Steve-Steps toward medical research dreams with English School

Moving to a country that has 11 national languages and not being able to speak one of them is an unnerving experience. This was Steve’s experience when he moved to Cape Town for the first time. Not only could he not speak the languages, but he was unable to practice as a doctor any longer. Undaunted, Steve took the challenge as an opportunity and after lessons from Scalabrini English School he began teaching the beginners English classes – with dreams of creating his own medical research app bubbling to the foreground. 

The dream 

Armed with a dream, Steve left everything behind and moved to Cape Town. A medical doctor in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he was left with few options. Moving to South Africa however, meant that he was no longer able to be a practicing doctor because of the level of English required – Steve spoke no English, but his dream of creating a medical research app armoured him with ambition. 

Living in DRC and trying to bring his medical app to life was riddled with barriers. Steve reflects on the problems faced by the DRC and the problems that he faced personally; “we are not connected to the world and people don’t trust us because it’s a country with many different problems…Medicine is research, the people who find the diseases find the medicine, but for us (DRC) we are still in the same place.” The idea behind Steve’s app is to allow doctors and medical professionals across the world to communicate easily. 

We are all humans; we all have the same diseases. I want to create something where you can speak to people and everyone can have access to good medical advice and eventually medicine.” 

“Share research and share ideas” – this is the basis of the app. Due to conflict or lack of infrastructure, medicine and health care are inaccessible in many parts of the world. “We are all humans; we all have the same diseases. I want to create something where you can speak to people and everyone can have access to good medical advice and eventually medicine.” 

In the Scalabrini melting pot 

Being a part of Scalabrini has presented Steve with opportunities to interact with different people and gain insight into ideas and dreams from around the world. “I’ve never met an Egyptian, a Somalian or a Libyan, but I have here in South Africa – especially at Scalabrini. It is wonderful. They are very smart, they have big dreams and different objectives, but maybe in their countries they don’t have the opportunity to show what they can do in the world.” 

From French speaker to English teacher 

Before being able to springboard the app idea and gain insight into other people’s thoughts, Steve needed to learn English. “I came from a French speaking country to a country where people speak English. It wasn’t easy for me – I spoke no English when I arrived.” Learning to speak English was not a smooth road, but this did little to deter Steve. “I did my best and today I am happy to teach the newcomers at Scalabrini English School. People say I am a quiet person, but I am focused on my goal. Life is too short, and I have a big dream. It is not just for my country or for Africa, but for the world. The first step is communicating and getting people on board.” 

  

ove-letters-minister-motsoaledi

Love Letters to Motsoaledi

This Valetine’s day, we are sending #LoveLettersToMotsoaledi, calling on him to open dialogue with us on new refugee laws. #ChatUsUpMotsoaledi!

Under the new refugee law, asylum-seekers can be excluded from the asylum system more easily. This will only result in increased numbers of undocumented people – which is not in the interests of the individuals, nor the South African state itself.

We advocate for fair documentation in South Africa, ensuring all those within our borders are properly documented. We continue to highlight the need to implement wider visa options, as envisaged in the White Paper on International Migration. We also advocate for a safer, more efficient asylum system in South Africa, which will ensure protection to those that require it.

The new refugee laws prescribe that asylum-seekers apply for asylum within five days of arriving in South Africa. There are a limited number of Refugee Reception Offices across South Africa, and accessing them is very difficult. In light of this, it is unreasonable to demand that someone apply for asylum within five days of arrival without ensuring adequate capacity on the part of DHA.

Furthermore, under the new laws, any asylum-seeker visa that expires for one month or more ‘must be considered abandoned’. Extending an asylum seeker visa is not easy. It requires numerous visits to refugee reception offices. With such an inaccessible asylum system, it is inevitable that many asylum-seekers will – not for lack of trying –find that their asylum claim is considered ‘abandoned’. The risk of deportation that these asylum seekers will face will contravene the principle of non-refoulement and international refugee law. We have written to the Minister about this.

We call on the Department of Home Affairs to repeal these sections of the law. We invite the Department of Home Affairs to enter into a dialogue with civil society on how we can fix the asylum system, not break it further.

Under the new refugee laws, there are expanded grounds upon which a person can have their refugee status withdrawn by the South African government. This is known as ‘cessation’. In South Africa, refugee status ensures the protection of individuals fleeing conflict and persecution in their home countries. Withdrawing refugee status could put those people at risk of being deported to a country where there is a reasonable risk to their life. The South African government is bound, by international law, not to deport such people, in a principle known as non-refoulement.

Under the new refugee laws, for example, if a refugee ‘re-avails’ themselves of the protection of their country ‘in any way’, they risk having their refugee status withdrawn. In reality, this is difficult: refugees are required to provide official documentation, such as marriage certificates, to the South African government. Such documentation can often only be sourced from their embassies. However, interacting with embassies is now constitutes ‘re-availing’ oneself of one’s country of origin, which is a ground for the cancellation of refugee status.

We call on the Department of Home Affairs to repeal these sections of the law. We invite the Department of Home Affairs to enter into a dialogue with civil society on how we can fix the asylum system, not break it further.

Under the new Refugees Regulations, ‘no refugee or asylum seeker may participate in any political activity’. Refugee communities in South Africa have raised concern about this, as their political activity is often key to improve the very situations that caused them to flee their home country.

Moreover, freedom of expression is a basic right laid out in the South African constitution – and the new regulations infringe on this constitutional right.

We call on the Department of Home Affairs to repeal these sections of the law. We invite the Department of Home Affairs to enter into a dialogue with civil society on how we can fix the asylum system, not break it further.

volunteer cape town advocacy 06 01 20

Abel Longwe: Advocacy volunteer

Once Abel completes his studies, he will return home to Zambia and plans to continue the kind of advocacy work he has been doing at Scalabrini there. Read more about Able's experience below. 

