by Dani Kreusch and Chanelle Prins.
Please click on the photographs to read the story captions as well as to see the best view of the pictures.
Part of the Village Scribe Assosiation, awarenet is an eLearning platform designed to meet the school’s and learner’s computer literacy needs in the Joza Township in Grahamstown. Started in 2010, awarenet is a social media tool that offers its learners a personal networking space, tools for blogging, online discussions and project work all supervised by upbeat volunteers that provide help and a safe space. The online projects are always combined with offline activities like participating in sport events, organising public concerts, social engagements and the writing of newspaper articles to apply all the skills they have learned. “We encourage them to suggest projects or blog about their own ideas. Unfortunately, the SA school system rarely prepares them to do that, so they are usually happy if we suggest projects and topics. We tried a lot of different projects during the last five years. The successful ones became annual projects,” said Dr Anna Wertlen, founder and chairperson of the Village Scribe Assosiation. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
One of the projects awarenet returns to annually is their International Peace Day celebrations. This year, the learners decided to mark the day by preparing food for those at the Home of Joy orphanage. The staff also created posters to mark the day and its significance – Kim Niemann, one of the two volunteers from Germany, displays with pride the Peace Day poster he made. “I want awarenet learners to be able to work in teams and take responsibility for their community and their country, learn about their rights and duties as a South African citizen,” said Dr Wertlen, who is very proud of all that the previous Peace Day celebrations have achieved. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
Another volunteer from Germany, Larissa Willy, greets some of the first awarenet girls to arrive. “We’re so proud of them for deciding to [take food to the orphanage]. We just asked them, ‘What do you want to do to show other people the meaning of Peace Day?’ And they said, ‘We want to give food to those who have less than us.’ It was all their idea – we just helped with the organising.” Photo by: Chanelle Prins.
The awarenet learners carefully write their names on strips of tape that will act as name badges when they go to the Home of Joy. “Make my name Angelface,” one girl pleads, and Siphokuhle Soya, the girl currently with the power of the pen in her hands, rolls her eyes. “They’re not going to worry about your name, when they’re grateful for food,” she sighs, even as somebody else asks if he can have two name badges, just in case. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
Siphokuhle and “Angelface” are two of the four assigned the roles of cutting up carrots, tomatoes and cucumber for the meal. “We want the Home of Joy children to have some vitamins, at least,” Larissa laughs. “This was my idea, because of my love for food,” Siphokuhle says solemnly as she cuts a rather stubborn bit of cucumber. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
No meal is complete without something nice to drink to go along with the food. The awarenet girls in charge of making the cooldrink take their jobs so seriously every draft of the juice had to be tasted by each one before a verdict was passed. The drink is strengthened twice, diluted once, then strengthened again before it passes the standard. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
The boys, meanwhile, are taking the kitchen by storm. While some peeled and chopped onions and some buttered rolls, others kept watch on the cooking sausages in their pot. “How’s it going?” Kim asks at one point. “We’re not letting anything wrong happen here,” the boys reply seriously. Two stand with their hands on the lid, at the ready at all times. They do oblige to let nosy journalists take a peek inside and then pause for a photo, though. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
The main meal, when it’s cooked and ready to go, looks scrumptious. The boys carefully stack the rolls back, making sure none come lose or fall apart in the short but swift journey to the orphanage. “Everybody loves hotdogs,” Angelface says brightly. “This is a good meal to give them. I’m glad it was this.” Photo by: Chanelle Prins.
While the last of the preparations are made, some of the girls do a cleanup of the work stations they used, careful to not miss a spot. Others decide that the cutting work has made them hungry, and that somebody should be in charge of making sure that the vegetables are up to scratch. Judging by how quickly the leftover cucumber is divided up, the food tastes delicious. Photos by: Dani Kreusch.
Proudly toting their prized hotdogs, just-right juice, crispy salad and other food stuffs to hand over to the Home of Joy, the awarenet learners pose for a photograph. As soon as the camera is put away, the food is handed over to those more willing to carry, and learners rush to latch onto the arms of volunteers, whom they adore, and visiting journalists alike. “It’s Peace Day. Be peaceful,” one says to a hopeful girl who tries to squeeze between her and Larissa’s arm. “Larissa wants to walk with me.” Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
The awarenet group certainly did not leave the orphanage untouched. A group of the friendliest girls found themselves inside listening to the harrowing story of two orphans, one who is wheelchair bound. There was not a dry eye in the room, and some of the children had to be consoled after the talk was done. “We need to help them again,” Kuhle says adamantly. “We need to come back. I’m glad I know where it is, now.” “I’m hoping I can teach the kids how to set up an online fundraiser so we can help Home of Joy again,” Kim confesses. “That’s my next big project.” Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
Once at the orphanage, the awarenet boys keep the Home of Joy children occupied with soccer and games while the girls quickly finish preparing the meal, putting sauce on the hotdogs and heaping paper plates high with vegetables. Each person there also receives a very generous amount of juice. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
Each awarenet learner and volunteer gets at least one chance to hand over some food to one of those at Home of Joy. While most are shy, there’s something soft in everybody’s expressions, and a lingering once the plate has changed hands. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
Larissa gets into a short conversation with one of the children at Home of Joy. He takes the hotdog, and she returns with a plate of vegetables, face amused. “He doesn’t want the vegetables,” she laughs. “He’s not the only one – we’re going to have a lot left over.” Those happily munching on their hotdogs don’t seem to feel they’re missing out on anything; quite the opposite, in face. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
When all the food is done – even the awarenet learners got a plate each – everybody slowly groups together for a photograph. The littlest children all want to be held or picked up, and most are all too happy to oblige with the request. Once the sitting still is over, the smaller ones promptly make a car out of the plastic container the hotdogs were carried over in, delighted by the unexpected toy. Photo by: Chanelle Prins.
The last job of the day, as the sun sets lazily, is to put all the Peace Day posters, full of information about human rights and encouraging others to practise Peace Day every day, on the Joza Youth Hub fence. As they work, the awarenet volunteers murmur about the sad stories they’ve heard that day, and how it’s a good thing that their eyes are remaining open. “Looking is the first step to moving to change,” says volunteer Mcvay Bako. Photo by: Dani Kreusch.
For more information on awarenet and how you can help, please visit awarenet.org.