Paper Planes for Everyone: Economic Disparity in South Africa

StudentsSouthAfricaBy Anna Concannon — Yesterday the group and I visited Camps Bay after a fun day of sightseeing and hiking.

Camps Bay is a wealthy Cape Town suburbconsisting of mansions, condos, and nice hotels atop hills that overlook the ocean and attracts many tourists. After eating a satisfying pizza while watching the sun slowly set over the South Atlantic Ocean, I walked on the soft sand beach to complete a perfect evening.

This morning, I went to my service site again. At the township preschool, the kids each ate a small warm bread roll for lunch. My friend and I introduced them to paper airplanes, and they were occupied for hours making sound effects and soaring them in the air. Children who were not in school wandered outside our fenced-in playground, hoping our kids would share the paper planes because they were toy-less.

People living in the overcrowded townships typically inhabit “informal settlements,” or shacks that are made out of metal and do not have plumbing. Toilets and central water stations are located sporadically throughout the neighborhoods, but going to them alone at night is very dangerous because it is a common place for physical and sexual violence and murder. Tourists don’t normally visit the townships, which is probably why we receive confused stares from locals when we drive through them sometimes.

Yet, just a few miles away, safe neighborhoods booming with businesses stand proud and homes contain lights, toilets, food, and television.

The drastic difference between the affluent and the poor in Cape Town confounds me.

What is worse is that tourists don’t see the townships. They are located outside the city and don’t have much to offer; why would one choose to go there over the beach? The locals are aware of the inequalities people in the townships face, but a minority of people tries to help. What is out of sight should not be out of mind for neither city dwellers nor tourists.

I am glad I have been educated about the issues in the townships and am very thankful for the experience I am having with the preschool children. However, I wonder what I can really do in the little time I am here. Can I accomplish anything? What will I take away from this experience?

I wish I could make paper planes for every child in the townships. I wish children could receive more attention and better living situations than they currently have. I especially wish the areas of living were not so severely segregated by race and socioeconomic class and that people came together more as the Rainbow Nation should do.

I accept that I will only be able to understand the social problems in South Africa to an extent and I will get to know only twenty-five kids here. What little I learn and do here is impacting my life and eventually I will find a way to give back to this or other communities in need.

1 Response to “Paper Planes for Everyone: Economic Disparity in South Africa”

  1. 1 Peggy Concannon June 29, 2014 at 8:07 am

    I am so proud of you Anna. Of course the purpose of your trip was to experience the confounding and gross unfairness of this country’s decisions about resources. The fact that you feel powerless is to be expected and is probably akin to the feelings of the poorest in SA. You get to leave all that and ponder the next step in the comfort of your big clean air conditioned bedroom but they are stuck right there in the shacks as you well know. Tough trip, excellent experience


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