Compiled Report from South Africa WAIT Trip and Documentary

On July 7, eight WAIT trainers boarded a plane for South Africa via Paris, France. Nearly 24 hours later, they arrived at Oliver Tambo International airport, exhausted and toting 22 bags of materials for the trainings through South Africa and Lesotho. From the hot summer of Washington, we were struck by the winter temperatures of the South African climate.

There to welcome the group was an even larger group of families who have been actively preparing for WAIT’s work to a wide geographic area of the country. The UK WAIT representative Francis Fobbie, who helped coordinate many aspects of WAIT’s arrival, was also there. The welcoming committee said a quick prayer of thanks for the safe arrival, loaded luggage and travelers into about 5 vehicles, and drove to the Peace Embassy in Forest Town, Johannesburg, where a hot meal of nourishing soup and delicious food awaited. After eating, we settled into the bedrooms thoughtfully prepared for us, and quickly fell asleep.

Waking up the next morning, we got started right away. While Kate, Moruti and Lucky went to the airport to rent the van and exchange currency, the team started training the young people in the skit and the game show. Later in the morning, everyone made their way to the South African Broadcasting Studios to meet with the Minister of Tourism for Swaziland. We met with several ambassadors for Peace, were interviewed by some news crews, and ended up breakdancing to some traditional drumming.

Waking up the next morning, we got started right away. While Kate, Moruti and Lucky went to the airport to rent the van and exchange currency, the team started training the young people in the skit and the game show. Later in the morning, everyone made their way to the South African Broadcasting Studios to meet with the Minister of Tourism for Swaziland. We met with several ambassadors for Peace, were interviewed by some news crews, and ended up breakdancing to some traditional drumming.

Then, they played piano, flute, recorder, guitar for us. To see the bright and healthy faces of the Wells children as they played their musical instruments, we never would have realized that most of them are HIV positive. Sun Jae and Mie interviewed them about their hopes and dreams, and favorite hobbies, and their parents about curriculum and methods. We filmed them, interviewed about likes and talents. The kids are so sweet and beautiful, and we loved working with them.

We drove from there to Thembisa, where we met about 300 young delegates to a church/school’s convention. As we entered in, they all rose to their feet, row by row, singing and dancing in the traditional South African harmonies and dance steps. It was so beautiful, we were all in tears. We did a full WAIT performance, and after, many were asking how to join.

We drove back to Jo-burg for late dinner cooked by Flory and a well-earned sleep.

Day 2, July 10

We woke around 7 to prepare for our travel to Dobsonville section of Soweto, where a number of artistic performing groups had gathered for our performance. I met with the leaders of the groups and explained our vision. They shared a bit about their hopes. We began the program, doing the full WAIT performance. The other groups began performing, but it seemed that several additions were also put in. Although the program was supposed to last about 2 hours, it actually went about 6 hours.

On the program were:

1.    Dobsonville Artistic Youth

2.    Sophumelela African Youth Ambition

3.    Ezasekazi Entertainment Academy

4.    Black House

5.    New Beginnings

6.    Dedicated Young Artist

7.    Mayibuye Africa Casting Group

8.    Magnificent

The performances were very impressive; the level of drama and dance and music is very high here. We interviewed some very visionary grassroots leaders, many of whom are personally connected to the HIV/AIDS issue. And they are like us: not funded, but working with passion for their community and for the youth. Sun Jae interviewed most of the leaders on camera, while the others of us started teaching “Desert Rose” to those who were interested in learning. As it got dark we all headed home.

Day 3, July 11

We traveled to Alexandra, another of the former black townships. This is a smaller town than Soweto, and more closely packed. We performed at the Thusong orphanage and community center for about 30 youth. After we finished, a House dance group “Make Us Models” or MUM came and performed, and they were very creative, using plastic bottle crates and some really creative dancing. Later, they wanted to join us in going to Roodeport, so four of them came and we included them in the next performance.

This was in a very difficult area, filled with the “informal” housing: poor shacks people make themselves using pieces of boards, metal, branches, rocks and tires. The event was in a large community center, but it had no electricity or lights; the sound speakers were all being operated on the power from a long extension cord. They welcomed us as special guest performers, and really felt it was an honor to receive us. We did our whole performance, but instead of the final act, had the Alex MUM group perform.

