Reflections on migration : Lea

The team at The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town (SCCT) works with people who are migrants and refugees every day. With such deep expertise at hand, we take the opportunity to reflect on migration with them. This month we speak to Lea Liekefedt, who spent six months volunteering with Women’s Platform

Growing up in a multi-cultural part of Germany and hearing stories about her grandmother being a refugee of war, Lea has always had an acute awareness of migration. At university, Lea studied political science and focused her research on the shortcomings of migration policies in Europe. It was during this time that Lea developed a critical stance on Europe’s existing migration policies.

Whilst volunteering at the ‘jungles’ in Calais, France, Lea realised that she wanted to “put theory into practice and support women on the ground. They  are the most vulnerable to suffer from the consequences of involuntary migration and inadequate gender policies.” Lea has seen this to be true in Europe and South Africa. “There is a lot of rhetoric, but it is not practical.”

Volunteering with Women’s Platform allowed Lea to work directly with and learn from women on the move. “There are so many struggles that these women go through and the pandemic has put them into an even more vulnerable state.”

Women’s Platform acted quickly to adapt their programme, to ensure they could still support women in their network during South Africa’s lockdown. “Sometimes we were not able to reach everyone, even with all the effort that was put in,” explains Lea when talking about the challenges that Women’s Platform faced. “We know they are there and need support, but getting the access to them during the pandemic could sometimes be difficult due to internet connection for instance.” She also notes that even with these difficulties, “the women are experts at survival” and many were able to connect and build communities around them even during the isolating times.

The Women’s Platform team are motivated by the women themselves – their stories, their drive and their resilience. “They bring so much light and joy, despite the hardships that they face…We are able to relate on womanhood even though we all come from very different backgrounds.”

On finishing her placement with Women’s Platform, Lea has left South Africa feeling inspired by the women she was working with. For example, Lea met women in their 40’s focusing on starting their education again or starting new jobs. “As a young woman myself, it’s inspiring to see that.”

Lea has witnessed women within the platform who were once shy and timid, become confident community leaders. She emphasises that taking care of women’s needs and promoting independence paves the way to sustainable development in society. “When we focus on the stories told by those most affected by inequalities, we can have sustainable development and better policies.”

Lea supports governments’ development policy that recognises women as the fabric of society. “They bear the burden of supporting families and they carry the experiences of their families – there need to be more safe spaces for women and more support. This includes women who are originally from South Africa and women who are not.”

“Migration is part of our global history.” Drawing from her own personal experiences and from what she has learnt at SCCT, Lea has seen that migration across the world is inevitable. She believes that seeing migration as an opportunity and allowing skilled women from other countries to work in their professions would benefit the South African economy. “I noticed that there is such a bureaucratic burden for women who are highly skilled to get access to jobs because of immigration and documentation issues.”

Within the Women’s Platform, Lea has met a woman who got her education in South Africa and has qualified as a teacher, but is unable to work due to her documentation. “Great teachers are needed everywhere, especially female teachers who introduce students to new cultures.” She has met many women within the platform who want to be active in and beneficial to South African communities. There are nurses from DRC who aim to educate people on HIV/AIDS and other women who run their own schemes to feed the homeless. “That’s what’s important about Women’s Platform. It’s a journey. During the journey, the women get a sense of community, but also a sense of responsibility to society.”

Lea is about to start her Masters in Development Studies. “With the work at Scalabrini and supporting the Women’s Platform, I hope to play a little role in re-establishing a sense of fairness and opportunity in a practical way.”

Woman here, woman there

Two women from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola describe women’s rights and realities in their home country compared with their experiences in South Africa. 

More and more women are migrating. Research shows that the number of women migrating to South Africa has quadrupled since 1990. From available statistics, we can deduce that there are roughly 1.7 million women who have migrated to South Africa. Women who migrate are faced with added barriers to documentation and services – and are more likely to face challenges finding work. These issues are recognized by the international community and have resulted in various efforts to address this – such as the Sustainable Development Goals working towards gender equality and the ending of all forms of discrimination against women and girls.  

Several international legal frameworks exist specifically to protect and uplift women in the African context. For example, in 2003, the African Union adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in AfricaStates undertook to ‘combat all forms of discrimination against women through appropriate legislative, institutional and other measures’, as well as providing educational measures, laws and action to end such discrimination. 