“I have visited South Africa on several occasions, but the last 12 months have been the longest that I have remained in the country. I really love Cape Town as a city, especially the people and the fish and chips. This has been a great experience and opportunity to learn about the country’s history and cultural diversities. The Cape Town experience for me is unique in the sense that I have felt at home, partly because my home is only 5 hours away and also because of the cultural similarities between Zambia and South Africa. 

I am a legal practitioner and recently completed my LLM in Public International Law. I specialised in the protection of human rights of vulnerable persons in society, particularly children, women and refugees. 

“While South Africa may have some of the most progressive laws and policies in relation to the reception of refugees and asylum seekers, the practise on the ground is very different. I have been able to deal with real life problems and form part of the solution.” 

Scalabrini has a mandate that aligns to my personal interests and career path. I’m currently an advocacy intake officer and part of my job is giving advice to asylum seekers on the administrative procedures of applying for asylum in South Africa. The interesting part of my job is that it exposes me to a myriad of issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers. It is fulfilling to be a part of the solution. 

I have been exposed to a variance between law and practise, especially in the way government departments and service providers operate in regards to service delivery to refugees and asylum seekers. I have also been lucky to deal with a diverse set of individuals from different backgrounds and in the process I have harnessed being patient, attentive and compassionate. 

Through daily interactions with clients, I have learnt to draw a line between law and practise. While South Africa may have some of the most progressive laws and policies in relation to the reception of refugees and asylum seekers, the practise on the ground is very different. I have been able to deal with real life problems and form part of the solution.  

What stands out at Scalabrini is the work culture and the spirit of togetherness amongst the staff. There is great coordination between the various programmes and the fact that being an advocacy intern, I was required to have an understanding of all the various programmes that Scalabrini is involved in. This enabled me to go the extra mile and give advice to clients who may be in need of employment access, English lessons etc. 

My high moment at Scalabrini was when I was tasked to draft an appeal for a 14 year old who was abandoned by her father at the age of six and has been in foster care ever since. Her asylum claim was rejected as manifestly unfounded. Being tasked with such a responsibility was a great moment for me, but also gave me an insight as to what challenges individuals seeking asylum face within the system. This experience was also a low for me because my client was at risk of being stateless if her claim for asylum was not considered on its merits, which would in turn affect her education and ultimately her future. 

My future plans are to fully engage in similar work as what Scalabrini is involved in. I intend to return to Zambia after my studies to practise law, but also to do pro bono work; helping refugees and asylum seekers in detention in Zambia. I would also love to set up a refugee advocacy NGO with the aim of protecting refugee rights and engaging government in law and policy overhaul – especially as Zambia promotes encampment of refugees. I would love to see a shift in policy to allow full and immediate integration of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa.” 

success story womens platform 10 02 2020

Anna – From the confines of a cocoon to a butterfly with Women’s Platform

Young and ambitious, Anna – who has lived most of her life in South Africa – has found a home at Scalabrini, and hopes that her time here is a key step to achieving her goals.  

 Early life in South Africa 

In the 1990’s, at the age of 6 or 7, Anna fled the war in Angola with her siblings. Arriving in Cape Town was new and exciting. Anna was a bright-eyed child filled with buoyancy – but it was not to last. “When you are young, things are exciting, but when you settle in that’s when reality kicks in.” 

 “Initially I was happy when we arrived, but due to things that happened I had to come face-to-face with reality.” Financially, life was difficult. Anna’s sister had to buy goods in South Africa and sell them back in Angola; her brothers worked as security guards. Emotionally, life took a dip too; “I was not really supported because my sister was never there. She had to be in and out. I was a full-time student and a full-time mother to her four children. I had to do everything by myself. Then when you go to school, you get called names because you are not seen as part of, you are not welcome here.” 

“To see the women come into my class with a lack of confidence, and that transformation after 8 sessions – I see them like beautiful butterflies. They start in the cocoon and by the time the class is done, they are able to leave the cocoon with beautiful flowers, ready to conquer the world. For me that has been the best experience ever.”  

Something Anna did have in her younger years was education. “I am happy I came across a good principal. Due to me being very active at school, I was exempt from paying school fees.”  

 Documentation frustrations and finding home 

Anna’s frustration built up because of the Angolan Cessation Permit (a two-year temporary visa issued to Angolan refugees upon the cancellation of their status). Home Affairs was refusing to renew her permit, meaning that she could not work or study. “Then I decided to be proactive and come to Scalabrini to see where I can get involved.” Anna started in Personal Development with Women’s Platform and joined BASP to continue her studies. This was a big win, as she had previously been unable to continue her studies.  

 “When I walked into Scalabrini, I just got the feeling that this is home, this is where I’m meant to be. I just keep asking myself why I didn’t come earlier.” Anna reflects on the impact that Scalabrini has had, helping her to become a better person and leader, as well as helping with her documents. Her sister decided to return home to Angola as there were too many difficulties with her documents, but her brothers are still here.  

 Realising her dreams and giving other women the opportunity to do the same 

Anna hopes to continue empowering women through personal development. Her dreams extend as far as the big screen, where one day she hopes to see her films and animations. Scalabrini has put her in contact with a director who is now Anna’s mentor. “My hope for the future is to have my cartoons, my movies, finish my education and still continue empowering women through personal development.” 

 “For me having gone through personal development to now go on to leading PD has been amazing. To see the women come into my class with a lack of confidence, and that transformation after 8 sessions; I see them like beautiful butterflies. They start in the cocoon and by the time the class is done, they are able to leave the cocoon with beautiful flowers, ready to conquer the world. For me that has been the best experience ever.”