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 →

On Duty Recreation

Hello from Cape Town!

In my last post, I spoke about the helping professionals that come together to create what is referred to as the village in which we raise our children here at Lawrence House. These professionals provide a range of services from psychology to medical aid to educational support and so much more. What I want to share now is a little bit about the organizations that support our children emotionally and physically by providing the children with opportunities to experience the fun parts of being a child.These organizations do so by providing recreational activities with a therapeutic lens to allow the children to experience not only a fun day, but also process what they felt while engaging in the activity. This [experiential therapy] is a practice that is beneficial for all children, but especially those who have experienced significant trauma. Many of the organizations that partner with Lawrence House are outreach organizations that specifically target their services towards underprivileged youth or youth who have experienced trauma.

Some of the organizations that support our children through recreational activities and experiential therapeutic services:

The Mountain Club of South Africa provides outdoor recreational excursions such as hiking and studying the plants and animals as they go! Often, these days end with lovely braais (South African BBQ, only much cooler) as well.

Waves for Change provides a child-friendly mental health service to at-risk youth living in unstable communities. Through access to safe spaces, caring mentors, and a provision of weekly Surf Therapy sessions, W4C gives children skills to cope with stress, regulate behaviour, build healing relationships, and make positive life choices.

Dream Higher‘s goal is to bring rock climbing to the vulnerable youth of Cape Town, building confidence, bridging social divides and forming connections with the natural world. They believe that climbing exposes us to a range of emotions such as fear, frustration, pride, and joy; and to manage these emotions we need to learn self control, balance, patience and commitment. They also believe that this journey leads to growth and emotional balance.

Rainbow Dreams Trust reaches out to Lawrence House to send the children to a weekend camp known as Camp Hope on a yearly basis.

Kings Boxing Gym provides fitness and boxing classes for the children of the Salt River and Woodstock community for free!

Black Pool Soccer Club is an organization that was created to allow children the opportunity to play sports in the local Cape Town community.

Royal Sailing Academy is currently not in operation due to Covid-19, however this organization provides the youth courses and training to learn to sail.

La Lela Arts Programis a visual arts program as well as the Children’s Art Center.

Waterfront Theatre has extended a recent partnership to provide dance lessons for the children at Lawrence House!

Raising a child up at the basic level does mean food, shelter, and clothing- but raising a child should also mean providing children the ability to express themselves, to find something they love to do and to let them explore until they find it. It can also mean signing them up for activities just to get them out of the house and give them space to make friends or a space to process whatever they’re feeling. We are so grateful for the organizations that choose to support our children time and time again, and the impact they make on their lives. I’ve witnessed first hand the excitement on the children’s faces when they remember that they have an activity that day or that they have to get ready for soccer. I love the time I get to spend with the children when I walk them to soccer or to a fitness class. I love when our children come home from surfing and tell me that they stood on their board and how happy it made them. I love getting to tell them that I’m so proud of them for doing something hard and doing something brave, and I love trusting that the organizations that they’re going with are providing safe spaces for therapeutic reflection or that there are protective factors in those organizations that are building relationships with our children and providing consistent positive support.

Selfishly, I think I also love getting to bond with the children while doing outdoor activities like hiking or camping or swimming. These soft moments or energetic moments are just as crucial for rapport building and relationship development as supporting them in crisis can be. These spaces are where trust is built. This is where I’m learning good, meaningful work still happens.

In your corner,

Liv

P.s. feel free to explore the organizations that support the children at Lawrence House and think about ways in which you can get involved with your local organizations!

P.p.s. here is my workspace when I write my posts at home! I recently received a care package with some wonderful letters from friends in Nashville. 🙂

At Lawrence House, we recently had a going away party for the Manager as she was promoted to a new position. We decorated the whole home for the occasion! 

Welcome to Our Village

Welcome to Our Village

What do we mean when we use the expression “It takes a village to raise a child” ?

I don’t get to post pictures of my sweet kiddos, but they love to take pictures of me too. Just know that they’re on the other side of the camera!

