A Page from a Volunteer’s Journal

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:

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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.Image

 

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.

 

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.

@HappyFeetYP

@leilatavakoli

Happy Paws

Starting in October there was very small puppy sneaking in through a hole in the wall and sleeping in the garage at night curled up amongst the gumboots. We decided that she had chosen Happy Feet as her home and started taking care of her both for her benefit but also in hope that through adopting her, the children will learn how important it is to have compassion and the benefits of responsibility. Many children in the townships grow up being very fearful of dogs so it has been a great learning opportunity for them to learn to care for a dog and in turn have a dog be friendly and loving back to them.

We decided to name her Happy Paws and make her an official member of our group. She had a bad case of mange so we started taking her to the weekly SPCA clinic here in Langa every Monday. The clinic visits combined with proper puppy nutrition  have enabled her to transform from very lethargic and missing a lot of fur to now an energetic playful puppy whose skin has almost completely recovered.

The beginning of November brought on the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day which means a lot of very loud fireworks and firecrackers. We were very sad to find that Happy Paws was missing and were very concerned about her wellbeing. Five days later the kids found her on the complete opposite side of Langa roaming around the train station and cemetery.  We have no idea how she managed to get so far away from home but were thrilled to find her OK and back at the project.

Happy Paws now has her own dog house but still enjoys spending her time in the garage while the kids practice their gumboots dance and is quick to except any “donations” from the kids during meal time. When the kids are at school she also enjoys running around and playing with a couple of the other dogs in the area. She seems to have adjusted quite well to her rambunctious life with Happy Feet and we’re very happy she’s a part of our team.

Getting to know a few of the Happy Feet Kids

Name: Simamkele “Simley” Ngxabazi

Age: 11

Where do you go to school?: Bergsig Primary School in Bonteville

What grade are you in?: 5b

Where do you live?: Zone 22, Langa Township

Who is in your family? My mother and my Grandmother and my little sister. My five cousins and their moms also live with us, also some other children.

What are your favorite things to do?: Soccer, sit with friends, and gumboots dance

What do you like to eat?: I like to eat hamburger and pizza. I like to eat everything.

What do you think you will do when you grow up?: I want to be a doctor because I want t help people.

One word to describe you would be ______?:  I want to be strong.

What is your favorite color?: Blue because it is light and colorful

Who is the most important person in your life?: Mother because she takes care of me.

What do you love about Happy Feet?: I love to dance.

 

Name: Mvelisi “Vetcha Vetcha” Menemene

Age: 12

Where do you go to school?: Bergsig Primary School in Bonteville

What grade are you in?: 5

Where do you live?: Zone 22 at my cousin Simley’s

Who is in your family?: My mother and my sister and three little brothers

What are your favorite things to do?: I like to play soccer and rugby and gumboots dance.

What do you like to eat?: Rainbow chicken and rice and burger.

What do you think you will do when you grow up?: I’ll be a police officer because I want to arrest people who break into houses.

One word to describe you would be ______? Fast

What is your favorite color?: Pink, blue, and red

Who is the most important person in your life?: My mother because she takes care of me and buys stuff for me and pays school fees.

What do you love about Happy Feet?: Going out and beating the boots, and TaSvig. I want to go out and perform at the Waterfront and ArtsCape. I like this place because I don’t want to go in the gangsters and be a criminal. Happy Feet keeps me away from that.

 

Name: Liso “G5” Nipa

Age: 7

Where do you go to school?: Zimasa Primary School in Langa

What grade are you in?: 2

Where do you live?: Langa Hostel

Who is in your family?: My mother and 13 year old sister

What are your favorite things to do?: Happy Feet and soccer

What do you like to eat?: Burger, Pizza, Hot Dog

What do you think you will do when you grow up?: A Doctor. I want to help people.

One word to describe you would be ______?: Fast

What is your favorite color?: Red, I like to color it. And orange and pink

Who is the most important person in your life?: Mom

What do you love about Happy Feet?: TaSvig

 

Name: Lutho “Pluto” Ningiza

Age: 9

Where do you go to school?: Heildeveld Primary in Gugulethu

What grade are you in?:  3

Where do you live?: Zone 22

Who is in your family?: My mom and brother (22) and we live with my three cousins and aunt.

What are your favorite things to do?: Write, read, play soccer, drum, run, gumboots dance

What do you like to eat?: Meat! Burger and sandwhich.

