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Building Community in South Africa

On a recent summer evening, Kaia Davis ’10 witnessed a scene that could have come straight from an episode of “Survivor”— if the show had a social justice angle. A group of reality show contestants from an impoverished community in East London, South Africa, crowded around a campfire. Instead of eating grubs or hiking through a jungle, their challenge was to make t-shirts for a 90,000 rand contract. It was one installment in a reality television series called “Kwanda,” pioneered by the Kwanda project.

The Kwanda project was started by a Johannesburg-based, non-governmental organization in partnership with the nation’s television channel, the South Africa Broadcasting Company. It encourages South African residents to rebuild their communities by establishing their own commercial enterprises and becoming more educated about crime, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and substance abuse.

Thanks to Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, Davis, a political science major with a minor in economics, is interning with an affiliate of the Kwanda project, the Institute of Training and Education for Capacity-Building. This non-governmental organization provides opportunities for entrepreneurship, education, and life skills to disadvantaged communities throughout the Eastern Cape Province

Davis is living in Pefferville, one of five communities across the country chosen to participate in “Kwanda.” Viewers will vote on the winning community based on which has transformed the most.

In addition to reviewing scripts, assisting camera crews, and attending production meetings for the show, Davis works closely with three coaches who support Pefferville’s enterprise, Masakhe i Paradise (or Building Our Paradise). By teaching computer and organizational skills, editing professional documents, and suggesting possibilities for improvement, Davis is helping ensure that their business thrives.

The project, she says, is also fostering a stronger sense of empathy among the people of Pefferville since they “are actively… overcoming poverty and unemployment in addition to personal grudges and arguments.”

She also sees the Kwanda project as helping mend social relations across the board in South Africa’s highly fractured, post apartheid society. “Citizenship is all about being an active citizen and advocating for your community, your region, your country,” she says.

While she emphasizes that she has minimal direct involvement in the television show, since it is meant “for [Pefferville residents] to transform their community on their own,” she is contributing her ideas in key ways, especially in assisting the creation of a support group for residents with HIV/AIDS. In addition, she teaches children about peace, teamwork, and respect at the Pefferville Primary School.

She has also helped interview residents for positions in a new government-funded program that will continue initiatives that the Kwanda project has started, such as cleaning up Pefferville’s streets.

Even though racism, crime, and safety concerns have complicated Davis’s work at times, she remains impressed by the warmth of the Pefferville community and has realized that stereotypes of township residents as “underprivileged and uneducated” are misconceived. Says Davis, “I have rarely been shown so much compassion.”

—Nicole Gervasio, BMC ‘10

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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