Let there be rain!!
Thick grey rain clouds have descended on the village, turning roads into rivers of mud and soaking the lush green vegetation in sheets of water.
We see girls arriving at the school hall, where we are holding our GirlZtalk workshops, their shoes filled with water, dodging the rain and gathering in the small groups under cover, waiting for the day to begin.
Our numbers have decreased by more than half; we imagine the rain kept many in their beds. We are now a group of 50 girls, an equal balance of SEED girls and local Venda girls, a core group who have chosen to be here.
Nikki, the workshop facilitator, starts the day with music. She asks the SEED girls to teach the local girls a song, and the local girls to teach the “township” girls a traditional dance. The girls come alive in music and dance, singing, dancing, and stamping their feet to the ground; closing the distance and cultural divide between the two groups.
As the girls start to open up and share their stories, they begin to focus on the issues that they feel most affect their lives. Emotional discussions on teenage pregnancy and violence against women raise the energy in the room.
Many girls say apathy and boredom are to blame for the high rate of teenage pregnancy. They say the information is available to them, condoms are everywhere, but a sense of “hopelessness” leaves the girls with little other focus. Others feel that the grants available to young mothers are an incentive to have children, but that the money is often spent in other ways and not for the child.
The local girls begin to show more confidence. They share their story of how the community has for some time been traumatised by a man who prowls the village raping women, the elderly and children. The women feel vulnerable, they fear for their daughters, and they feel that neither the police nor the community is able to stop him.
Another heated topic is education. All agree on its importance, but many feel that the system has failed them. Many of the girls complain that their teachers lack passion and commitment, and that the language of instruction is often in the local language because the teachers themselves lack the ability of teaching in English. Many of the local girls blame their poor English on their teachers, and the limited access to opportunity in their community.
The entire GirlZtalk process is being filmed. The rain has brought its challenges, and the Altamar film team – Pep Bonet, Jose Bautista and Reymond Mapakata – are forced to navigate the weather as the rain on the corrugated steel roof blurs the sound and limits the filming to classrooms rather than the open spaces.
However the generosity of our hosts continues to surprise us. With humble generosity they share their home, teach us their cultural practices and allow us to gain a deeper understanding of their lives – and as we talk and share our perspectives, we soon realise that we are not so different after all.