Within my scope of practice of social work, I would refer to the entirety of a child or family’s helping professionals that are involved with or contracted to work towards the success of the child or family as their “village”. Working as a unit of team players requires communication and collaboration between each of the helping professionals. It takes understanding the role of each professional and respecting their unique and specialized work with the family.

At my previous job before moving to South Africa, my role was to provide behavioral counseling to high risk youth as well as work with the families to practice conversations of collaboration and problem solving. Often, the youth I would work with would be suffering from something deeper that might be triggering the challenging behaviors the family was seeing. The children at Lawrence House are similar in this way: they are children who have experienced really hard things and require physical and emotional support.

Our village at Lawrence House supports our children’s individualized and unique needs to the best of their ability in many different ways. Because the children’s custody belongs with the country of South Africa, their physical and medical needs are secured.

We rely heavily on our community to provide services for our children at an affordable rate. Lawrence House relies also on food donations from local grocery stores that we receive several times per week. Over the past several years, Lawrence House has also developed strong partnerships with local grocery shops such as Woolworths and Pick n Pay to receive weekly donations of food in addition to government funding for other necessities for the children. What I am constantly reminded of and in awe of, is the underlying and simultaneously overarching narrative of Ubuntu (I am because We are) that is so deeply threaded into the culture of our corner of the world.

We rely heavily on volunteers because there are often not enough resources for the children, or due to documentation, visas, or paperwork, the children are ineligible to register for these necessary resources. There are barriers sometimes to individualized education, school enrollment, psychology services and other services. 

What happens here is one of a few things: the children can wait in a limbo phase until they are connected with the appropriate resources that they need, which can be anywhere from a couple of days to months and months, or they [Lawrence House] will broker out to someone who does not traditionally fill this role and ask for support.

I find it challenging to describe my position at Lawrence House or summarize exactly what it is that I do because when a role needs to be filled, often it comes to myself or another intern to manage the task. Since beginning my placement at Lawrence House, I have been responsible for analyzing a Psycho-educational Assessment and developing and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for a child at Lawrence House and implementing the treatment plan (aka specialized tutoring for a child with severe learning delays) to developing a curriculum for teaching english to one of our children who did not speak any english when immigrating to South Africa. I am a volunteer, a teacher, a friend, a supervisor, and a mentor. I provide de-escalation and crisis intervention when our children become dysregulated. I am a hand to hold, a listening ear, a hug hello, a hug goodbye, a hug after a hard day. I go to camp with the children, I join for hikes,I plan field days, I teach the children games, I walk to soccer practice (one of my favorite times of the day), and cheer the children on. They do life and I for a little bit of time, I get to come in their space and join them in it.

 

In your corner,

Liv

 

Off Duty Recreation

Off Duty Recreation

Hello yet again from Cape Town! I’ve been enjoying the South African summer so much that I’ve collected pictures and neglected to share them as I’m experiencing them! Consider this an introduction to the off duty recreational activities I get to enjoy when I’m not working- and sometimes, when I am!

Hiking

One of my favorite hikes I’ve trekked so far is Platteklip Gorge, one of the routes that ascends Table Mountain (there are many routes up this infamous mountain!) It was my second time hiking Table Mountain and I’m keen to go back and try out other routes (India Vester and Skeleton Gorge are my next stops). Often some of the less steep routes are filled also with runners, hikers, and bikers, so there’s something for everyone.

 

 

Something I’ve loved about working at Lawrence House is how active everyone is. I’ve been able to join the group home for camping and hiking outings with the children and often you can find them surfing, rock climbing, hiking, and playing soccer as often as me! There are incredible non-profit organizations with wonderful outreach programs that provide opportunities for children to explore these recreational activities and as a firsthand witness, I can confirm that they are so well received. Some of these organizations are DreamHigher , Waves for Change , and  The Mountain Club of South Africa .

 

 

 

Surfing

I had never surfed before moving to Cape Town, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn something new! Aside from the stiffness the day after my first lesson, I also fell in love with this sport! Every time I’m out on the water I feel myself becoming a little better and a lot more confident on my board. I’m excited to see how I’ll continue to progress in my time here and it will make leaving Cape Town that much harder!

