When sharing the news of my move to Cape Town, I pause to take in the shear excitement and awe that people convey to me. In response to this news, I’m often given a list of tourist activities to partake in and various sights to visit. Many tourists share their stories of unparalleled relaxation and breathtakingly beautiful accommodations while visiting the motherland. To them, Cape Town is paradise. However, scores of South Africans who struggle daily from the unaddressed injustices that flow from apartheid see this land quite differently. Accordingly, travelers who look underneath the city’s glamorous surface learn of the often-unreported realities of Cape Town citizens who live in unspeakably horrible conditions.
Among those in Cape Town who live in such condition are children, particularly girls of all ages and backgrounds who live on the streets. Having escaped from physical/emotional abuse and neglect, poverty, gangs, and many other deplorable conditions, these girls learned to survive by navigating the often violent and unforgiving realities of street life where they lived in fear and constant danger. Left to fend for themselves, many of these girls have found safety and security in Ons Plek, a Cape Town residential child and youth care center designed specifically to provide support and care for street girls.
Ons Plek provides educational, developmental and therapeutic services to Cape Town’s former street girls. Since November 2016, I have had the honor of serving as a Global Missions Intern (Volunteer) at Ons Plek. I begin my mornings with the girls at the intake shelter. During the weekdays, I arrive early in order to spend time with the girls as they prepare for bridging school, which is a program designed to enrich and advance girls who are currently not enrolled in school, and to help them gain admittance and perform at their proper grade level. I use the early hours to sit and enjoy the sunshine with them while sharing stories, laughing, and singing their favorite songs. This helps us to form and strengthen relationships with each other.
Once bridging school begins, two educators and I teach the girls math and English. The girls’ behavior and their attitudes towards learning often change daily due to interpersonal difficulties and conflicts that flow from the fact that the population of girls is quite diverse in terms of ages, grade levels and learning styles. I have come to realize that teamwork among the staff in the bridging school is not just a lofty goal; it is essential as staff coordinate their work in order to work closely with the all the girls, particularly those who are struggling. Often times, the girls will themselves will display this teamwork by helping their peers understand the always challenging lessons. Although friction between the girls in the shelter is common, it is very easy to observe the unity and sisterhood that are operational in the bridging school.
In the short amount of time I have spent at Ons Plek, my life has been transformed dramatically. With each passing day my belief in the life-changing ability of God increases, and I feel more and more grateful to play a role in this process at Ons Plek. I am inspired daily by the strength and resolve of the girls, and the commitment and love expressed by the staff members. Although so many of the girls have endured injustice and trauma in their lives, I am pleased to report that their past does not prevent them from experiencing moments of laughter, learning and growth. Without a doubt, the redemptive power of Christ is at work in the lives of all at Ons Plek.
Nia Sullivan serves as a Global Mission ntern with Ons Plek Projects for Girls, South Africa. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Church’s Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.