Over the summer, nine High School students went to South Africa to visit and work at Maitland Cottage Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.
Written by Santiago. Participants: Ambre, Luis, Marie, Clara, Virginie, Emma, Chloé, Caroline, Santiago.
Organised by Mrs. Demyttenaere, Mrs. Bompas, and Mrs. Marcy.
Our first day in South Africa! When we landed in Cape Town, everyone was exhausted after the long 12-hour flight down to the tip of Africa. We took a taxi to our hostel, Off The Wall Backpackers, where we quickly settled in. After our short rest, we had a nice lunch near the hotel, and then walked to the hospital where we were shown around and finally got to meet the kids! The kids who we had been in contact with, who we had worked for and who we wanted to have fun with. For everyone, it was a beautiful experience to walk into the dormitories and to be greeted by all the youngsters who were eager to meet their new friends for the rest of the week. Some of the kids at the hospital did have some intense wounds and deformities, but after playing with them for a little while, everyone got used to this. The real ice-breakers were the soft Noukies toys which we had dragged along all the way from Brussels to Cape Town and which we offered as a small gift to each of the patients. Thank you Noukies for offering us these goodies. The kids` happy faces when they received their toys, we will never forget. After our time at the hospital, we had dinner at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, a working harbour where former warehouses were partly transformed into restaurants and fun places to lounge. We went to bed early.
We started the day off with a very early wake up call and a fortifying breakfast at Global Starlings in Claremont. At the hospital we split up into 3 groups. The first group, Marie and Santiago, followed the doctor while he went to check up on each kid. This was very interesting, because we got to learn more about the issues that these kids had. The second group, sorted out the donated clothes and library books to make it easier for the hospital to distribute them to the kids. The third and last group went to the garden to start cleaning up and making the garden look overall much neater for the kids. These tasks took every group about 3 to 4 hours. the remainder of the time was spent reading and playing with our new friends. Once finished we walked back to the hotel, where our guide was waiting for us. Our guide took us on a long walk through the centre of Cape Town where he gave us a lesson on South Africa’s troubled history. Slavery, Rhodes, Apartheid and Mandela were the main topics. The walk was very interesting and important to us because we really got to learn more about the extensive history of the beautiful place we were in.
We decided to check out the local bakery, which was actually very similar to Belgian bakeries. Once we were at the hospital, some decided to continue cleaning up the play part in the garden while the other group read for and played with all boys and girls. After 2 hours, the groups switched jobs for another 2 hours. Afterwards, we spend some time doing arts and crafts with the kids. After this emotionally challenging work, we took a taxi up to Table Mountain, where a fun scooter guide was waiting for us. We first learned how to use the scooters, but in no time, we were going down Table Mountain. At the start, you could see most of us were hesitant and quite scared, but soon everyone was confident and going fast. As if going down Table Mountain was not enough, we decided to go to the trampoline park near our hotel later in the evening. At the trampoline park, everyone had fun and was able to get their daily exercise in.
The fourth day at the hospital started as a cleaning day. Staff bathrooms and showers were scrubbed with limited equipment. The hospital is doing a wonderful job with the kids. They are desperate for funds to be able to continue their work. We realised that what we took along was not enough. Next time we will add puzzles, gardening tools, and good cleaning equipment to our already extensive list of clothes and books. The remaining 2 hours of the morning were spent doing puzzles and reading with the kids. We then met our bus outside, which took us to the first farm of the day. On this farm, we visited the wild cats that were kept there. The wild cats were beautiful, but some people of the group felt bad that such big animals were kept in captivity. We then went on to the second farm, where we had a traditional braai, which is a South African barbecue. The third farm we visited had a beautiful and extensive garden, an exact copy of the gardens which were established by the VOC, the Eastern Shipping Company of Holland in the 17th century. At the time the VOC provided food and a place to rest for all ships going to Batavia and Malaysia in order to collect expensive spices. The Cape was right in the middle. We enjoyed walking around while drinking fresh orange juice and eating biltong.
Full working day! We walked to the hospital as always and started working right away. Some did arts and crafts with the kids, some read books with the kids and others taught kids how to read. We did this till lunchtime. After lunch we went back to the hospital where we cleaned the walls of the staff rooms. After a long day of working, the group split up into two. One group went back to the trampoline park and the other group went into town to do some shopping. At the end of the day, everyone was incredibly tired and went to bed early.
Today was the first day that we were allowed to sleep in a little longer. When everyone met downstairs, we were all awake and in a very good mood. After a quick breakfast, we took a bus to Woodstock, the place to be for street art in Cape Town. Our guide, a local artist, gave us a tour of the different art pieces and explained us the meaning and message behind them. It showed all of us that there are two kinds of graffiti; vandalism and art. Street art is considered a bad thing by many people, but it is often beautiful and it always has a strong message behind it. After our street art tour, we went to the old biscuit mill, a former factory, where there was a street festival with foods from all over the world. After eating and shopping at the mall, we went back to the hospital where we had a pancake party with the kids to say goodbye to them. It was hard to say bye to the kids, since all of us grew to love the kids. The goodbyes were filled with hugs and even some tears.
Change of scenery ! We took a taxi to our next hotel, Atlantic Point. We got to the hotel and got some time to settle into our new rooms. We then met outside to make our way to the harbour. At the harbour, we caught the ferry to Robben Island. When we arrived after 45 minutes, we first got a bus tour around the island where we learned more about the prison and the island. After the bus tour, we went inside of the prison. In the prison, we had a guide who was an actual ex-inmate. Even though the guide was really hard to understand he made the tour more interesting because we got the perspective of things of an actual person who witnessed it all first hand.
Last day in Cape Town. We all slept in and met downstairs with our bags packed. After a quick breakfast, we split up into two groups. One group went to the beach and to the mall, while the other group went paragliding. The paragliding group had some difficulties with the wind and the weather, but in the end, it was an amazing experience for everyone. We then went to the airport and went back to Belgium. We all felt sorry to leave this beautiful country and happy that we got to experience it as a group. We also felt excited and humbled that we got to know this great hospital with its wonderful patients. The kids were the ones we worked for and the ones we were desperate to meet. They made us realise how important it is to continue our work. Next year will be even more successful, we promise!
Each day we aimed at working 5 hours or more. The work was emotionally demanding and would never leave us. The happy intensity of the job made sure that we felt we were doing day jobs J From all the students, we would like to give a huge thank you to Mrs. Demyttenaere, Mrs. Bompas and Mrs. Marcy for this amazing trip.