Princeton University

Class of 1995

Summer Service Fund Reports


Report from South Africa by Camille Norana Coates '06

South Africa
Summer 2006

Sanibonani!  Greetings!

I am writing to thank you for sponsoring my volunteer internship at Makaphutu Children's Village in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  For the past three months I have been living and working with children made vulnerable by societal problems of unemployment, poverty, and HIV/AIDS.  Some were formerly living on the street, others were abandoned, orphaned, or abused.  A few were born HIV-positive and are living strong.  The experience of teaching, caring for, and loving these kids changed my life.  I was humbled and inspired by Makaphutu youth, who showed me what it means to persevere in the presence of life's most difficult challenges.

During my stay at Makaphutu I served multiple roles.  My primary task was to spend time with the kids after school.  I also was a homework tutor, counselor, and diaper-changer.  On Sundays I took a group to the Baptist church up the hill for service.  I also took children to the hospital clinic to test for HIV or check CD-4 counts (monitoring the progress of the virus).  KwaZulu-Natal, an area with a 40.7% HIV prevalence rate amongst pregnant women, is an area with one of the highest rates of HIV in the world.  It is also home to some of the most overcrowded and under-resourced hospitals I have ever seen.  The average wait per visit was 7 hours.  Old men and women were lying and sitting on the floor, waiting.  Hospital visits taught me patience.  I also learned to be well prepared, packing "comfort foods" for the kids to ease their trepidation.    

My personal background growing up in the rural Hawaiian town of Hana, Maui allowed me to share the songs and dance of my culture with the children at Makaphutu.  I was in charge of the music program, coordinating a performance with the Vukani (Wake Up) Youth Development Project's talent venue to keep kids off the street and off drugs.  We performed for the VYDP event - the girls danced a beautiful hula with flowers in their hair and pareos around their waists while I sang and played ukulele.  The kids also performed traditional Zulu dance, which they tried to teach me.  I struggled because Zulu dance requires you to kick your leg up to your head and then stomp it back down in a heartbeat!  We performed for the regional Rotary Club as well, as they help to fund Makaphutu Children's Village.

I noticed that the literacy levels at Makaphutu were strikingly low.  Most of the house-mothers could not read, and the books available were incomprehensible to the kids.  The books were in English and Afrikaans, way beyond the reading level of the children.  Through my research on literacy development, I know the importance of learning to read in the home language (isiZulu).  My research had connected me to the coordinators of IsiQalo (First Words in Print), a literacy program at the Centre for the Book.  The organization publishes reading picture books in children's home languages and distributes them to homes in informal settlements, township locations, and rural areas.  Written and illustrated by South Africans, the books depict stories and scenes that are culturally relevant.  I approached the regional Rotary Club for funds to purchase reading materials from IsiQalo.  A few weeks later, hundreds of beginning reading books in seSotho, isiXhosa, and especially isiZulu arrived at Makaphutu.

I am determined to maintain my sisterly role in these children's lives for as long as I live.  Your great assistance in helping to make this dream of mine possible will never be forgotten.  Through your funding I was able to follow my passion for helping children, and hopefully make a positive impact on their lives.  Thank you very much - ngiyabonga kakhulu!

Usale kahle,

Camille Norana Coates


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