Posted by Emily Block | 0 comments

Cape Town (Day 6) Operation Hunger

   Volunteering with Operation Hunger was an amazing experience!  It was a long, difficult day and worth every extra heartbeat.  For a little background about Operation Hunger, it was started in 1980 a an organization that gave out food to populations at risk for malnutrition.  Through their work, they realized that additional programs such as health education and sustainable agricultural projects were needed.  Now the organization battles hunger in South Africa on many fronts.  In 1992, Clement, the regional coordinator for the Western Cape started working with Semester at Sea and we have had a wonderful relationship ever since.  I was especially excited when I learned this because the previous service projects I have participated in seem so fleeting and only addressed the surface of larger problems.  SAS's long term relationship with Operation Hunger meant that the two programs had grown together and were better able to fulfill each other's needs. 

  On the service visit, we were able to help in several different ways.  The first half of the day (after a tour and introduction) was spent doing one of three things; cooking in the soup kitchen, breaking ground for a new garden, and assisting the videographer and photographer film and photograph the community.  I was really excited to be asked to assist the photographer (he has been helping me with my photo skills while at sea) but had forgotten that I used a wheelchair sometimes so I actually couldn't go.  It was REALLY disappointing for me because it was kind of an honor to be hand-picked by him and then I couldn't do it.  I pouted a little and then decided to give myself over to my new task which would be gardening.  One may think that photography is a better suited activity for someone using a wheelchair than farming, but I am actually quite handy with a hoe and rake in my chair, and quite unable to take photos while wheeling myself.  

   I knew that it may be a challenge to convince people that I could help just as well as anyone else, so I made sure to present myself in a non-helpless manner.  I wheeled right up to the back of the truck we were unloading and picked out a hoe before anyone could tell me I could just sit and watch.  The ground that was going to become a large garden looked nothing of the sort when we began.  It was a sandy and rocky plot with lots of weeds and litter.  That quickly changed though.  Those of us who had gardened before (or pretended to know what we were doing in my case) got to work turning up the soil and hacking out the weeds.  I worked out a pretty good system where I would sit and use my knee as a lever for the hoe.  I was having another pretty bad weakness spell, so I needed all the help from physics I could get.  I would make sure the area right around me was perfect and then wheel the chair back a few feet and work on the new area.  Once the hoeing was done, I went back through with a big rake to get the large weeds and rocks out and then back again on my hands and knees to get the more stubborn weeds out.  I stood up for some raking with the smaller toothed rake to make sure everything was level and looking pretty.  Other people went around and poured water over the newly turned dirt and planted seeds in the wet soil.  I took a rest, talked with Clement about the History of Operation Hunger, and then got back to work with the hoe to better define the bed I was working on.  I was slower than most people, but I had fun and felt good about it still.  I had been really missing gardening while on the boat so it was nice to much about in the soil for a few hours.  I was really happy that no one tried to coddle me or prevent me from doing work.  Everyone just accepted that I would be working right a long with them.  The garden will eventually be taken over by the community as a sustainable way to produce food.  

  We drove to a large gas station for lunch where I had fun talking with people and having another delicious peanut butter milkshake from Whimpy's (a fast food chain).  I didn't really understand why so many of the other customers were staring at me in the gas station/fast food restaurant until I saw myself walking in the reflection of a window.  I look pretty darn awkward during a weakness spell!  I may need to rename the "zombie walk" to be my "spaz walk."  haha  

   After lunch we headed to the soup kitchen to help out with Operation Hunger's bi-annual data collection.  (It is bi-annual because SAS students are needed to help staff them and we come to Cape Town twice a year.)  My friend Josh and I secured a spot at the weighing station.  We weighted the kids and wrote their weight on their lower arm which would be recorded with their arm circumference and height by one of the Operation Hunger workers.  IT was extremely fun and chaotic.  I absolutely loved working with the kids in this setting.  I got to squeeze in some high fives and tickles even in the hectic process.  Some of the younger kids were a little scared and unsure, but Josh an did a good job of turning their whimpers into giggles, I think.  The data we collected would show which kids were at-risk for malnutrition.  Those kids would have follow up visits to their houses where nutritional education, medical care, and food donations would be provided if necessary.  

  After all the data was collected, the kids got to fill their bowls they brought from home with some vegetable stew the soup kitchen had prepared.  For some of the kids, it would be the only meal they had that day.  This showed in some of the kids who barely had any arm for me to write their weight on and had swollen bellies from lack of protein.  Most of the kids were of a healthy weight, but those who were not broke my heart.  I was hungry by the time we had lunch that day.  I can't imagine being a little kid and having hunger be a constant part of life.  Clement said that more than anything, he hopes that we will remember the community when we get back home and have the ability to send funds and supplies.  I know there is no way I can forget the organization or the community.

  I handed out some stickers and saucer poppers to the kids who hung around to eat which was really fun.  I had dozens of little hands all around me waiting to be decorated by the neon smiley face stickers I brought.  I was so busy with that, that I was almost late to the bus...again.  One of the Operation Hunger workers had to come fetch me and show me that everyone else was already on the bus.  Oops.  I gave some last high fives and showed some of the older ones my wheelchair and then got on the bus to go back to the ship.  I think it goes without saying that I didn't want to leave.

Bye Bye South Africa!  I will definitely miss you and be back soon!


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