November 19, 2015

My Week at Thanda

Emma Milford

The first week of November, I drove down to Hibberdene on the South Coast (about an hour south of Durban) to start my research at Thanda. I spent the first week of our ISP (independent study period) working on my literature seminar paper, which is basically a research paper that focuses on the literature that’s already been produced on your topic. In order to talk about the history of Thanda and why the work that they are doing is important, I needed to speak about the history of the rural areas, especially why there is this crisis of orphans and vulnerable children. To make a very long paper short, governmental inaction and disorganization after 1994 (when apartheid ended) restricted rural development for 10 years, which, coupled with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 2000s, produced an estimated 1.9 million orphans by 2009 (with a high estimate of 2.4 million) who lost one or both parents due to AIDS.* For various reasons (explained in my paper), these children often do not receive the emotional, physical, or financial support they need to develop their minds and bodies, which is why Thanda was founded. Thanda implements afterschool programming that focuses on the development of self – critical thinking, problem solving, self-expression, and self-esteem – to empower the individual, who will then go on to empower their community.

My first day was spent mostly in their administrative office conducting my first set of interviews. I talked with Thanda’s founder, bookkeeper, and the woman in charge of analyzing the monitoring and evaluation activities that are used to measure impact. While I was there, they had a meeting and while they were talking I somehow ended up working on an art project. Nivea is one of Thanda’s sponsors and to thank them, the learners (students), program facilitators, program managers, volunteers, and administrators at Thanda all contributed to this collage of a zebra made of black and white newspaper. The learners had each been given a square with outlines about where to put the black and white paper and only once each piece was completed did they join them all together to discover a giant zebra! It was going to be shipped to Nivea on Friday, so I was in charge of touching up the rougher spots, which was pretty cool because that meant that I also got to be a part of the Thanda team.

I only stayed three more days after this, although I would have like to stay for much longer! The rest of my time spent at Thanda was at the program site, which is about a 30 minute drive outside of Hibberdene through the rolling hills and sugarcane fields. Just like the journey to our rural homestays, the road was paved for the main drive, then dramatically dropped off into dirt and gravel for the rest of the way. Thanda is located behind a convent and is open to the surrounding communities daily and on the weekends. The Art Centre and main Community Center sandwich a small skate park and behind the Community Centre are pig and chicken pens and a communal garden. Both buildings and the gate are painted with bright colors – yellows, pinks, blues, greens – which add a very friendly, child-oriented, playful element to the area.

ThandaWhile at Thanda, I talked with high school and primary school education facilitators, the art director, the main program director, and a few other individuals. All had very positive things to say about Thanda and were very excited to help me with my research project, which made my job very easy. I won’t quote them or say what they said here (that’s for my ISP!), but I will say that the most infectious part about being there was everyone’s overwhelming passion for Thanda and for helping the learners grow and develop into confident people. I was amazed by the amount of effort, planning, and thought that goes into structuring the two hours they have with the learners each day. Everyone cares so much about their jobs and that compassion is reflected in how they act in the classroom and how they approach their lessons. In fact, I got to sit in on two sessions of a Grade R (kindergarten) and Grade 1 class, once on my first day and once on my last day, and I first-hand observed the support and attention these children who attend Thanda receive.

Now comes the hard part of trying to transcribe interviews, piece all my data together, and answer the questions I set out to understand. While this is perhaps less entertaining than teaching kids how to count with plastic wild animal toys, it is nonetheless riveting to have actually done research and to now put it all together into a paper that will share information that has never been researched before. Although I know this paper will challenge me, I’m excited to share what I’ve learned in a format that others can evaluate and analyze, and I’m even more excited to present my findings to my classmates and to hear about their projects! Until then though, I have a lot of work to do… Wish me luck!

* Global Report: UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic: 2010, (UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 2010): 186, accessed November 10, 2015, http://www.unaids.org/globalreport/documents/20101123_GlobalReport_full_en.pdf.