Dear South Africa

As promised at the end of 2015, our visitor from Germany documented her time with the Network Action Group (NAG) and has written a letter to share her experiences. She spent 3 weeks in the field with NAG staff and future leaders. We definitely enjoyed having her with us as she was willing to get involved with every aspect of the network and did so with enthusiasm and grace. Now, to hear from her directly…

Uschi
Uschi and “1000” children

I truly miss you. You with your positive hospitable, lighthearted people, stunning natural beauty, chicken and fries at 10am and your irrelevance for time.

But first let me introduce myself; I am Uschi, 25 years old, born in Hungary and raised up each ten years in Austria and Germany. Studied international business and economic but the most important part me is that I am passionate about travelling. And when I say travelling, I am not talking about going on a 2 week, all-inclusive holiday in a 5-star hotel in  Thailand or South Africa. My definition of travelling is to dive into foreign cultures, be open minded about different values, willing to understand the people’s mindsets and learn as much about the country itself as possible. This time I finally made it to South Africa.

Back home in Europe we learn a lot about poverty in this country; we are told not to waste water and food, because there are so many children in the whole of Africa suffering from malnutrition and thirst. But I wanted to dig deep down to the roots of these problems, I wanted to understand why education is a constant issue, why HIV is spreading so quickly here why the gap between rich and poor is constantly growing wider and wider.

So I am not here to save Africa. I am here to comprehend its social and political situation, but most importantly, to understand the people, their background and their behaviour. And I had 3 weeks for that with NAG. So let’s get started…

Firstly, coming to NAG as a volunteer you won’t be put in one spot and take care of children for your volunteer time. They want you to experience and see their work and there are truly so many different things NAG is doing to be part of. It was a process for me to completely grasp how NAG works but the whole team gave its best and involved me in their work. Starting off with the future leader program, NAG gives motivated people, regardless their age, the opportunity to learn about life skills and later on to set goals, change their lives and bring their knowledge back to their communities. Future leaders are then responsible for enhancing the quality of crèches. Linked to this, NAG offers so called “psycho-social hours”. I had the chance to participate in one of these sessions which constituted talking and discussing in a small intimate about topics like violence in a relationships, which was a non-existing subject in my life so far, but is so unbelievably present in South Africa. but also about life questions like ‘what is love?’ and ‘how do I set goals in my life?’. I even had the chance to stay at a future leader’s house for a night. Spending the day helping out in the crèche of the future leader’s community, and the late afternoon and evening with the future leader’s family, was a great and interesting experience.

Another NAG project, in partnership with Ilifa Labantwana, is to locate and get crèches to be officially registered to provide the actual number of operating crèches to the state in order  to allocate government subsidies properly and to make the state take all the crèches into account calculating the subsidy amount but also to ensure child safety and security.

Fundraising
Fundraising meeting at NAG office

Since organisations such as NAG, that is, non profits, are a lot about fundraising especially when the company is constantly growing, I also had the opportunity to look into NAG’s financial and organisational structure and took part in a meeting with a potential donor.

Fun part of South Africa; they love to celebrate, to eat and they are deeply in love with their braai’s (= barbecue). I got the chance to experience that at NAG’s YEP(=year end party, quoted Msizi) which was all about celebrating life and NAG, but especially all NAG members and their achievement. Besides that I think I have never seen so much meat and food in my whole life!

Camp
Family Camp in KwaNziwakwe, Hibiscus Coast

In the end of my time at NAG I was lucky enough to take part in the so called ‘family camp’. That weekend is built for families with every kind of family issues. They are meant to talk about topics like ‘what is a father’s role in a family?’, ‘what is important when raising a child?’ or ‘what should I, as a kid, be responsible for and not?’. Those days are a very intense time for all the family members, a lot of hidden individual stories and issues come to the surface and NAG stuff listens, mediates and gives advice for solutions.

Leaving NAG and going back to one’s real life can be tough; suddenly a lot of daily issues and your work seem irrelevant. But it also teaches you not to take sheltered family circumstances, education and a lot of other things for granted. I learned that in South Africa it’s not all about the money but all about the right education, to make it accessible for everyone right from crèche time until college. NAG is not just another place where one can volunteer and leave with nothing but cute baby pictures. It’s about getting invited to ones’ grandmas’ birthday, sleeping at future leaders’ homes, being forced to get used to South African timing, eating fries at 10am, listening to moving life stories, going to places in the middle of nowhere, getting history lessons, learning to drive with very old cars, also playing a little bit with children of course, eating braais, but most importantly, seeing people make real changes to others’ lives and their communities.

What is left to say? Thank you NAG, special thanks to Zola, Brian, Thembi, Sphi, Nondumiso, Msizi, Phume, Maria, Sithembile and Gcinile.
Keep on doing those great life changing things and I will come back, hopefully soon!

Love,
Uschi

Finance
Uschi (Volunteer), Msizi (NAG staff), Phume (NAG intern)