“They Got Nowhere to Go”

Today, my colleague, Sashley, and I continued our planning for Mandela Week, which will take place from 14 until 18 July. The week commemorates the legacy of Nelson Mandela and calls attention to the role that youth play in shaping the future of South Africa. The theme for Mandela Week at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is #DOYOURPART. Our aim is to inspire the UWC community to take action and enact change.

On Wednesday and Friday, students will serve in the local community. Sashley and I met with a group of four student volunteers to discuss our approach to the week, divide responsibilities, and visit two community partners: The Ark and Hague Primary School. This post will primarily focus on our brief experience at The Ark.

As we drove down the gravel path, a concrete barrier on the left shouted, “THE ARK,” and its sister exclaimed, “CITY OF REFUGE.” Sashley explained that on an earlier trip to The Ark, a student read aloud, “CITY OF REFUGEES.” It was an ironic mistake.

The mission of The Ark (2014) accurately describes what I learned about the organization:

The Ark City of Refuge is a registered, Christ-centered, non-profitable organization. We provide a loving, caring, temporary home to destitute, homeless, abandoned, abused, unemployed men, women, and children. We place the emphasis on spiritual restoration, and we also provide them with food and clothing.

The Ark provides support for approximately 800 individuals who have no other option. One simply has to drive 30 kilometers northeast from the A&V Waterfront in central Cape Town on the N1, a national freeway, to witness the disparity between the rich and the poor. One travels from luxurious, million dollar beachside homes overlooking the ocean to and endless sea of squatter camps. The income gap is obvious and incredible.

Homelessness and unemployment are two of the major challenges that plague not only the Western Cape, the province where I currently find myself, but the country as a whole. To facilitate spiritual, mental, and physical healing, The Ark provides life skills trainings, adult literacy courses, job preparation services, and Bible courses. The Ark is home to a school for students in grades one through nine, residential facilities (separated into groups: girls, boys, men, women, and mothers), a substance abuse center, and a job placement office.

The Office of Leadership and Social Responsibility maintains a close relationship with The Ark. The purpose of the visit was not solely about solidifying our plans for Mandela Week. Instead, Sashley wanted to ensure that the four student volunteers and I had a clear understanding of the organization.

We spent the majority of our time in the residence for women. The intense smells – often unidentifiable and not always pleasant, the sad yet hopeful looks in the eyes of the women, and the collection of donated items reminded me of School Number 3 in Ukraine. Twice per week, I volunteered at School Number 3, a school for orphans and children with hearing disabilities, in my village of Nova Ushytsia. I made the connection immediately as I walked in and out of rooms that housed roughly 20 beds. Each bed, something that each woman owned and could call her own, was carefully tended to and uniquely decorated.

In South Africa, my office does not seek an answer to the question, “Which community partner needs help?” Instead, we contemplate, “Which community partner needs the most help?” This difference underscores why community engagement takes a different shape in South Africa as compared to the United States.

If you know me, I am a fan of shooting at the hip: taking pictures discreetly with my camera in my hand. Enjoy the pictures below that were taken today at The Ark.













The Ark (2014). What we are & what we do. Retrieved from http://theark.org.za/what-we-do


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