Yesterday I went down to Soetwater to volunteer with helping at the Refugee Camp based there. There are approx 3000 people down there, the result of the recent Xenophobia attacks on Cape-Town / SA. The only 2 words I can use to describe what you see there is 'heartbreaking' and 'degrading'.
Kat & I went with some of the I-to-I volunteers, who have been there most of the week, and we were thrown in the deep end! 600 peanut butter sandwiches needed to be made for breakfast, so we got literally 'stuck' in. There were only a few knives, so I buttered about 50 sandwiches with a teaspoon. Kat has a FEAR of peanut butter, so she buttered all of her sarmies with her top pulled up over her face - ha ha - good for you friend. When the men started queuing up to receive their brekkie of Peanut Butter & Jam Sandwiches and fruit, my heart just broke. Its overwhelming at first, and I had to turn away from the queue. Many of these men are well-educated, and have good jobs here. It is so degrading that they are sitting in freezing cold, wet conditions, in tents that the men are battling to keep up, with all of their belongings surrounding them. The atmosphere was pretty calm for breakfast though, and we only had chaos when we handed out the clothing donations, but I will get to that in a minute.
Next, I was in the baby clinic - yay! just where i wanted to be. I helped a couple of moms bath their babies, and even got to cuddle newborn Daniel who was born there on Saturday night. A couple of us got stuck in, sorting out the mounds of clothes / nappies / formula etc that has been so kindly donated by the community. Once everything was sorted into huge boxes, I was called over to the main tent to assist with the clothing distribution.. And this is where the mayhem began!
The camps are set up into 2 seperate camps - DRC/Zimbabwean/Rwandan etc in the camp I was in, and then a seperate camp further down the beach for the Somalians. The Somalians have requested their own camp for religious reasons / Halaal food etc. BUT they desperately require clothing. We had a queue which looked about 10 miles long outside the tent, men / women / children all desperate for something warm to wear. I had 5 seperate men ask me for my corduroy trousers I was wearing - i know.. The police controlled the crowd and they let in 3 women, 3 children & 3 men at a time. The clothing was sorted as best as the volunteers could manage, but we were desperately short of childrens shoes, hats, socks, tracksuits and jackets. Eventually we had to send some of the children away with just shorts and t-shirts, and told their moms to layer them to keep them warm.
The atmosphere in the tent was pretty hostile, as the Somalian women are pretty fashion conscious and were throwing clothes back at us, because they didnt like it, or because they wanted better quality. Sad, but true. Others were so desperate they were grabbing 10 items and we had to ask the police to remove these people as they were not giving the hundreds queueing outside, a fair chance. My heart was breaking asking the cops to remove women who I knew were desperate, but were also not giving the others a chance to receive clothes.
When I left this tent I was stopped by a man outside, probably in his early 30's. He had a grey blanket wrapped around his head and was begging me to go back into the tent and get him a jacket. He said he was sick and he could not wait in the long queue. I couldn't go back inside but I took him to the medical tent. He was very weak, and when the doctor examined him she found that he had not eaten anything for 2 weeks. She discovered a growth in his neck and went off to find him some baby porridge and jars of baby food to get him to eat something soft.
My next stop was the women & childrens tent. I stopped off with newborn Daniels mum, who was only too happy to give Daniel to me to hold. She seemed in shock, and did not say much, I'm not sure if there is a language barrier, or whether she is feeling weak from the birth. I expect she is absolutely exhausted and needs a good long sleep to recover as best she can. I went round the tent and played with some of the kids, coloured in with them, and a little girl coloured in a picture especially for me to take home. Again I had to choke back the tears as I felt bad that I had a home to go to, and this little girl was sleeping amongst hundreds in the cold, but still she wanted me to take something away with me.
As I was leaving the tent I got stopped by a man from the DRC, who just wanted someone to listen. He is a delivery manager for a well known company in Cape-Town. Up until Friday he still had his job and home in Philippi. On Friday morning, word got around the townships that he was still working, and by the time he got to his fourth delivery, there were men waiting for him. He had to hide in the back of the truck and when he got home that evening, the church was busy helping his wife pack up all of their belongings into a truck to be transported to Soetwater. This man fled the Congo with his wife, and cannot return home as he has Refugee Status and the law is such that if he returns home, he will be jailed. He says they are not interested in what the SA government has to say, and they are requesting assistance from the UN. He had an amazing spirit and still remained positive. He had his 8 week old baby girl on his knee and he still managed to make her laugh, despite the chaos around him.
A few of us are in the process of setting up a small, makeshift 'school' for the kids there - as many of their mothers have gone to work and they desperately need entertaining. I have camped an email round to anyone, so if any of you would like the list of what the kids need, please just email me. The community has been fantastic though and lots of food and clothing has been donated.
Okey dokey, I have to go to work,