Claire is writing a Blog based on her experiences in South Africa.
Read more about her experiences by visiting her Blog.
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Knysna Update - Floods! (posted 5 Sept 2006)
I have been emailing my contact at Percy Mdala, Ian Perrin, on
a regular basis but for a few weeks I have received no response.
Finally an email came through and it seems they have had 9 months
worth of rainfall just in the month of August! The worst rains since
records began! On the 2nd August they had enough rain to cut off
The N2 highway between George and Knysna has subsided and most of
one carriageway has slowly been slipping into the sea. Convoys of
lighter vehicles can use the other carriageway but trucks have to
make a a 250 mile detour. Many of the townships were badly affected
by the rain and the mudslides and many township families have been
The school has also been experiencing 2 to 3 power cuts per week
which has played havoc with their computer room and they have also
been having trouble with a new internet link.
It never rains but it pours...
After my return from a short trip to Cape Town, South Africa in
October 2005 I decided to ask BBC Northern Ireland for a 3 month
I felt that it was time to 'give something back' as the saying goes.
Instead of just responding to charity appeals with a debit card
wouldn't it be more worthwhile to go out and volunteer my time?
It all began one evening while on holiday there. I was watching
the sun set over Table Mountain and I had one of those epiphany
moments you hear people talking about but wonder 'Eh what's that
all about?' I just knew that I would return, and soon, and 'do something'.
Once back in Belfast I looked around for a suitable agency to go
through and after much research found Travellers
Worldwide. Through them I applied for a two month placement
at a township school and a one month stint in the offices of The
Big Issue. I was absolutely thrilled when I was accepted and the
count down began until my departure in October 2006.
Once I had been accepted at Percy Mdala school in Knysna I thought
it would enhance the project if we could get a Belfast school to
twin with the South African school. So, after a few really positive
meetings with Mr Darren Scott, the 9D citizenship class at St Dominic's
in West Belfast came on board.
The first priority was to design the site so our Designer, Bob Wylie
and Coder, David MacDermott came up with a variety of designs to
take to St Dominic's for a brain storming session. The students
came up with the name , NISA Connect, which represents 'Northern
Ireland, South Africa Connect', and gave valuable feedback on what
they did, or didn't, like about our designs.
So, the idea is that the Belfast students will tell the students
in Knysna about their school lives, curriculum and concerns via
the website and with direct mailings. Then, once I am in Knysna
the students and staff there will do the same.
The one thing you can't ignore is the startling juxtaposition of
wealthy suburbs, complete with carefully tended gardens and swimming
pools, and the stark contrast of the townships.
For Instance, the Cape Flats township, near to Cape Town airport,
stretches for many kilometres along the main arterial route into
the city. Although conditions are improving slowly, with the construction
of concrete housing and the introduction of electricity, life is
hard and the accommodation is often squalid and dangerous. Knysna
has a number of townships perched on the hills dotted around the
main town and they face the same problems of poor accommodation
and lack of resources.
By volunteering in a township school in Knysna I felt I could help
out in person and, just as importantly, could learn more about the
challenges and obstacles that the students face. By volunteering
to work in The Big Issue offices in Cape Town I feel sure that the
experience will deepen my understanding of the challenges South
Africa faces and then enable me to continue making contributions
in any way I can in the future.