Backpacking/Camping

Easter weekend I spent camping in Greyton with a few friends and I was beyond excited for my first proper camping trip in South Africa! We spent four days and three nights at the base of beautiful mountains that neighbored a river. Somehow we managed to snag arguably the best lot in the entire campsite.

Rock Climbing

I began climbing last year and absolutely fell in love with the sport. At first, it was something that I enjoyed doing simply for the company that I was with, then I began to improve and invest in the stories of the people around me who were passionate about it. I’d never had a sport that was for me and that I could take pride in. There wasn’t a sport that I could say “find me here doing this everyday” until I got a rock climbing gym membership this side and let’s just say… You can find me here most days if I’m not outdoors doing the real thing!

As I’ve transitioned out of my “adjusting” phase of living in Cape Town, I’ve been blessed to meet and be surrounded by wonderful people who have taught me so many things as our relationships deepen. I have found a church group that has welcomed me and made friends who share my interests in all things outdoors. Everyday I’m learning about South Africa’s culture, communities, and the way that they care for their people. I’m constantly humbled and amazed by the peoples’ capacities to show love to one another and also the speed at which taxi’s drive. I’m constantly a witness to acts of kindness that reinforce Ubuntu (I am because we are) and simultaneously the hectic driving the taxi drivers partake in here- both of which equally contribute to a proper South African experience!

 

 

In your corner,

Liv

Climate Control

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain
Platteklip Gorge, a route of Table Mountain.It’s surreal to imagine that I’ve already surpassed two months in South Africa, and that I’m steadily approaching the halfway marker of my time here! When I think about where I am now versus where I was in preparation to moving, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all I have learned through the communities here and the cherished stories of individuals that I now have the privilege of holding.
It is these very stories that have exposed the true meaning in what I was attempting to learn about before I was ever here to experience it. Written stories, biographies, movies, history books, standup specials- these are amazing foundational blocks when beginning to learn about another culture, but as Trevor Noah (a native South African comedian) stated in his standup special Afraid of the Dark, “Traveling is the antidote to ignorance” and I believe that.
When I first began to share to the people around me that I would be moving to South Africa, I was often met with concern and questions. The concern was genuine and valid, but it was not rooted in a genuine and valid understanding of South Africa. The political climate may be tense at times, but their climate is not altogether dangerous and I wholeheartedly believe that I’m not naive for saying that. I also sincerely believe that if we lived our entire lives in a place where we feel secure and safe, we would not grow or be challenged, and our ability to impact our environments would be drastically limited.
Those who experience uneducated and baseless fear for other cultures, races, sexualities, and religions, I fear suffer from something worse than fear. They suffer from a heart ridden with hostility, bias, and prejudice that has reinforced unjustified fear.
So consider this an introduction to climate control if this is one of the first times you have been asked to think critically, engage with uncomfortable material, or have been challenged with information that contradicts ideals that you have learned and come to know as truth.
If you are experiencing feelings of curiosity, conviction, guilt, inspiration: Read. Explore. Ask questions. Watch documentaries. Below are a list of books, comics, films, and other pop culture resources to learn about South Africa and the true political climate- a climate that is more than justified, a climate manifested from years of political unrest, blatant racism, segregation, colonization, heartache, and hurt.
Books
  • When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • A Long Walk to Freedom
  • Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
  • A History of South Africa: 4th edition, by Leonard Thompson & Lynn Berat
  • Zapiro comics
  • Madam & Eve comics
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Nelson Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend, ownby Christo Brand
  • Awakenings: The Art of Lionel Davis (available at the District 6 Museum)
  • No Future Without Forgiveness, by Desmond Tutu
  • My Traitor’s Heart, by Rian Malan
  • A Rainbow in the Night, by Dominique Lapierre
Films
  • A Long Walk to Freedom
  • Invictus
  • Skin
  • Sarafina
  • Cry, the Beloved Country
  • District 9
  • Trevor Noah standup (That’s Racist / Crazy Normal / It’s My Culture)
These educational resources provide a foundational, textbook understanding of the political climate of South Africa, but it does not often yield the opportunity to be deeply internalize the affects that the political climate has on the culture. This you can only learn through connection, relationship building, and conversations saturated with empathy and trust. If it’s not South Africa, (for your own sake or mine), pick your own country, cultures you’re exposed to consistently, questions you have about the climate you inhabit. Ask all the questions, learn what you can, and demand justice. Sign the petitions, call your state representative to advocate for the injustice and crime that is occuring in your own neighborhood. And take time to rest and implement self- healing practices while you are learning and advocating. Empathy is hard and draining and challenging, but this is where the best work begins to occur.
The best antidote to this discomfort is to place yourself, steady and ground yourself amidst the intersection of compassion, education, humility, and curiosity- this is where meaningful learning and respect for others develops. It is the start to developing a heart posture of understanding that is conducive to an environment that breeds advocacy and justice instead of fear and bias. It is a type of understanding that goes beyond head nodding and sympathy. It says “I understand that I will never understand, but I will stand with you and listen and never stop seeking to understand.” It is an understanding that does not encourage us to step forward, but inspires us to step back from our platform of privilege and in our place, push others forward so that they can be heard.
This is the place and the posture that sparks and ignites, and grows to encourage others to listen, change and then grow themselves because there is simply no other rational way to respond. I’d love to hear about ways that you are learning to extend a helping hand to your own communities or vulnerable communities that are suffering and in need of advocacy: send me a message and tell me what you’re learning about right now so that I can learn with you!
In your corner,
Liv

