Olivia Shaw
Olivia Shaw
South Africa, 2021
My name is Olivia Shaw and on January 13, 2021, I will be hopping on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa to begin work in Woodstock at a group home for immigrant and refugee children. I will be living in Cape Town for about six months and am so excited to see how my work will develop in my time there! Read More About Olivia →

Transitions

14 Feb

Transitions

One of the artists, Petru Naomi Lotter, told us first hand about her art and its meaning, then she dedicated this ant that she was painting to us!

Happy Valentine’s Day! This Valentine’s Day was spent with new friends and filled with sunshine and warm weather. I spent the afternoon bike riding through the streets of Salt River suburbs where artists from a conglomerate of communities came together to participate in the International Public Art Festival. There truly is nothing like summer in the city! 

One of the largest and arguably most integral systems that has been adversely impacted by Covid-19, I believe, is the education system. Our systems have attempted to adapt to the conversations of elected officials, Covid-19 data, projected rates of infections as well as accommodate to the evolving needs of its students and families; however, I think on a global scale, our schools were not adequately prepared from the beginning to handle the shifts that have taken place over the past year. Working in a group home also means that the conversation of school looms largely over the meetings and conversations had among staff and between children in the home. As the new strain continues to spread among South Africa, it poses new questions and new threats everyday that continue to impact what exactly will happen with the school system and when and how classes will resume.

One of the challenges we face at Lawrence House is variance in schools (public and private) and the drastic age differences of children in the home. The children of Lawrence House range in age up to twenty-one and even those in similar age brackets do not attend the same school. What this means is that there are a multitude of schools and approaches to how school will resume and how the schools will facilitate in person and distanced learning for its students. It also affects how and when I will work- every week since I’ve begun my schedule has altered slightly and it will continue to do so for the time being.

This week I began attempting to develop some resemblance of a school schedule that works on rotation for the varying school schedules based off of age, school, and dates of distanced and in person learning. Even students who are in the same grade and attend the same school may still attend in person learning on alternating days. In addition, each school has unique policies to distance learning days and what will ensue in regards to packet work, virtual class, or class-specific assignments or homework.

What I have learned and observed from the children at Lawrence House as well as the staff and administration at the group home is this: children need socialization. After close to a year of quarantining and strict isolation, the youth are ready to be out and to socialize. They are feeling the deprecations of sustained deprivation from their peers, from social activities, from physical extra circulars, and even school- yes, what I have heard is a resounding excitement for school to resume. I have also heard from the staff that they are collectively yearning for a bit of quiet and structure during the day to hold their necessary meetings, attend court, work with the magistrate, apply for visas, and all of the other administrative work that flies under the ever-obvious radar of what is considered child and youth care work. At this point, I also feel as if I am vicariously yearning for school to resume as well.

The ambiguity of school and the implications of Covid-19 have also left me in a limbo state as I continue to adjust to what my role is. I think that the development of my role has been slightly stunted due to the continual changing of absolutely everything around myself, the group home, school, Cape Town, and the country of South Africa. I’ve had to remind myself that there is grace for periods where I feel less productive than I should. There is space to simply sit with the children and learn from them, listen to them, dance with them, and lean into Life Space Intervention. Good, meaningful work is not often explicitly therapeutic, healing and change can happen in the soft moments and in the mundane time between dance parties. It is mindfulness as an approach at its core and I think that I’m beginning to adjust to this approach and also love the peace and ease it can bring.

 

To learn more about the Cape Town National Public Art Festival, how it brings awareness to the indigenous South African communities, and the artists who participated, click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

In your corner,

Liv

Carrot Hole

Carrot Hole

At the time I began writing this, it had been just one week since my arrival to Cape Town (22 Jan)- here are some of the thoughts that I gathered in that week, and a little more since then: 

I can’t believe I’ve been in Cape Town for a week today! In the past week, I’ve done all of the things- but the greatest so far, was CAMP! 

As a previous summer camper, girl scout, and camp leader- when my supervisor asked if I’d like to meet a group of the children at Lawrence House for the first time by going with them to their yearly camp, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Meeting new people can be so challenging and I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I loved camp and no matter where you are in the world, camp. is. camp- or so I thought.

