Volunteering with Happy Feet

Leila Tavakoli is our first independent volunteer to come and stay in Langa Township working with Happy Feet Youth Project. We would like to say a huge thank you for the support Leila showed us over the busy Cape Town Carnival weekend as well as her continued support from the UK. If you’re interested in helping us out at Happy Feet Youth project locally or from a distance please contact us at happyfeetyouthproject@gmail.com !

Here is a blog post Leila wrote about her time with Happy Feet:

Happy Feet.  Thinking cute little penguins? Think again.  Thinking dancing feet?  Getting closer…

Happy Feet.  The safe after school environment for children in an area of the Langa township.  People love to see the young children and teenagers performing their gumboot and traditional dance, it’s a great show for all to see.  At every performance all faces light up; those watching, those performing, the adults, the kids. But Happy Feet is a lot more than teaching young people how to dance.

The self contained after school club instils a sense of purpose into these soon to be young adults.  Their inspiration is provided by the encouragement of Siviwe, Nathi and a handful of others – with every single child showing impeccable respect, discipline and manners.  The dance is an avenue for them to really show a skill that people want to come back and see and the follow on effect gives them a true sense of self-worth and enables them to carry this through into other areas of their lives such as school.

Here are a few of my memories from my time with them….

I arrive two days before @CTCarnival where @HappyFeetYP have a troop of the older teenagers dancing through the parade.  A selection has to be made, of the 25 older boys only 20 can perform.  It is put to them to decide; those who performed in Stellenbosch a few weeks before could give the others who never went a chance to go – the choice is theirs.  Between them, they decided which means some graciously step aside to accompany the younger children on their trip to the beach.  Another sign of the great foundation this project is providing for these children.

The Happy Feet kids made a banner, they outlined the words, they coloured in the letters and they decorated the background – embracing teamwork and providing a great sense of achievement and something to wave from the side-lines of the carnival.

Saturday, Carnival Day, midday start, the nerves in the air, the atmosphere is tense but as the banner is finalised and the mini bus arrives to take the performers things start to wind up to carnival excitement.

15:00, we take 25 of the younger children to the beach to play on the sand and splash in the cold waters of Camps Bay to break up the afternoon.  19:00 we head towards the V&A and walk our way, singing and dancing, to the carnival sidelines.  The carnival starts and the excitement kicks in, later in the evening the tiredness appears but the energy jumps up again when we see the boys in their black and gold costumes, looking very at home in the parade performing for the 60,000+ onlookers that were sharing the experience.

We traded stories the next day, encouraging them to share experiences and hear different sides of then day’s events.  The younger ones describing their trip to the beach and how they were so excited when they saw the troop in the parade; the older ones describing how they were fed and watered, loved the attention from the crowds and how they too thought it was excellent to see us in the crowd cheering them on.

The days post carnival included tourist visits and me really starting to understand what this project does for the kids, what they need, the future plans for Happy Feet in Langa and for other disadvantaged children in areas around the world.

Of course donations are needed, but on a day to day basis the children need variety in their lives and the tourists seeing the performances, the new faces that can be introduced to the children and any activities that they can be taught help keep this wonderful project self contained.  Ideas are always welcomed.

Like with any projects, there are some areas which they’d like to move forward on:  keeping the girls engaged in the project is a hard tasks as the gumboot dances are seen as a very male orientated activity, ideally a female from the area who would be willing to give some of their time to the project would be a great and welcomed addition.  The other area needed is the diet of the children, if any local restaurant or eatery throws away perfectly good food on a regular basis, please get in touch so the diet of these children can be improved and maintained.

My week with HappyFeet is one of the most memorable, and the ethics behind the project mean I am more than happy to be associated and do what I can from the UK.  With volunteers like Ashley Newell behind them, their future plans will no doubt be realised.



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