After, we did interviews with the various leaders.

A word about people. We were very well taken care of by Flory and Moruti Ledwaba at the center, and Francis Fobbie had organized some practical elements such as the printing of leaflets, and with the help of Angelina, the printing of t-shirts. Several families—most notably, Ernest and Isabel Leballo, were transporting the local kids and helping arrange things for the team. Kedibone Seutloadi, who we met in America, was an enormous help in organizing venues all over the country. Kedibone’s nephew, Lucky, is our main driver. Her niece, Nolo, was joining us too, performing in every place. About 8 kids were traveling with us, as well as a bunch of adults. There’s always a caravan of cars accompanying us.

That night, we showed the movie “Cashing Out,” to a number of the people at the Peace Embassy. They were amazed at what a story was told for such a small amount of money.

Day 4, July 12

A few of us went to St. George’s Anglican Church in the Parktown area of Johannesburg, an elegant stone building with a full choir singing. They asked us to speak, and we did a little 2 minute elevator speech, and had a good connection there.

Then, we went back to the Peace Embassy and Kate gave the message at the Sunday Service. It was pretty funny, and the families seemed to really enjoy it. Then, we did a WAIT training that afternoon, and Aunt Kate worked with the parents. We finished when it was dark, and began packing for the trip to Cape Town the next morning.

Day 5, July 13

Beginning on this day, the WAIT trainers split up into two groups, one team staying in Johannesburg and the second flying nearly a thousand kilometers away to Cape Town. Michele, Ilseuk, Harmony, and Sarah remained in Johannesburg to accompany the team there to performances arranged in Soweto and Pretoria. Aunt Kate, Mie, Kensei and Sun Jae woke at 3:30 a.m. to catch an early flight.

We arrived in Capetown, meeting Khumi and Safi at the airport. We got a rental car (much easier to drive than the van in Jo-burg) and started driving back to their house. The Capetown team had already prepared printed t-shirts and camouflage pants, bought a sound system and a guitar, and had learned a lot of the skit and dances.

The history of the team is quite interesting. In 2007, Khumi and Safi Mbenegi emailed Aunt Kate asking for materials to learn about HIV/AIDS. After receiving the Full WAIT Performance DVD, several families got together to start learning the dances, skit, game show and more! They had their first performance in June 2009, just a few weeks before we arrived. They had also created their own dance moves to a song by R. Kelly, “The World’s Greatest.”

After just two hours of practice, we were off to one of the most difficult poor townships here, Khayalitsha. It was a bit funny. They wanted to make a more "theatrical" venue for us, so they blocked all the light out of the windows, and hung a single red bulb over the stage area, so it was really dim and hard to see anything.

After watching about 5 or 6 groups sing and dance, we did our performance (we turned on a few of the lights so people could actually see!) It was really well received, and several groups wanted to work with us again.

In Johannesburg, the half team was also busy. In the morning, WAIT performed at 11:30 at El Dorado Park in Johannesburg, for 200 youth from a township that has a majority of mixed-race ethnicity, known as “colored”. The ages ranged from 7-30. They were part of a dance group for a Charity Bowl, so before the performance, they showed us a beautiful dance that they were practicing for the event. Several of the young performers from the Soweto performance joined them and sang. Afterwards, they went back to the Peace Embassy and trained the local kids until late.

Day 6, July 14

In Cape Town, the team returned to Khayalitsha to visit the Baphumalele Children's home, an AIDS orphanage. It started with Rosie Mashele, who years ago had an AIDS orphan left on her doorstep. Several times a week, the same thing has happened, for years now. Today, there are 167 kids there--almost all HIV positive. Infants are left there every day, so they made a sort of "mailbox," a retractable drawer, in the exterior wall to the street for people to leave the babies, where at least the baby will be safe and warm and an alarm lets the watchers know there's a new one there.

The Cape Town team and trainers performed for all the kids at the Children’s Home. At the end, the kids came out and began dancing with us and even kept dancing to an old WAIT favorite song “Been So Good.” It was a wonderful experience.