The camp was located about two and a half hours outside of Cape Town and named Camp Wortelgat- which is Afrikaans for Carrot Hole. Even now, I still do not know the significance of the name of the camp- it never was properly explained…

Our adventure began with, as previously mentioned, a bus ride to the camp itself which lasted just under three hours. On this ride, the children of the home asked me questions of all varieties- however most of them consisted of something that had some relation to America and life in the United States. On this ride, I learned a lot about them as well- I began to learn names, recognize faces and voices, identify children that had closer bonds with one another. I learned that they loved music, dancing, and most prominently- TikTok. On this ride, I was able to see beautiful landscapes- hills, valleys, mountains, bodies of water- and the outside-looking-in view of Cape Town- shacks, poverty, townships, wealth, hotels, large buildings and industries. From a distance, I could see the tangible evidence of disparities and wealth gaps. 

The view from the outside of our thatch huts!

The children’s “Tree of Life” exercise. They drew these themselves to represent different aspects of their lives.

Upon arrival to camp- we immediately began our excursions. The camp program facilitators led us to our thatch huts where we were able to place our belongings and sleeping bags. Following this were the classic name games and ice breakers, and ate the most delicious camp food I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Then came the kayaking. From there our few days transformed into a rhythm of action, team building exercises, processing in groups, and rest and camaraderie (featuring ghost stories, card games, and spooking). Our camp was snuggly nestled between the foot of mountains and a beautiful body of water. At night, we could step out of our huts and gaze at stars in ways that I’d never seen before.

Our path while hiking, all blue skies! Summer in South Africa!

On the last day, our group went for a hike that truly felt as if we were the only people for miles (because we probably were). And by mid-day, we began packing our belongings back into the bus with full stomachs and hearts. We finished loading and left the same way we came in- by bus ride through landscapes that looked like they should be puzzles and not real places. By the bus ride back, I felt like the beginnings of attachment had started forming, and I knew this because I felt comfortable enough to fall asleep on the ride back. By the bus ride back, I had learned twelve children’s names and the beginning of their incredible, hard, inspiring stories and witnessed resilience, wit, humor, teamwork, and compassion. By the bus ride back, I had a revived sense of excitement for Monday, which would be my first day at Lawrence House! 

At the end of every day at camp, the children and staff would write a word or sentence to describe their day. On the last day we all took pictures in front of the wall and they wanted to take my picture!

In your corner,

Liv

*For privacy purposes, I am unable to post pictures that contain beneficiaries of Lawrence House. Enjoy the beautiful landscapes!* 

Twenty Four

16 January 2021

Twenty-Four

The First Twenty-Four

It has officially been twenty-four hours since the arrival to my new home in Cape Town. There is a lot I could say about my experience so far- but first and most pertinently- I managed to finally sleep a full night’s worth of sleep. I’ve always found that life in general is far less overwhelming when your physical needs are met, i.e. sleep, food, hydration, and a good hot shower. In the past twenty-four hours, I’ve managed to do all of these things, and in addition: grocery shop, purchase a new SIM card (but not activate it, because this was too big a task for the first twenty-four hours), and find a coffee shop with an amazing coffee and breakfast special.

The Trek

The view landing in Munich. Fun fact: I LOVE snow!

I spent about three days traveling from Nashville to Cape Town. The travel went something like this: I flew from Nashville to Chicago, waited a small bit, then flew from Chicago to Munich (and slept on the plane as I jumped forward seven hours). Upon arrival, I became very familiar with the Munich airport as I was there for about eleven hours (I couldn’t leave the airport due to Covid-19 safety precautions). From there, I flew another eleven hours, (gained another hour) and landed in the very sunny, very warm, and very beautiful city of Cape Town, which I would learn to now call home!

My program coordinator was waiting at the airport upon arriving in Cape Town, and she so kindly purchased a few groceries to last me through the night. In this bag she gifted me were basics, such as milk and juice, as well as a South African biscuit that is frequently enjoyed with tea. To help with the adjustment, she included a package of Oreos in the bag, which was nothing but kind and considerate.

