Saturday, 12 July 2008

South Africa diary: Safe from harm

Day one, Friday 11 July

Me (right, with scarf) and the Soccer Aid film crew
We arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa at 6:30am, bleary eyed after an overnight flight from London. We’re here to record appeal and feedback films for Soccer Aid 2008, a televised charity football match.

At Jo’burg, we meet the rest of the film crew, who are all very experienced. Steve Cole, the director, has just produced a documentary on filmmaker Werner Herzog for BBC1. His past highlights include an Omnibus special on Aardman’s animated classic Chicken Run. Richard Kruger, our camera man, has worked on similar appeal films for Comic Relief and American Idol Gives Back. Hilton Auffray, our sound man, has just finished a feature film and is about to start a global health documentary for BBC World. He has also interviewed Nelson Mandela and is hoping to go to his 90th birthday party, which is coming up soon. My job is to gather materials for the website, including photographs, interviews, case studies and this journal.

While things are looking good on the crew front, the logistical side is another matter entirely. We’d expected to spend the morning at Johannesburg airport before flying on to Umtata in the afternoon but our connecting flight is cancelled. We’ll have to spend the night in Jo’burg and catch a 6am morning flight. It’s really frustrating: we’re only in South Africa for four days and we’re spending an entire day at the airport.

It’s also rather colder than we’d expected. It’s minus two degrees in Jo’burg and gets as low as minus seven at night in the Transkei, where we’re heading next. I’m going to be taking photos and writing notes outside so I buy some gloves and scarves at the airport. Unfortunately, all we can find are South African rugby scarves and pink women’s gloves. Fashion is not going to be my strong point on this trip!

One useful thing about the delay is that I get to spend time with Jerry, from UNICEF South Africa, learning the local lingo. In Pedi, ‘lekae’ means ‘hello’ and ‘kealeboga’ means ‘thank you’, while in Zulu ‘kunjani’ means ‘hello’ and ‘ngiyabonga’ means ‘thank you’.

Day two, Saturday 12 July

Children play in the Isibindi safe park at Ndondo Square
We struggle up at 4am to catch our 6am flight to Umtata. We’re flying in the smallest plane I’ve ever been in – 30 seats in a tiny fuselage like a missile with oversized propellers.On the plus side, it does mean that we get to see sunrise from the air. It’s an amazing view as the vast African plains and mountains are gradually lit up by the rising sun. The airport we land at is equally tiny, with only one other plane covered in a layer of early morning ice.

At Umtata, we meet Heidi and Nikki from UNICEF South Africa and pile into their vans for a two-hour drive through the Transkei to our destination: the township of Ndondo Square. It’s a truly magnificent landscape, with vast red earth plains and great carved plateaus reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.

Soon after 9am, we arrive at the convent at Ndondo Square, which acts as the local headquarters for the project we’re visiting. Run by Isibindi, a local NGO set up by the National Association of Child Care Workers, which receives support from UNICEF, the project involves providing child and youth care workers to children who have lost their parents to HIV and AIDS. If it wasn’t for Isibindi, the older children would be looking after their younger siblings without any financial or emotional support. Recently, Isibindi has also built a ‘safe park’, which they’re very proud of. It’s a fenced-off, supervised area which provides a safe environment for the children to play and learn.

While we’re learning about this from the Isibindi project managers, Smangele and Lulamile, we become aware of a drumbeat outside the convent. Apparently, the local children have prepared a welcome dance for us. We ask if they can wait a few minutes while we set up the film equipment – this is too good an opportunity to miss. We then film the children dancing down the street in gold and silver headdresses and into the safe park, while locals watch from the surrounding fields and houses.

Once in the safe park, more kids crowd around in excitement to watch the filming. I notice some children watching the show from the top of a climbing frame and Yvonne, from UNICEF UK, and I climb up too. I get some great aerial shots of the playground and also of the dozens of children around us, all of whom want their photo taken.

The Butshingi family outside their home
After the safe park, we head into the township to film the Butshingi family. Nosizwe, the mother, is HIV-positive and disfigured from a fire some years ago. She used to be very ill and the children had to skip school to look after her. Now an Isibindi child and youth care worker, Claudisa, visits the family every day. She helps Nosizwe stay well by taking her medication correctly and eating well, allowing the children to go back to school. Claudisa also helps out around the home and provides emotional support for the children.

The Butshingi family are clearly very poor. They live in a small wooden shack with cracks filled with plastic bags, lacking even the basic facilities we can see in some of the other homes. Despite this, and all the other hardships they’ve faced, the children are incredibly happy and outgoing. They race cars ingeniously constructed from wires and old tin cans.

We interview the family and the care worker. Nosizwe has been incredibly brave to disclose her HIV status, given the stigma that still surrounds HIV and AIDS in South Africa, and braver still to let us into her home and film all of this.It’s quite humbling. I feel enormously privileged to be here, meeting these remarkable people. “After I was diagnosed with HIV, I decided it was not something to keep secret,” Nosizwe says. “I felt that I should inform my family and the care workers. I’m not afraid to tell people.”

After the interview, we give the kids Soccer Aid t-shirts and an England football. They hardly need any encouragement to start kicking it around, and this proves an excellent photo shoot. The girl, Thandiwe (not her real name), is the most enthusiastic footballer and we get some great shots of her jumping to save goals.

Playing football with the Butshingi kids
When the light starts to fade, we head back to our guest house in Elliot, run by an elderly Afrikaans couple. Although it was relatively warm in the sunshine in the afternoon, after dark it quickly drops to well below freezing. There’s no heating but it’s warm in the dining room thanks to a roaring log fire.

Before dinner, I interview Heidi about UNICEF South Africa’s work with children affected by HIV and AIDS. “We’ve got over two million orphans in South Africa, many of whom are living on their own and need care,” she says. “This is not just about having somebody who comes to the house to see if the children are OK.  It’s about someone who has a real and consistent relationship with the children, who they can trust, who can help them get through school, who makes sure they eat well and who can help them work through their loss and grief.”

By the time we’ve finished eating I’m shattered, so I go to bed and read a bit of David Attenborough’s autobiography – a reminder that field trips can be a lot tougher than ours. Luckily, I’m saved from hyperthermia by an electric blanket, although I can’t help but think what it must be like for the people back in the township.

Read part two »

No comments:

Post a Comment