Piling back in the cars, the caravan traveled to Wynburg, to the Odd Fellow’s Hall, to which a lot of good contacts and AIDS workers had been invited. The trainers and team members performed. Another church group sang a song, and we had a talk by another social worker director who talked about the work he did with education, prevention, testing, and counseling. Several nurses working with a church’s AIDS Ministry were also on hand.

That evening, we enjoyed a nice full meal at the home of one family, and met several young students who had just moved to Cape Town from Bridgeport International Academy, and were happy to “re-meet” WAIT there. They agreed to come the next day and become part of our young team!

The Johannesburg team went to Pretoria, the nation’s capital, performing first at the Soshunguve United Reformed Church, where they performed during the morning. They had a warm welcome from the pastor and the audience, who sang in beautiful harmony as we came in. About 50 people were on hand to see the presentation, and responded enthusiastically. The Jo-burg team did the skit on their own for the first time, and sang the song, “Hero,” and joined in the breakdance act.

The Dlala Ntombazanan (DN) Soccer for Girls Programme in Eersterust was the next group to receive a performance. Because it was an outdoor performance, we weren’t sure if anyone would come, but about 60 kids were there. Again, the local team members took a larger role, and several young audience members were pretty great breakdancers. After our performance, they showed us soccer ball juggling. We found out after the performance that our organizers knew Tyler Spencer, a Grassroots Soccer coach we met back in DC. In the audience was a coordinator from Circle of Life, a support group for people that are HIV-positive-or-negative. They have support groups, courses on HIV/AIDS, and counseling. Another woman who stopped by was an AIDS worker who worked at the center.

Our third performance turned out to be more of an audition with the hosting coordinator of SAANSA groups, Dr. Mphane, but when he saw our activities, he decided to arrange a performance the next day.

The team also heard that kids from Rustenburg had come by bus and were looking to meet up with them, but by the time it was communicated, all the events for the day were over.

Day 7, July 15

The Johannesburg team performed twice. In the morning, they performed in Soweto at Mahon Evangelical Church in Dube. The theme of the program was abstinence. The floor was quite slippery, so we had an interesting time with the dances. We were joined by two of the artists who we had met in Soweto, and afterwards, by some performances from the kids from the church singing and performing drama on abstinence. The pastor wanted us to train the youth in dance, but despite the interest, it didn’t really take off. The church fed the team, we did several short interviews, and then we met up with the group from Rustenburg.

At the second location, Dr. Mphane, the man from the day before, had quickly promoted and brought together an audience for us at the Pretoria Performance Center. After the WAIT performance, the visiting artists from Rustenburg also performed, and it was a good exchange. There was also in the audience a pop-locking group called Morbid. The main leader was really inspired by the message of WAIT.

In Cape Town, the scheduled presentation was cancelled, so Mie and Kensei trained the young team members during the morning and afternoon. At 4, the team parents gathered to ask questions about the parents’ role on the WAIT team. After sharing for a short time, Kate and Sun Jae accompanied Khumi to the remote studio of the South African Broadcasting Corporation where she was interviewed by the satellite news program for several minutes. The emphasis was on the international work of WAIT, and how the work has progressed in each country.

Since we had to get another early morning plane the next day, we went to bed early and woke up at 3 to get to the airport. Khumi and Wonyun drove us there, helped us drop off the rental car and get to the plane on time.

Day 8, July 16

Arriving at the Johannesburg Airport at 8:30, we met up with the Jo-burg team driven by Ernest Leballo. By this time, most of us were getting sick. Runny noses, sore throats and woozy stomachs were slowly taking over the team. Squeezed into the 8 passenger van were 9 people, and the trip times were rapidly becoming time to catch up on our rest. The trip to Lesotho took about 5 hours.

Lesotho, which is a country completely enclosed on every side by the country of South Africa, is known at the Mountain Kingdom. After a lengthy border check, we arrived in the country to meet Darkwell Sakala. We split up, with the kids going to the facility at which they would be doing training, and where we would all be sleeping. I accompanied Darkwell to the National AIDS Commission offices to meet with some of their top executives.

At the meeting with the NAC leadership, interest was expressed in seeing the First AIDS PowerPoint and then, despite the fact that they were preparing for a holiday the next day, the King’s birthday, they were interested in seeing some of the videos of the team.

