In Navigating a better future

July Blog: Josh's First Month

This has been a crazy few weeks here in the Cape Flats. The Compass
Trust has trusted me to carry on many of the non-admin-related
responsibilities that Matt had been doing alone, although he's too
humbled to own up to the sheer amount of work he has taken upon
himself & the initiative required for him to complete as much as he
has over the last year. His passion for this project and these local
partnerships is nothing short of inspiring.

It's a surreal experience to have to begin each P.E. Class by
reminding the children that if we're outside and gun shots go off, we
must immediately hit the ground and stay there until I give the signal
for us to go back inside, at which time class is cut short. This
happened on Monday, where gun shots went off just outside the school's
fenced-off playground. Most of the kids were giggling flat on the
ground, while some kids were still standing trying to see which gang
was doing the shooting, and only reluctantly got on the ground when I
yelled at them. Luckily, the gunshots lasted only for a moment and
didn't continue throughout the rest of day. This is the sad,
normalized reality for many of them who have immediate relatives and
friends who are part of these gangs. Many of these 10 to 14 year old
kids see their only perceivable future beyond the three meter walls of
the school.

I asked them why they were laughing when we went back inside. It fell
silent. None of them had an answer. I took off my sunglasses and
looked them all in the eyes, got on their level, and asked again as
sincerely I could, telling them there's no wrong answer; I just didn't
understand what was funny. Still nothing. Before sending them back to
their classroom I explained to them how this shouldn't be normal for
them. They deserve to live in an environment where they're not under
fear of falling under crossfire from gangsters with terrible aim. It's
up to them to resist the temptation coming from their friends and
families to join these gangs, because it's terrible for everyone in
the community– not just our P.E. Class. They were much more solemn
when I dismissed them. I suspect their laughter is a coping mechanism
to deal with the harsh realities they face at home and at school.

Perhaps the anecdote above might help explain why there are so few
NGO's and NPO's working in this area due to the high level of risk for
any kind of self-funded volunteer program.

I have to say though, I love working working with the kids here; they
have so much resilience and strength. I love being able to see how The
Compass Trust's work is so vital for sustainably and effectively
alleviating the cycle of poverty within Lavender Hill by tapping into
this resilience of these kids' upbringings and showing them a way to a
better future through higher education.

Before I continue about what exactly we've been doing in The Compass
Trust and our formal/informal partnerships, perhaps a little context
about myself might be appropriate. I'm an American citizen, brought up
in California, Texas, and the Netherlands where I met Matt and we
played on the same soccer team for some years. Matt and I hadn't
really spoken much for the last 8 years or so, but our paths had
paralleled in many ways and we remained Facebook friends, as people
do. Both of us had similar humbling experiences that made us ask the
difficult existential questions like "what impact do I want my life to
make in this world; what makes me feel fulfilled?". While trying to
answer these questions, we were subsequently led to parts of the world
outside our comfort zone to start our own initiatives. Our aims were
similar, create outside-the-box sustainable programs that could
continue their growth while alleviating problems in areas that would
never affect us if we hadn't taken the time to care. I attribute this
to a strong sense of solidarity-without-borders which arose from
having the opportunity to grow up internationally.
The initiative I started is in Palestine where I found much of what I
had learned about the "conflict" from an American perspective simply
wasn't true, and took the unique approach of starting a recycling
business there to create sustainable difference and alleviate some of
the socio-political problems there at the same time. While there, I
found myself in stressful situations where I heard gun shots and
excessive amounts of tear gas being fired at protestors on their own
land. This is probably what qualified me to come work here in Lavender
Hill, although I must say the gun shots from pistols sound
significantly different than semi-automatic military grade weapons.
Still, as one of the teachers here told me, "these bullets have no
name on them, they will fire anywhere and kill anyone who might be
unlucky enough to be in the way".

