Aubrie Grass of Utah Valley University joined Happy Feet Youth Project for two weeks as part of her International Student Volunteers‘ trip to Southern Africa. Our ISV groups spend the 1st half of their day volunteering in community preschools and then spend the after school hours at Happy Feet Youth Project playing games and assisting in other projects for our organization. One of the main projects Aubrie’s group assisted in was our first ever participant family survey. The volunteers assisted us in visiting the homes of each participant and gathering more information about the children and their family situation which has been very helpful in gaining feedback from parents and assessing the actual size of our project- Previously we were estimating our project consisted of 30 dancers and about 30 fans (younger or new children who participate in other project activities and benefit from our feeding scheme), but the surveys have revealed we currently have a total of 55 dancers and 30+ fans. Aubrie was kind enough to share an entry from her journal about her experience:
Thursday July 12, 2012
So far Happy Feet has been such an amazing experience! The first day we were introduced to the kids we were greeted by thirty excited little faces running towards us in a large mass. Once they reached us it was like a jungle gym. The all immediately started to wrap their arms around our legs and dangle from our arms. They then did a performance for us in the garage that they hang out in. They were all so excited and proud of what they were doing, it was really, really touching.
We also got introduced to some of the kids. Most of the kids are younger, between three and twelve, but there are a few that are older. There are a lot of younger girls, but as they get older there are much less. When we asked about it Nathi said that as the girls get older they have to start dealing with other problems, such as becoming a mother. He says he also believes some are a little wary to come and join the happy feet group because of these problems they are facing. A few times I have seen girls that are my age standing off to the side watching all of us play with the children. I really hope that in the future there can be some way that either us or other groups can get these girls more involved so the group isn’t so dominated by men. I think the girls would really enjoy it and bring a lot of fun energy to the group.
The following day the kids decided to teach us the dances. Not only are the kids so patient with us but they are like a little cheerleading team anytime we do a right move. There are always lots of hugs and shouts of glee anytime one of us is able to do one of the dances all the way through. There are four dances that were taught: the basic dance they call 3, a dance called 7, the boy’s dance and then the girls dance. Not all of us learned both the girls’ and the boys’ dances but the group for the most part learned both 3 and 7. After working with the kids and learning the dances they had us perform in front of all of them. Even though it was a little intimidating dancing in front of all these kids who knew the dances so well, it was so fun. Everyone was cheering and laughing and no one cared if you messed up or were a little slower than everyone else, they were just excited that we were excited.
There always seems to be an ongoing soccer game over off to the side. Even if one game “ends” it always seems that a new one soon follows. Even though I’m not a big soccer player it’s fun to watch the people play and compete against each other. Even though it is so cold and it rains a lot, the kids always seem to be over in the corner kicking around the soccer ball.
The last two days have been somewhat similar. Mostly we play games with the children and dance to the music that people are playing; it is very fun and relaxing. Today we got to teach the kids a game we knew which was fun. We decided on a dancing game since they obviously love to dance. Once everyone started to get the hang of it they all seemed to really enjoy it. It was cute to see the little kids show off their moves in the middle of our circle.
Today we also started interviews. For the interviews we go to each kids house that is officially apart of Happy Feet and ask the parents the child’s name, birth date, schooling, etc. not only so we can have this information in case we need it, but also use it as a way to count how many children are actually part of Happy Feet. The interview ends with a question asking the parent how he or she feels about their child being a part of Happy Feet. The first interview I went to completely brought a new light to the kinds of challenges these families are facing. When we started asking this mother questions I learned that as a child she had only completed a little more than middle school with her education, and her husband had only completed a little bit more. When we got to the last question about how she feels about Happy Feet you could just see the gratitude in her eyes. She started saying how grateful she is that Happy Feet is there because for that time she knows that her child is safe. She does not have to worry about whether he is hurt or lost, she knows that he is out there with people he knows, having a great time. She continued to say how awful it is to look out the window at the train tracks and sometimes see children off to the side who have died because they have gotten hit by the trains that go by, or to find out that a child has been hit by a car that drives by in the streets in front of her home. While her child is at Happy Feet she knows that her child is not one of those children she sees. When this woman said this I was now able to see how important Happy Feet really is in the community. Not only does it keep the children from getting involved in things like gangs and alcohol but it keeps them safe for the moment as well. It keeps them in a safe area away from some of these dangers, that outsiders like myself do not worry about on a daily basis.
Even though I have only been involved with Happy Feet for a few days I have already learned so much from it. Happy Feet would not be here if it wasn’t for the closeness of the community that supports it. Everyone in the community is so willing to get together and support each other which I think is so amazing.
Happy Feet has so much potential for the future and I’m really excited to be a part of it. Even though I will not be here for very long I hope that the things I am doing now and the things I will be doing in the next week will really help with the development of Happy Feet. It has already come so far and I am excited to see what it becomes in the future.