We discussed the issues there, and they confirmed that about 23 percent of the population are known to be infected living with HIV and AIDS. Interestingly, the population figures we had for the country were from 2007, and were about 2 million, but that is down (just two years later) to 1.8 million.

The AIDS policymakers were quite attracted by the WAIT approach. They could see a real interest on the part of youth, and an ability to absorb the information in a new way. Unlike South Africa, Lesotho people have not been exposed to much AIDS information so a lot of myths still predominate. Also, stigma and denial are still keeping people from getting tested, admitting their status or getting the medications.

After the meeting, we picked up various things the team could eat, assuming there was a cooking facility somewhere, but it turned out there wasn’t. When we finally met up with the team, we found a nice set of dorm rooms, but unheated and the small electric radiators were not working. So, it was decided to go to Sakala’s house for cooking a meal. At this point, we had to make sure the trainees got home okay, so we waited for a while for the two vehicles to take them home safely. Then, we piled into the van, drove for miles over unlit, bumpy and oftentimes unpaved roads, to the cozy home where a kerosene heater kept us all toasty despite the frigid temperatures outside. We had a nice meal of rice and chicken as we shared with the adults and young members about their experience of Lesotho’s approach to AIDS. They told us that people say “oh, that’s a white man’s disease” or “It’s not AIDS, that person is the victim of witchcraft,” and so on. They seemed to see no way to penetrate the mindset. We mentioned that they might be able to take the approach of accepting the people’s ideas, and then working with them. “Oh, it’s witchcraft? Okay, but how did the witchcraft take place? What was the means for the person to be bewitched? Oh, he was bewitched by that lady? But she’s also sick, right? So somehow this witchcraft affects everyone?” And bring out of the people their own observations using this approach.

Everyone seems to love the king, Letsie III, and we suggested that he be approached to become the articulator for the nation about AIDS. As a real national father-figure, he could help the people understand the nature of the illness. We suggested that the Lesotho WAIT team could perform for him, inspire him, and then ask him sincerely to speak to the nation.

We went back to the dorms and crawled into bed with most of our clothes on and tons of blankets.

Day 9, July 17

The next day, we cobbled together some breakfast, and then began a second round of performing for those who assembled—maybe about 40 or 50 people. This was a mixed group of youth and some adults who were educators, ambassadors for peace, etc.

After the WAIT performance, various groups and individuals got up to sing or dance. There’s a huge amount of talent here. So, we encouraged them to put this together with the WAIT skit and game show and get a team going immediately. We had to leave soon, so we were packing up the van, but they were just talking to us, asking us questions, sharing their hopes, brainstorming ways to reach out. The adults were just as excited as the kids. They all said “You’ve opened our minds—we never imagined we could do such a thing.”

Ernest Leballo, who was the main driver for the Lesotho trip, was an invaluable asset. He is from Lesotho, knows everyone there, and he and his wife Isabel, will be likely WAIT parents there. They have both been extremely active and supportive, and their children are also very enthusiastic.

After another long drive, we made it back to the warmth and comfort of the Peace Embassy. Kate was feeling very sick, and was unable to eat real food, but was able to sip some hot chicken soup. We had to get up early to travel to Limpopo, so we got to bed right away.

Day 10, July 18

Kate and Harmony were feeling very sick when they got up in the morning. Flory got us some good medicine, however, and it got us out on the road. Kate took a break from driving and navigating and tried to rest in the van. Arriving in Polokwane around 10, we were escorted to the area where most of the members there live, and they invited us into a house where a huge brunch was laid out! We were shocked and found out that Polokwane is famous for its hospitality.

After the “breakfast,” we went to the nearby school hall to perform. There were several other performing groups there too. After our regular performance, and some dancing and singing, we did a quick round of breakouts sessions and taught the First AIDS PowerPoint, and then wrapped up the training.

The mothers and grandmothers were especially happy with WAIT, and very essential. They really loved us up, too. After another splendid dinner, I fell asleep, only to be woken by cell phone calls from Tyler Spencer and Piet “Klips” Moataung. Klips was in Polokwane, thinking to connect with us for the next day’s training—not knowing we were going to Rustenburg the next day. Our host, Kanti Mailula, went to pick him up even though it was now nighttime, and he came and they gave him a mini-performance, while he shared a lot of the methods they use in Grassroots Soccer.

