Through talking with the local youth, Blue Roof staff, and my host family, I have only scratched the surface of understanding the many issues and brokenness the Durban community faces. Domestic violence and abuse is alarmingly common. Poverty is no stranger, especially in towns like Wentworth. As South Africa continues to develop post-apartheid, racial inequalities still abound. Theft and gang violence haunt the streets in the area. South Africa holds the title for world’s largest number of people living with HIV, and the rate of infection is still not decreasing despite the availability of effective antiretroviral therapies. Our province, KwaZulu-Natal, was the seat of the epidemic. HIV’s continued high prevalence, and its related illnesses like tuberculosis, magnifies its burden on health, family, and the economy.
There is also widespread use of highly addictive and destructive drugs in the community, extending even to youth and drug dealing in schools. The drug problem not only impacts the health and social dynamic of the community, but also contributes to the cycle of violence and poverty. Termed sugarheads by locals, drug addicts will either gather scraps or steal in order to sell and fuel their addictions. Within the past decades, crime and theft have become serious issues. One marked difference between my home in the US and neighbourhoods in SA is the necessity of a walled perimeter, alarm system, guard dog, and burglar gates outfitting each home. Blue Roof’s premises have all these defensive measures, with a 24/7 security guard instead of a dog. While painting the mural at Blue Roof’s front entrance, I was surprised when I looked up and came face to face with a barbed wire coil lining the top of the wall we were working on, juxtaposing the optimistic pictures taking form just below.
A churning oil refinery just down the road from my home emits funny smells and pollution over the town. Despite the repeated protests by residents, nothing was ever done.
I like this photo that captures the placement of Blue Roof as a welcome splash of colour in the midst of Durban’s issues. In the background, looking out the window over the colourful walls and barbed wire, the smoke stacks of the oil refinery are clearly visible. But in the foreground, a mural of Blue Roof’s vision “Heal, Dream, Create” has been painted onto a wall.
These difficulties are what makes the Blue Roof so needed by the community, and what makes these youth so remarkable. I was surprised at the impact I could see Blue Roof’s programs were making on the youth and on myself. The warm inviting atmosphere of the art program created a microcosm of safety, to constructively express their feelings, about themselves and their community. Some of my favorite memories are of connecting with the young artists and inspiring each other’s creativity—Seeing one quiet boy’s minion drawing, I drew one as well, at which he took a long look and deemed it cute. When I saw him again the next week, he told me that he had drawn a minion like mine. Before a painting session, I taught another little friend to draw a frog, which with which we decorated the scrap newspapers on the table, picture below.
Facilitating dance classes, I have the opportunity to introduce ballet, a dance genre these children have never tried.
Blue Roof has also recently opened an incredibly technologically advanced career guidance centre space. Initially I had my doubts about the usefulness of relegating such an expensive space to service a simple personality test, something I could easily do online at home. However, internet access is very expensive and broadband limited; I, for one, will never take Duke’s unlimited Wi-Fi for granted again. Furthermore, after data-capturing hundreds of post assessment forms and comments, I saw that this career guidance centre delivered more than just information— it gave the teens a renewed sense of confidence and determination. Many girls told me of their own hopes to become doctors, or asked about my study strategies. Their comments showed me the impact that a mentor/ role model and some encouragement can serve, to let them know that their goals are within reach.