Hamartia

Hamartia

This week felt different than the last. I think I can attribute this to my continued adjustment to my environment. I’m beginning to recognize locations, contribute to directions (except when I managed to get my house mate and myself lost as we were looking for the shop to purchase electricity for our house), and walk places on my own with a little more confidence.

Suddenly-

somehow,

through a series of events-

I’ve found myself surpassing the month mark of residing in the city of Cape Town,

that sits on the coast of the country of South Africa,

that belongs to the continent of Africa-

an ocean away from what is known and comfortable

and an ocean away from home.

 

There is something however about moving to another continent, losing all of your friends, all means of comfortable transportation, and all sense of independence that makes you realize how dependent you might have been on routine, dependability, and predictability. I’ve found myself wedged in such a a new and unique place of functioning completely independently- i.e. living alone, and feeling totally and utterly helpless sometimes.

I thought that planning to move to another country in the midst of a pandemic was challenging- as it turns out- the actual post-move “trying to make friends and meet people and experience your new home”  in a pandemic is the real challenge because I haven’t been able to do most of these things due to Covid-19 restrictions.

I’ve begun learning that especially in times of transition, my body reminds me that it deeply craves a sense of homeostasis. I am in awe of how often I am unaware or completely disregard blatant human condition to seek out what is known, predictable, and comfortable. We seek safety. I say this as a reminder to myself and those who have been following along with me as I’ve learned: amidst blessings, amidst good seasons of life, amidst gratitude- you have permission to feel sad and acknowledge hard things without feeling guilty. This is something I’ve been learning to grant myself.

What I’ve gathered thus far is a series of challenging truths: that maybe in this season I’m learning less about South Africa and more about myself. Maybe it has everything to do with the culture, the work I’m doing, or the Lord’s presence amidst it all- yet I continue to try to find a way to make it about myself. Maybe the truth is I will always inherently try to make everything about me because I’m human. I think that by sitting with these truths and continuing to process my experiences, I continue to chip away until I find the parts of my character that have long remained unchecked and asleep to the world around it- the same parts that, if left unacknowledged, become one’s hamartia. Maybe the truth in this season is that- as important as the work that I’m doing is- maybe the work that South Africa is enforcing me to do inside myself is equally important.

Enjoy this picture of me with even more mountains and beaches in the background!

In your corner,

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