Day 11, July 19

The next morning, after a huge breakfast again, we sang and prayed with the Limpopo families here. What beautiful hearts they have. In everything they do, it’s as if they are preparing for a king, and the king is us, the guests. They gave us all kinds of fruits and vegetables as we left, to take with us on the road to Rustenburg, another 3 hour trip.

We met Lerato Rapoo off the highway then followed her to the village of Luka and Moruleng. We came up to her mother’s house, which is a beautiful, expansive, elegant home, and there were about 30 teens in the yard, singing and dancing to welcome us. We set up the stage on the brick driveway, and before we started the second group came from Moruleng, led by an amazing lady, Grace Masuku. She is 78, but wanted to help the poorest of the poor kids in her village and tribe by teaching them the wisdom of the ancestors: honoring the environment, respecting tradition, and most of all, keeping purity. All the kids in her group—there are about 130 now—are abstinent. There is a special rattle made of the seed pods of the acacia tree, which they wear on their legs to make sounds as they dance. It’s forbidden to touch those pods if someone is not pure. So to wear these, and to do the dances of their culture and sing the songs, creates a culture of purity.

The other group, Ntsatsi Amazing Arts Production, led by Lerato’s mom, Letta Rapoo, is also a traditional cultural group that practices abstinence. They do dramas, songs and dances; similar to the house dancing we’ve seen everywhere.

Day 12, July 20

The next morning, we drove to the main center of the Bafokeng nation to meet with the Queen Mother, Mmemogolo Semane Molotlegi. Welcoming us were Monica Tumagole and her husband, who serve as traditional councilpersons.

After hearing about WAIT’s work and methods, Mmemogolo (Queen Mother) shared her own feelings that the only responsible and ethical way to teach HIV prevention was to emphasize the “A and B” of the ABC approach. This echoed the ideas we heard over and over during our trip: the caring leaders, the elders, the traditional guides all were adamant that teaching young people abstinence and faithfulness in monogamy are not only good prevention strategies, but follow the traditional African values.

We were able to visit a youth center under construction, and then travelled over to Moruleng, arriving a few hours early, which gave us the chance to have lunch at a visitor’s center nearby.

Upon arriving back at the town’s cultural center, we met Mama Grace Masuku and began preparing for what we thought was our last performance. Nails sticking out of the stage needed to be hammered down as the audience gathered, including many of the traditional councilpersons and youth leaders of the area.

We performed what we thought would be the last time, to very enthusiastic audience reaction. The youth leader there began discussing how to develop WAIT’s work there.

Then, another trip to Pretoria, where we met the van Oostrom family, homeschoolers and of the traditional Afrikaaner population, who had prepared traditional foods like game pie, stewed dried fruit, a sort of rice and raisin dish, and a special meatloaf. Afterwards, they asked what our performances were like, so one more time, the kids pulled out the equipment and we moved furniture and did a mini performance right there.

Day 13, July 21

On our last day, we had two television tapings: one for an entertainment based program, and the second for a French language interview program. Thankfully, we had the skit narration in French, so after a short interview with me, the team moved the set, and in a tiny elliptical space, the kids performed the skit, did the breakdance act, and then finished up with “Rose.”

People gathered from various other shows to see the excitement, and it was a big hit.

Conclusion:

During the two weeks of our stay, we completed 25 performances, 9 training sessions and 3 media presentations. We reached groups through Johannesburg, Soweto, Alexandra, Roodeport, Pretoria, Cape Town, Lesotho, Polokwane, and Rustenburg. We trained teams in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and created partnerships with more than 2 dozen organizations. In addition, the LightSmith team took footage and conducted interviews with a large number of youth leaders and organizers.

South Africa is full of creative and technically skilled performing groups. WAIT’s message works well there because of our strong emphasis on hope, on positive energy, on youth arts, and family-based internal dynamics.

Overall, we saw a huge response to the presentations, and to the way we work. Partners expressed confidence that the work would be continued and expanded. We hope the result will be a new development in the reversal of AIDS in South Africa and the world.