The Women’s Platform at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town brings together women through training and development programmes. The platform works with women who have migrated to South Africa from all corners of Africa. 

Mary (not her real name) came to South Africa when she was 11 years old. She remembers fleeing the war in Angola with her family when ‘one day, a tank rolled into our yard. The soldiers just bent the burglar bars at the window and raided our house.’  She has lived in South Africa several decades and considers herself African above all else. ‘When people ask me, I say that I am an African who just resides in South Africa,’ she explains. ‘I tell them to go back to their family tree and they will see that we are all a mix and inter-related somehow. Self-identity is defined by who you are simply as a person.’ 

Nadia (not her real name) fled the war zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo and sought safety in South Africa. Building up a life in South Africa has been very difficult. She is undertaking courses with the Women’s Platform in a hope of finding work. 

Mary’s mother – who has vivid memories of life in Angola – forms much of Mary’s ability to compare realities for women in South Africa and Angola.  

“My mum has a motto,” explains Mary. “She says, ‘when you are in the country where everyone is dancing on one leg, you do the same’. The rhythm of South Africa is that there are women’s rights.” Indeed, the need and ability of women to make business in South Africa is an important comparative point for Mary. “In your home country, you can relax a bit more as you have family around. Here in South Africa, you need to have a purpose as a woman; you must push and make a living. Men cannot decide where you live or what work you do.” 

Inspired by her mother’s tenacious approach to business, Mary is using her learnings and experiences at Women’s Platform to become a ‘humble leader’ and seek opportunities to empower other entrepreneurial women. 

Nadia echoes Mary’s recognition of wider women’s rights in South Africa – but also sees that in reality, this is limited. “South Africa values and promotes women’s rights, but in reality, it is difficult as I don’t feel like a citizen.” The barriers faced as a non-citizen in South Africa make it difficult to compare access to rights back home. Within her own family life, however, the woman’s role has changed since being in South Africa. “Back home, women have no say in front of men,” she reflects. “There are even certain foods that women cannot eat, for example. Here, I have freedom of speech. It is totally different in Congo DRC. When you want to raise your voice as a woman in Congo DRC, they will give you names.” 

However, there are many similar struggles faced by women in both places that Nadia has lived. Violence against women in DRC and South Africa, although different in its nature and context, is a threat and danger that has followed Nadia during her migration.  

Nadia is keen to see women speak out about gender-based violence. She notices that even the Congolese community in South Africa speak privately about the violence they face but are scared to speak publicly. “My biggest message to tell women across Africa is not to fear. We need to come together and stand up to these fears that we have as women.” 

Asylum and Refugee Documents during South Africa’s Covid-19 National Lockdown

Migration was greatly affected by the South African national lockdown. Initially, travelers from ‘high-risk’ countries were banned from entering South Africa and, during parts of the lockdown, all of South Africa’s land borders were completely closed.

For international migrants already living in South Africa, the announcement of the national lockdown brought confusion and fear around their documentation and legal stay in the country during the pandemic.

‘I cannot ignore the expiry date on my refugee status’

Around 188,000 people in South Africa hold asylum seeker documentation, and around 173,000 people hold refugee documentation. Asylum seeker documentation is typically valid for anything between one and six months.

Therefore, by September 2020, every single person on asylum seeking documentation in South Africa would hold an expired permit.

‘For me it was scary,’ says Muholeza, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). ‘I cannot ignore the expiry date on my refugee status’. Concerned at how the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) would deal with expiring asylum and refugee documentation, Muholeza awaited announcements from the government. ‘I had no idea how they are going to deal with the numbers of people who have expired.’

