Yelling children, uber-athletic teens, dirty streets, language variety, self-reliant 4-year old’s.
My first day at my service site in South Africa was a blur. 5 of my fellow classmates and myself boarded a van to go work for YFC for the day. YFC stand for ‘Youth for Christ,’ and they work with homeless children and teens living on the street as well as at-risk children in poor communities.
While in studying here in South Africa, the nursing students work in clinics three times during the week while general ed students work at service sites every Tuesday.
Our first stop of the day was at a YFC mission center house. There we were introduced to the staff and learned about all the different areas YFC works in. After that, we loaded back into our van and travelled downtown to work at a YFC mission center. We walked a bit of the street, meeting homeless children, teens, and adults. We invited some of them to come to the mission center and we played games. If there’s a ball involved, these kids are in love. They had even made a ball out of sandwich bags and we played a version of dodgeball with it. Even if we couldn’t think of a game, the group would make something up. As long as they had a ball, they were happy.
After a bit, we moved the group to the soccer field down the road. On the way, we had a close call involving one of our kids and a car. The group was crossing the street when a car came blazing through the stoplight. The group stopped, but the kid kept running (as kids do). The car hit the child on the right front fender and stopped; then sped off. The kid was fine, more scared than actually hurt.
We got to the park and played soccer with some cones we brought. The teenagers that were there were seasoned pros. Even the 9-year old’s could seamlessly move the ball through their feet, flashing moves like they were born playing soccer. It was the most physical activity I’ve had since coming to South Africa.
Once we finished up playing soccer and having our lunch, we then split our group of 6 up into two groups of three. We dropped the first group off at a small community YFC center for children. My group travelled to a different community to be a part of the same thing.
These communities are astounding. Dirt roads, mud and stick homes, water running down the road. 4-year old barefoot children walking home from school all by themselves.
We got to the YFC center; a single room shack with plastered walls. When we arrived, there were about 20 children there. These kids were wide-eyed as they saw us getting out of the van. Most of them couldn’t speak English, but you don’t have to speak the same language as a child to have fun. As the day went on, more and more kids kept showing up. In total, around 60 kids showed up to get a meal at this single room shack and to play games and hang out.
The children were mesmerized by our white skin. One kid grabbed my arm and examined my hand for a few minutes. The $10 Casio watch I had on was a hit. Kids would grab at it, clicking the buttons, making the time change.
The kids also loved tattoos. A black tattoo on white skin is extremely interesting to a 5-year old black child. Soon enough, the kids got comfortable with us and starting climbing us. We would pick them up, spin them around, play clapping games with them. Even though these kids lived in a very poor community, the true joy they give out is overwhelming. We didn’t speak their language, but we could still show them love.
It amazes me how different, yet similar children are here than in America. During my church’s summer camp back home, the third graders I led had loved their fidget spinners, their Fortnite, and their mom’s old phone. Material things bring them joy, alongside being around their friends.
In South Africa, these kids were mesmerized by the things we had. They loved our watches and tattoos, but that’s not what brought them joy. What brought them joy was the friends they were with. The leaders that could pick them up and spin them around. These kids were content with not having any fancy phones or watches. They just loved being around people.
I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to be here. The people, land, and culture is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what this semester has in store.