also discussed the possibility of the children opening up to us about their own lives once they do feel comfortable around us. They may reflect on a good memory, but they may also reflect on some of the hardships they have faced and continue to face.
Can we understand what we have not personally experienced?
Can we offer a caring ear without making the child feel judged?
What misconceptions and assumptions might the communities we visit have about me?
Will they give me a chance though I do not share their history or culture, or will they judge me based on the color of my skin and the way I speak?
After we ended the Skype session with Tamarin we talked a bit about the political and cultural history of South Africa, and its townships to get a better sense of the country and its people. Nelson Mandela is certainly one of South Africa’s most influential leaders and reading his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, gave me a better idea of his incredible strength and the journey of his own country. I have not finished the book yet but I hope by reading it I will leave for South Africa with at least a small understanding of what the people of South Africa have endured. I think few countries are so closely identified with one leader and certainly few leaders are so genuinely adored by its people.
To finish off our meeting we discussed the need to fundraise. Our group has split up to focus on different ways we can raise funds for camp supplies and other necessities. My group got in touch with the Quinnipiac University athletic department and we will be raffling off two tickets to the Quinnipiac vs Yale hockey game. We hope to raise a lot of money through this because it is one of the biggest sports events at Quinnipiac and tickets are sold out immediately. We will be looking into other means of raising funds as well.
Each time we meet I get more and more excited for our trip to South Africa. I most especially want to meet the children and experience their day.