What a Difference a Day Made

On a cloudy, rainy Sunday, we gathered inside a small room at ACJ Parkade Primary School in the Nomzamo township, just outside Strand.  This primary school accommodates around 1,900 kids grade 1 through 7, which makes for really large classroom size – about 50 kids per teacher. GVI runs their Cape Town Teaching project here, where volunteers primarily work doing 1-to-1 sessions with smaller groups to help them in reading, math, etc.

There were about 25 of my international colleagues, a handful of GVI Cape Town Field Staff, as well as a few of the local children. Our mission? To turn one of the school’s storage buildings, currently used for rainy day gym classes, into a fully functioning library, arts and crafts room, and recycling center.  With a stack of around 300 books to catalog, bookcases without shelves, and dirty salmon pink walls in desperate need of perking up, we had a great deal of work ahead of us.  We split into construction, cataloging, painting, cleaning, and decoration teams, and got to it.

The weather took a turn for the worse and rain started bucketing down, so it was a good time to pause for lunch.  Just up the street is Ikhayalethemba Village, which hosts GVI volunteers on our orphanage project. After playing with the children and visiting the nursery, we gathered in one of the containers on the property for a warm meal. Mama Lumka came to greet us all and gave such a nice speech (even brought a few tears to some eyes!)

After lunch, we set back to work and I transitioned from the construction team to something more my speed – decorating the walks of the arts and crafts room.  I drew a few different animals on the walls and some of the kids came in to help paint them.  I was blown away by the talent – they’re drawing cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck that are spot on and a lot of them, from memory only.

And the results were just magical.  It’s truly inspiring to see what a group of people can accomplish in one day.  It’s also really rewarding to see my friend Mel (below) grow from being a Regional Coordinator in our office, to now working in the field direct with our volunteers and executing this project from initial idea to reality.

To celebrate, we went down the street to a local shebeen (bar) called Umtata Butchery & Restaurant.  Walking in, a few locals did double-takes, and one large guy with a big smile on his face came up to myself and my colleague Paul to say,  “Thank you for trusting us! You are most welcome here!” as he shook my hand and gave us both hugs.  I’m guessing it’s not often white people walk into this bar judging by the number of people that pulled out their phones to take pictures, but we all enjoyed the atmosphere and felt really welcome.  Just outside at the butchery area they had a large braai going, so as the evening passed we ordered some boerwors (sausage) and chicken wings.  One of the guys brought out a loaf of white bread and we mopped up the juices with a fresh slice from the platter it was served on.  Delicious meal, good company, and there is no question this was one of the best days I’ve had since moving to Cape Town!

Marie Frei

One Carry-On is a blog managed by Marie Frei, a travel expert and photographer with a passion for exploring off the beaten path locations. The blog covers honest and personal stories about living and traveling as an American abroad, shares her global appreciation for culture and design, and promotes traveling to far-flung destinations with a carry-on as fun, affordable, and easy.