What do you think you will do when you grow up?:  I will go to work at Game [department store]

One word to describe you would be ______? : Funny

What is your favorite color?: Purple, because it’s my color

Who is the most important person in your life?: My uncle. Because he has money and buys me clothes and shoes and he loves me.

What do you love about Happy Feet?: Gumboots

 

Welcome to our New Blog!

The Happy Feet Youth Project was founded in 2007 by Siviwe Mbinda in an effort to provide a safe after school environment for the children of his community. In 2008, through Siviwe’s work as a tourist guide in Langa, he saw an opportunity to further develop the mentor relationship he had with a small group of children. By pairing tourism with the children he expanded to teach gumboots dance as a catalyst to enable psychosocial and concrete benefits for the children. Siviwe Mbinda and Nathi Gigaba have partnered together to establish a program which empowers the children through gumboots and traditional dance to be confident and disciplined in achieving their goals. The participants are required to balance their school work, participation in the Happy Feet activities, as well as how they carry themselves within the community. The program includes approximately 60 boys and girls ages 3-18. Through dedication and hard work Happy Feet has performed at conferences, traditional ceremonies, hotels, universities, dance competitions, museums, and in parliament. The funding Happy Feet receives goes towards uniforms, traditional instruments, a feeding scheme, school fee and material support, and Happy Feet outings and functions.

Objectives:

  • To promote youth development through sports and culture
  • To build self-esteem and confidence by participating in positive activities
  • Giving guidance, teaching life skills and teamwork
  • Taking kids off the streets by creating interesting and positive environment for them.
  • Motivating the youth to have respect and discipline for themselves and others.
  • Encouraging HIV positive children to be active in sports and cultural activities.
  •  Installing positive attitude to ex-convicts and teenage mothers through participating and being involved in uplifting the community.
  • Involving physically disabled children through our activities, for them not to feel they are different from other kids.
  • Taking kids to places of interest outside of their community in order to open theirminds.
  • Working with disadvantaged children, there was a need for basic needs, feeding the children, providing the kids with clothes, providing the kids with school material as well as assisting the kids with the school fees

Short-term Goals:

  • “Face Lift” of current garage space- i.e. new roll-up garage door, mural paintings, floor refinishing, planting of flowers
  • Building a roof and sides over large outdoor stage- to enable cover from weather and an amphitheater like appearance
  • Nutritional feeding scheme- improving the nutritional value of the small meal provided to the children- i.e. replacing the soda drink with a piece of fruit, brown bread rather than white
  • Brochures- Provide informational material to those who visit Happy Feet as well as at performances
  • Overhead projector to enable community movie nights on outdoor stage
  • Recreation equipment

Mid-term Goals:

  • Purchasing a shipping container as an intermediary solution to be used as storage and classroom environment
  • Internet- to allow for homework and educational programs
  • Laptop computers- to support computer skills learning
  • Stereo and IPod- to expose the children to different types of music and dance
  • Happy Feet Youth Project Website

Long-term Goals

  • Property- Happy Feet Youth Centre- foster a safe and sustainable space that can serve more children
  • Transport vehicle- allows us to work with children who live in the larger Langer area and other Townships and to transport to performances and outings.
  • Children’s Community Kitchen-  within the township there is a challenge with food availability afterschool and we plan to bridge this gap with a nutritional meal
  • Scholarship Program- Primary, High School, and University
  • Continued partnership with ISV Program- to expose the children to new games, English language, and the spark of interest from other children to join the program.

Vision for the future:

Currently Happy Feet sustains itself through donations from tourists who visit 2-3 times a week supporting the feeding scheme, payment from performances, and our new partnership with International Student Volunteers Inc. In the future we hope to establish more sustainable partnerships in order to expand the positive impact of Happy Feet with in the community of Langa. We hope to expand from the current small garage space and stage area to a Happy Feet owned property which would include a dance space, library/study centre, and a children’s community kitchen.

Currently 98% of the children attend Township Primary and High Schools. We have seen the difference between the children that attend outside, semi-private schools in their confidence and communication skills and want more of our participants to be benefiting from this type of education. We plan to establish a scholarship, bursaries, and student loans program to empower the 98% to access quality education from primary through tertiary institution in order for them to become the best leaders of tomorrow.

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