The BT Global Challenge is definitely a round-the-world yacht race
like no other. Or is there another that brings awareness to those in need? The official race charity is Save the Children which has a local South African project partner – RAPCAN, Resources Aimed at Prevention of
Child Abuse and Neglect.
In his welcome, the Mayor of Cape Town encouraged crews, friends and family not only to enjoy Cape hospitality during the stopover but also to feel free to
leave behind our tourist pounds and dollars! A drive past a township outside the city shows how thinly the republic's resources have to be spread to cater for the needs of the millions in this vast country. It does not
take long to recognize the gravity behind the Mayor's jovially imparted words.
The breaking down of apartheid in South Africa brought with it the need to improve the lot of those living in poverty in many communities. The poverty and the high rate of
unemployment undoubtedly contribute to the high levels of violence and abuse of which many victims are children. Child abuse takes many forms
and both abuse in the home and attacks on the street are common. It is suggested that young children are increasingly sought as targets by some perpetrators as they are less likely to be HIV positive. To protect
themselves, children here have to become streetwise fast. Some of the BT Global Challenge Crew Volunteers found out last week how this could be achieved.
A visit was made to the John
Pama Primary School in Nyanga, a deprived area about 30 minutes outside Cape Town. First of all, our plush tourist coach took us deep into the poverty-stricken township. What different worlds we had all woken up in that
morning! We were welcomed with cheerful smiles and waves, like long lost friends, by the many people in the streets. They had no idea about our sailing exploits, so was the warmth of welcome because we looked
like the stars they saw on TV? Of course not, they have no electricity, let alone TV. We walked for 30 minutes toward the school. All over, there were ramshackle huts and flimsy shacks in close quarters. Outhouses,
with their unplumbed toilets, stood apart from the rest.
A teacher spontaneously took my hand and asked if I wished to see how the local people lived. She asked a woman standing in the doorway of
her shack if we could take a look and the owner unconcernedly gestured that we should enter. The single room inside revealed a small, windowless, dark, dank place containing a double bed covered by dingy bedcovers. On
top of a table in the corner, broken suitcases were stuffed with clothes – no wardrobes or hangars here. On a hardboard surface nearby was the food preparation area - some small boxes and spoons but no sink, running
water or fancy gadgets. The owner said that ten people slept in this small space, most on the floor as there are no other beds. A visit to another dwelling showed a similar story. All around as far as the eye
could see, there was shack after shack. The one thousand students from the John Pama Primary School live permanently in such poverty.
After 30 minutes of walking, we reached the
school, a haven of safety and inspiration for these youngsters. We sat in on a class for ten year olds about child abuse, Sthokozo (a RAPCAN trainer) asked the children to draw an example of how people might be 'bad' to
them. When they had finished, she asked them to volunteer an explanation about the meaning of the drawing. One said, 'this is a stranger giving me some sweets. My parents are not here so I say 'no' and walk away'. The
class applauded. Another child told of a man beating a child. 'This is bad', she said and was congratulated with words of praise and more applause. Another showed a picture and said 'This man is forcing the boy to sleep
with him. This is very bad.' Applause once more. Sthokozo followed up with a graphically explained teaching story of how children can be lured into situations where sex with an adult is a result. These were harsh
lessons for children, but ones with everyday significance in the township. No giggling or embarrassment was shown by the ten year olds as they explained their illustrations. Too many had already witnessed or been
victims of such abuse resulting in a tragic loss of childhood innocence.
After the thought-provoking lesson, young drummers and dancers performed in the hot sun, so professionally for
us. These guys know how to move! One had seen me clapping along and tapping my feet to the beat, so I was singled out to mimic the very energetic dancing. With a big crowd watching, it was not the time to explain that I
had just sailed across the Southern Ocean and had five broken ribs, so clutching my side, off I dutifully went and anxiously jiggled about a bit. I acquitted myself reasonably (so I was told) although the tiny dance
leader came to me later and cheekily whispered, 'you must keep practising!' I couldn't agree more.
It was good to know, despite the hardship and insecurity, that these spirited,
streetwise youngsters could still have fun and with the right help, their skills and talents could be nurtured in a safe and caring environment. That's why organisations like RAPCAN and Save the Children deserve our
Jan Giffen …after visiting Nyanga, Cape Town