Day 3: Culture Shock

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Deed 30, South Africa, travel, volunteer

Today, I got picked up early in the morning and met the other volunteers.  There are 2 guys from France, 3 girls from Germany, a girl from china and a guy from England.  Just like every other volunteer I have met so far, they were nice and interested in learning my background.

The building site is about a 10 minute drive from where I am staying.  We pulled into town and there really is no way to describe what I saw.  Homes/shacks were made completely out of scrap metal, tarps, plastic, wood, tires, or anything else they could find.  There is no running water and most have no bathroom to speak of.  Most shacks house around 10 people or more.  Around town there are stray, very unhealthy looking dogs running everywhere.  There are children running through the dirt roads.  To be honest, it was all a bit overwhelming.  It was one thing to see it from afar, but another to see it up close and personal.


I did not take this photo but the village I volunteered in looked very similar.

When we arrived on the building site we were met by the building site manager, Deen.  As he does with all new volunteers, he took me around the grounds and told me his back story as well as the back story of the township we were in.  There really aren’t enough kind words to describe how incredible this man is.  Deen is from Indian descent but was born and raised in South Africa.    He is in his early 50’s with 2 sons in their late teens.  He was working a construction job making good money and and was relatively happy.  He heard about the destruction going on in a place called Lavender Hill and wanted to help.  He left his job making 10 times the money to help out.  Deen did extensive leg work to get the project off the ground including securing all the permits, getting the government’s buy in, OKing it with the locals, among probably thousands of other things.  Deen’s situation before the start of the project is something I can relate to and after the talk, I felt safe and right at home.

The way they are building the community center is much different than  I am used to in the western world.  Everything is made from cement and sandbags.  The structures are very solid and insulate very well.  After being shown the ropes, I first filled a wheel barrel with sand (plenty in the area) and brought it close to the building.  We added dry cement mix until we had a good color, added water, and then mixed it with spades.  I spent the next few hours plastering a wall to fill in some gaps and quickly learned two important lessons: don’t layer it on to thick and don’t hit the wall too hard with the trowel.  The first resulted in my wall collapsing and the latter gave me a face/mouthful of cement.  In all it was a great first day at the building site.

Unrelated to volunteering: That night we hiked up Lions Head mountain to watch the sunset.  The views of the ocean and city below were simply breathtaking.  It was nice to get some exercise and clear my head to get ready for the next day.



Me at the top of Lion’s Head peak

  1. sula1968 says:

    I’m sure that you will have a profoundly memorable stay in South Africa, there is a special place in my heart for volunteers, so few are willing to give of themselves for a greater good.

  2. Tony Bencivengo says:

    If there were more people like you and the other volunteers this would be a totally different world.
    Having worked with your dad for the years at Dept of Health, I can see that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. You had a good family and are now sharing that with others. Maybe other people can learn from you. Great job
    Tony bencivengo

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