My view driving form the airport to my home. Now I live so close to these mountains (including Table Mountain) and get to see them everyday!

Grounding

Something that I have found to be very grounding while acclimating to all of the newness around me, has been my body and its needs. Just as it would at home, my body reminds me it’s hungry and that I need to nourish it every so often. My basic bodily functions and the tasks that I need to do in order to maintain my body’s homeostasis has been a way that I’ve managed to keep myself mindful of my environment and present to where I am.

I have, for the most part (so far), been able to remain present with myself in my new surroundings, but also remind myself that I am still me, just in a new place. It is so odd to me that the normalcy of the habitual tasks of bodily maintenance that I created for myself have oddly been the thing that grounds me, keeps me present, and also takes me home- all at the same time. I don’t know why there is something so comforting about mundane, autopilot tasks we create for ourselves- perhaps it’s how familiar and second nature they are.

Culture Snapshot

In a short period of time, I’ve learned that 8:00 AM is apparently early, that business open late and close early, and that when you buy breakfast, you don’t pay up front, because it’s assumed you’ll stay for lengths of time and enjoy your company, and that businesses will close for load shedding, and they don’t have to tell you. I’ve learned that productivity that simply exists to fill a void of spare time is a failure to commit to conservation of energy- put simply, it’s a waste of time. Already, I’ve tasted and seen a bit of true fellowship, community, and camaraderie.  

Twenty-Four Part Two

A (masked) selfie with my house keys- There is a gate key, house key, and room key!

So after a long day of tasks completed, objectives tackled- with moderate success; I walked to the kitchen, exhausted, and ate a single Oreo- not because I like them, but to experience a small piece of home and somehow connect to a different world that I still felt both completely a part of and simultaneously removed from.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll try the South African biscuit that sat next to the Oreos with some Rooibos tea; but for that night, I ate the Oreo and began to write about the day I had experienced before starting something in the slight resemblance of a bed time routine- because even adults need those. 

Maybe in the next twenty-four hours I’ll manage to properly set up my phone, but for now, I will take things step by step and accept that some things, things like this, take time. I will continue to unpack my belongings, learn more about my housemates, and walk places without a GPS, and begin to settle into Cape Town and breathe deeper.

 

In your corner,

Liv

The Price of Reconciliation

| Click here to listen to a song I found myself listening to repeating while I processed and gathered my thoughts to produce this post |

 

Grappling with the events that broke out yesterday has deemed itself to be a much larger task than I anticipated. Yesterday was hard. My heart grieves for not only our nation, but for those who, for close to a year now, have tried to peacefully voice their concerns and bring justice to the transgressions our country has inflicted upon them. What yesterday’s demand for power is being inappropriately compared to, is a group of people who wanted to bring attention to and reconciliation for the adversity they had suffered and endured for hundreds of years. Just a few months ago, they were met with violence, brutality, gas, hoses, and the national guard- on the first call. They were met with fear, reproach, misunderstanding, and even worse- closed minds who were unwilling to simply listen. Yesterday’s events only reinforced a truth about our nation that we have seen time and time again- and until we can acknowledge these events at face value for what they were, we have not invited our country into a space that produces healing, justice, and reconciliation.

 

I think sometimes, due to our country’s political status and international power and influence, we (yes, I’m generalizing) invite a mentality that suggests that we as America are invincible and immune to war, famine, civil unrest, and unjust and unfair political systems. We falsely put up a front to the rest of the world that we are perhaps better, more successful, happier, and progressive- a front that is cracking because it is not the truth; and what is more toxic, harmful, and destructive, is that we put up this front to ourselves and each other and blatantly avoid the necessary conversations to begin the long and hard process of healing and reconciliation with our country’s foundational and systemic history of cruel and unjust transgressions.

