This is the fourth in a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff and each week Girls’ Globe is publishing a new entry.
We all arrive at 8am and by 8:30 we have about 85 girls registered. There are girls from 3 villages all with a good grasp of English. Our girls are excited as they feel this is going to make it much easier to connect and have a meaningful 3 days. We start with ice-breakers and the game, ‘have you ever?’. They leave the more innocent questions behind and go straight to ‘Have you ever been to a tavern?’ and ‘Have you ever kissed a girl?’. As half the girls rise, we are surprised by their apparent openness.
By mid-morning the issues are being raised but our girls appear to be struggling. In contrast to their vocal participation in the games, there seems to be a general silence amongst the local girls. Those who speak up are laughed at by the other members of the group; making it very difficult to have an open discussion. It is going to take time to build trust and the confidence to exchange the challenges girls are facing.
Our team persists and working with the more vocal girls, manage to bring out the main issues. Once again teenage pregnancies, rape, substance abuse are high on the list. Interestingly witchcraft, peer pressure and jealousy are themes that run deep and are considered to be the cause for a girl failing at school and for being tempted into substance abuse. We realise there is a general fear to succeed, for to stand out puts you at the risk of a Witches spell or the mirth of your peers.
By 4pm transport arrives to take the girls back to their villages. It has been a challenging day and we all head back to our host families with an element of uncertainty as to whether the girls in the community are keen to exchange.
A beautiful day dawns and by 9am we are gathered in the community hall. They divide up into the groups to explore the themes they have selected. There are teenage pregnancies, substance abuse, prostitution and sugar daddies and rape; as well as lack of resources, witchcraft and jealousy as excuses for failure. HIV is not mentioned although it is known to be rife in the community. There are girls in each group who are determined to express their opinions despite the laughter of some of their friends. Discussions open up and it becomes clear that sexuality is also a pressing issue for girls.
We spend the early afternoon with 6 girls in a very frank interview about lesbianism, bi-sexuality and how this has been met by the rest of the community. The girls are very confident about their sexuality despite the growing pressures they face. A few of the girls come from very religious backgrounds and have had to confront their own beliefs with their feelings, as homosexuality is not well respected by their communities. Among the township girls they are very aware that correctional rape is on the increase. They no longer feel safe to walk the streets for fear of attack.
As the afternoon draws to a close we head off with the crew to watch the sunset from a beautiful boulder perched at the top of a hill beside a granite mine. The vast expanse of the countryside opens before us. It is quiet aside from the distant sounds of children playing and the unmistakable beats of African music from the village nearby.