Anyway, enough about that; let me tell you about all the positive
developments that we have been up to lately. (:

Over the past few weeks, Jamie and myself have begun sending out
proposals to various companies hoping they might have tax-deductible
CSI money to give so that we can provide the transport necessary for
the 15 scholarship kids. If you keep up with this blog I'm sure you
may be familiar with the concept, but we're trying to provide the
transport for these kids so they can get picked up within a walking
distance from home. We don't want to ask too much of these kids'
parents, but at the same time we're not just giving away free handouts
without any effort and communication expected. It's a fine balance to
find, but in our meeting last Friday at Levana Primary, Jamie and Ms.
Charity helped deliver inspirational discussions on what we expect
from the parents in cooperation with what we're providing. Jamie's
testimony on how he's made something of his life after growing up in
Mitchell's Plain (another notoriously poor township) through the help
from his parents always encouraging and being there for him by
investing in his future. Something in the parents shifted during that
powerful meeting, and it was strong enough to be felt. I'm so
confident in what we're doing here, and what will continue to be done
for the future of these 15 kids. In regards to developments on the
transportation, we have a few more potential leads with various local
sports drinks, banks, and the national lottery that we are currently
working on sending proposals to, and we feel confident we'll have
something solidified in the next month.

This Saturday, the 30th, we have organized a Braai (South African BBQ)
at the Vrygrond Community Lab for a quite a few reasons. In essence,
In no particular order these are:
1.	We can advertise the computer courses we're providing for all ages
and skills (many have zero experience using a computer)
2.	We can break down the barrier many might have of actually stopping
by the VCL to see what we're all about, and also associate good times,
community, & food with the potential learning environment.
3.	We have created a one-page survey in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa
that must be filled out in order for them to receive free food that
asks which, if any, bank they use, why they don't have a bank. We plan
on using these for statistical purposes to be part of our proposals to
the Banks around here who could benefit from sponsoring a
transportation van for the 15 scholarship kids from Lavender Hill.
4.	I will be getting lots of footage to use for a short advertisement
I'll be making for the VCL (more about that later).

We're pretty excited about the event, and our plan is to do it every 2
- 3 months in the future. There's plenty of incentives we're providing
for people to come, from a local DJ & guest speaker to prizes such as
free computer courses or an even an extra computer we have, as well as
free food and drink provided upon the completion of the survey
mentioned above.

Our social media accounts for the VCL have been up and running and
gaining new followers and exposure every day since I set them up a few
weeks ago. While many do not have access to computers, the advent of
cheap smartphone technology has made it possible to connect many
within these communities through social media platforms like Facebook,
Instagram, Google+, and Twitter. We've taken advantage of this to
encourage people to try the computer courses we've been developing
with InitiAID. In the last few weeks we've built some solid syllabi
that teach all kinds of basic computer skills from hardware functions
to software navigation; we've even developed an introductory course
for programming.

One of my skills/hobbies that is being utilized here is my video
production experience. I've taken on the job of producing a short,
catchy video for the Vrygrond Community Lab as a way to advertise
further to the community in the form of something that can be shared
between smart phones without costing too much data.

I also plan on making a video for The Compass Trust, to basically
summarize what the Non-Profit is all about, what our motivations are,
and where we hope to go in the future. I've been busy collecting all
kinds of B-Roll & interview footage for this, and will soon be getting
interview footage of Jamie as well to use in the video. Our plan is to
get Jamie's wife Celeste to do the voice-over narration so that we can
further emphasize how this is a South African project empowering
people locally from within these communities.

We also plan on getting interview footage of each of these 15
scholarship kids with the intention of putting them up on their
recently-launched Levana page (see: so that people
helping these kids get through school can perhaps have a better
human-connection to who they're helping. In addition, we hope that
each of these kids will be able to someday look back on themselves and
see what their goals were should they ever feel discouraged, and serve
as a motivational tool for when school gets increasingly difficult to
continue working as hard as they do to create a better future for

On the side, I've been working with the Surf Outreach here in
Muizenberg, helping with some of these kids by doing basic music
therapy in drum circles and hip-hop workshops. Hopefully we'll have
something really cool coming down the pipes in the next month in the
form of a music video.

I'd like to encourage anyone reading this to find their own passions
and skills that can be used to help others. Especially in today's
global political climate it can feel helpless, but it's crucial to
find what makes you fulfilled and pursue it, because that inner sense
of contentment won't come through mind-numbing distractions and
escapist pursuits. All these things come with patience and diligent
efforts, but honestly, I must say I have the best job(s) in the world
& I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

In Solidarity,


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