 

Amidst the panic, concern, alarm, sadness, and discomfort (to name a few emotions) that I felt yesterday, I also selfishly felt myself sighing with relief that I would be leaving in a week. This momentary peace was very brief as a second wave of anxiety welled up as I had to confront the notion in myself that just because I was escaping the United States and our problems, does not mean that the rest of the world is not without its own struggles and transgressions. I had to remind myself that South Africa is not without its own, if not worse, political and civil unrest. I would not be able to escape the byproducts of racism in a week, rather, I would be stepping deeper into the deprecating effects of racism- just in another hemisphere, just known by a different name- but racism just the same.

 

Before really engaging with policy in a safe educational environment, filled with grace, empathy, and forgiveness for my previous ignorance as I really began asking myself hard questions about what I believed, I think I would have assumed that we as a country were holistically making a lot of progress towards collective liberation. I am forever indebted to social work as a profession for revealing the reality of the nation I live in and encouraging me to continue to learn and grow. At the end of the day, we are no better than countries who are still publicly struggling with the same issues and until we develop a system that does not strategically harm, isolate, and oppress specific populations of people, we will continue to perpetuate blatant racism and system inequality. We will get nowhere.

 

I was asked to complete a survey preceding my departure to the country I would learn to call home for a period of time. In this survey were questions such as:

 

How is the country you are visiting generally projected in the media?

 

What preconceptions or stereotypes do you have about the country/continent you will be visiting?

 

In what ways would you consider yourself to be culturally sensitive?

 

If I had to complete this questionnaire again, the responses might be unrecognizable to what was originally submitted, despite the time between the two submissions being less than twenty-four hours- and here is why:

 

While completing this survey I realized that my unchecked biases left me on a false and faulty pedestal. I had unintentionally placed myself on a three-legged stool with uneven legs- predestined to fall as soon as it’s challenged because my intentions were misguided and built off of ideals and notions that are plainly put: false.

 

It is hard to confront these thoughts and heartbreaking to write, but I’d be doing myself and those following my journey a disservice if I did not process these and put them here so that I may also be held accountable to the decisions I make, the platforms I utilize, and the ways in which I support marginalized and oppressed populations of people- regardless of color, country, history, and nature of transgression, racism, and oppression. I may be providing a blog submission early and disregarding any sense of a timeline or schedule, but it is impossible and inconsiderate to ignore the events yesterday and not acknowledge and share their direct implications to the transition I will be making in less than a week..

 

As excited as I am to finally be in South Africa and to share about the Western Cape, the beautiful weather, and the new experiences I will have- I recognize that deeper than this, I have a responsibility to provide adequate education to myself and others before I share these things. Their lived experiences, their history, their culture, their lives that I am stepping into and infiltrating- that is and will always remain far more important than any new recipe I could find and any picture of my views on a mountainside hike. Those hikes will be there, the food will be there if we can preserve indigenous South Africans’ culture and advocate for their needs as we, as Americans have failed to do for hundreds of years for millions of Black Americans. Today I will not post exciting pictures because yesterday serves as a clear enough symbol of these words.

 

The world watched yesterday.

 

As Scott Erickson stated in collection of thoughts (which I implore you to read after, by clicking here) , symbolism is an important and ingrained part of how we come to learn and remember things, and later recall and associate these things. We have been taught that we are a symbol of power and progression. We are a symbol to the world and the world watched us yesterday. After the last four years, I am concerned to travel abroad and become enlightened to what we as America are now a symbol for because yesterday, I too, watched the events that occurred, and I hung my head in shame and I wept in frustration, in disgrace, in disgust, and in sadness for the people who continue to be hurt by our nation and judicial system, and I will continue to weep and mourn until yesterday is not only appropriately recognized as a breaking point, but rightfully utilized as a turning point for our country. May this invite the very same conversations that have been avoided and strategically unaddressed.

 

And I will never stop trying my best to actively listen, advocate, and educate on behalf of the people who continue to fight and struggle and persevere for basic human needs and rights. May yesterday’s events give me the urgency to address future injustice quicker and fiercer. May yesterday’s events, and the symbol of long standing injustice and racism that they represent, make me a better advocate to the people around me and social worker to the clients I will serve in my profession.

 

The survey previously mentioned concluded with two simple questions that I have looked at now with a newfound sense of profoundness:

 

What impact or impression do you wish to make on the people in your host country?

 

What measures have you taken to prepare yourself for your impending journey?

 

I’d like to bring with me from America, the parts of our collective whole that reveal our humanity and generosity, our perseverance and grit, and our capability of change and transformation when placed under enough pressure. I will continue to hope that yesterday’s events will reveal themselves to be, in time, the necessary pressure to elicit the change we have yearned and fought for. Until then, my preparations will remain the same: to write, to process, to talk to others, to learn, to tune into the true needs of those around me, to challenge myself, and to love others as well as I know how.

Perhaps the most meaningful tool for adequate preparation that I can give to myself is the acknowledgement of fear I have to witness racism and violence, or the immense amount of pressure I feel as the weight of my country’s actions fall into my lap to take responsibility for and justify to other countries as I become a liaison for the United States.

 

In your corner,

 

Liv

Introducing Me

In the midst of a rapidly evolving world, fast paced with little room for empathy and grace if left behind, it has felt increasingly overwhelming to keep up with the conversations of our nation to say the least. In the midst of the world we find ourselves in, the hard and necessary conversations our nation is beginning to hold, rising political tension, a global pandemic- and one that has been politically manipulated at that, life has felt disheartening, heavy, and kind of a grey-blue of sorts.

The question we should be asking ourselves is not “To wear or not wear a mask” (because the answer is always wear the mask), rather, more than ever I think the question we should be asking ourselves is what did we do to actively contribute to the bettering of our environment? Whether that be our neighborhood, our community, our gym, our nation, our local park or community nature trail, we are- more so than ever, amidst our social locations, given a newfound infinite amount of opportunity to act with kindness, grace, and empathy.

I say this because as a Lumos traveler, I want my travel to have purpose and meaning. I want to reflect back and remember times that I was kind, that I was patient, that I actively listened more than I spoke, that I remained always (to the best of my ability) in a posture of curiosity and humility as I engaged with the new piece of the world around me.

I say this, because amidst a disheartening, heavy, and kind of grey-blue of sorts world, I believe we are not only given an opportunity, but obligated to seek out something- moments, conversations, random acts of kindness that are a sort of yellow-like shade. I am already deeply indebted to the opportunities that the Lumos Travel Grant has provided me thus far, and as a Lumos Traveler, I will do everything in my power to act out of a posture of curiosity and humility, to listen well, seek justice in the systems I work for, and continue to practice advocacy and allyship. 

My name is Liv and I will be departing to Cape Town, South Africa in two weeks to work in a township. In this township resides a group facility for immigrant and refugee children called Lawrence House. At this moment, I am in Florida visiting family for the holidays and I’ve just turned twenty-three. At this moment, you can find me sitting at the counter with a cold cup of coffee a little past noon, listening to Jeremy Loops, a (to my understanding) quite popular South African musician, trying to preemptively write my Lumos experience, processing as I go. 

If you were here, in this moment with me, you’d see me sitting at my Nana’s counter, writing these words while listening to her sing Christmas songs two days after Christmas has passed, offering her words of wisdom and wishes for the future of the world. If I were to write about them, I’d call the collection “Lessons from my Nana’s Kitchen Counter.” As we exit the Advent and Christmas season and transition into the new year, I hope we take with us a continued desire and longing for goodness, and the hopeful anticipation of its arrival. For now, I will leave you with words from Scott Erickson, who I’ve come to familiarize myself with as “Scott the Painter”. He says:

I can help.

I can be helped.

 

I can carry.

I can be carried.

 

I can move.

I can be moved.

 

I can repair.

I can be repaired. 

May we recite these words to remember that we can be the giver of goodness and that also, especially in the midst of the world we find ourselves in now, it is more than okay to need, ask for, and receive goodness. 

These words are paired with an original image of Scott’s as pictured below of a tow truck helping another.

The post referenced, along with more of Scott’s wise words and beautifully captivating artwork can be found here.  

In your corner,

Liv