A blanket extension

Three months after the initial lockdown was announced, on 10 June 2020, the South African government announced in Gazetted Amended Directions that all asylum and refugee documentation that had expired since the beginning of lockdown – 15 March 2020 – would be subject to a blanket extension for a period of four months. We welcomed this announcement as it provided clarity for many of our clients and the wider asylum and refugee population of South Africa. This extension was extended another four times (July 2020, September 2020, January 2021 and most recently in March 2021). Currently, refugee and asylum documentation that has expired on or since 15 March 2020 is considered valid until 30 June 2021

Accessing services during the pandemic

In theory, this blanket extension meant that people holding recently expired asylum or refugee documents in South Africa would be able to continue accessing banking, employment and other services. For many people, this indeed worked. For example, The Banking Association of South Africa confirmed that their banks did not automatically restrict such bank accounts as a result of expired asylum or refugee documentation. Of some help was a specific announcement by the Department of Home Affairs that ‘all the rights, benefits and obligations of asylum seekers and refugees remain the same.’ For many clients, blockages in accessing banking or employment were lifted once the government regulations were printed and presented by the client.

However, for some of our clients, accessing services with seemingly expired documentation was difficult. As the lockdown lifted slightly, some wondered why the Refugee Reception Offices could not reopen, considering other services and offices were beginning to open their doors. ‘, I could not see a reasonable argument why Refugee Reception Offices were still closed when they opened up public transport, churches and Home Affairs civic services. The same measures that were applied in those areas could have been applied at the Refugee Reception Office too, such as distancing and 50% capacity.’

Providing remote assistance

During the pandemic, Scalabrini’s Advocacy Programme provided information to clients remotely, using its Advocacy Hotline. Initially, many clients could not access banking, or were facing problems securing their employment, due to the seemingly expired documentation that they were holding. “Failure to provide an updated Section 22 and Section 24 documents meant an inability to access banking services,” recalls Ellen Chirima, Advocacy Officer at Scalabrini, who worked on the Advocacy Hotline. “People were concerned about losing their jobs due to expired documentation and students were worried that their studies would be disrupted due to the failure to submit up to date documents”.

Governmental directives that confirmed the blanket extension for recently expired asylum and refugee documentation assisted such clients. “The blanket extensions provided relief to an extent,” says Ellen, who estimated that about 70% of clients she encountered were able to access previously blocked services once they had the government directives at hand. “For example, in cases where clients had been stopped from going to work, we would reach out to the employer and explain the validity of the Section 22 or Section 24 documents with the backing of the Directions.”

Post-covid: A new online system and mixed feelings

Prior to the pandemic, extending an asylum or refugee document at one of the government’s Refugee Reception Offices was a lengthy task. Muholeza describes it as being a ‘full day commitment.’ In some cases, it required travelling long distances.

A recent report found that 60% of asylum respondents’ adjudications took over five years and – as asylum documentation is issued for anything between one and six months – this would mean multiple trips to Refugee Reception Offices. Eddy (not his real name), also from DRC, has been in the asylum system for 12 years. ‘Before the pandemic, I was having to go to Home Affairs every month. I used to arrive at 3am, and that way I knew I would get inside.’

The most recent DHA directives point to a new system, that moves away from clients going to the Refugee Reception Offices in person. DHA has developed an online system that will allow for the extension of asylum and refugee documentation. (See our infographic here for details on the online system.)

‘For someone like me, who does everything online, I think it will be a relief,’ says Muholeza. ‘But I am still skeptical around it. I can only hope that their service will be efficient.‘ Eddy shares a similar sentiment. ‘For some people, it will be good. But, before covid-19, in Pretoria (Refugee Reception Office), the system was often offline. This online system is fine but we know Home Affairs is the ‘king of offline’ – so I am concerned about this.’

Post-covid: A new online system and mixed feelings

The online renewal system is up and running. Documents are issued using a password-protected PDF. Whilst we welcome this move to an online system, we have yet to see how it will function with larger numbers of applicants. Awareness around the use of these online-issued refugee and asylum documents needs to be heightened as services like banks, schools and workplaces become accustomed to using these documents and verifying them using the email addresses on the document itself.

If you want more information about this, please read our infographic on the online asylum/refugee extension system, and keep updated on our news page or social media

Going Home: In memory of Appo*

Thousands of clients walk through Scalabrini’s doors every year. As staff, we have different types of interaction with each client. In some cases, different teams get involved to find a solution. Some stories stay with you forever. Appo will remain someone particularly important to us as a team.

This is in memory of Appo, and is dedicated to his family, wherever they might be.

Falling sick far from home

Appo* was from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He migrated to South Africa in 2011. He started a life in Cape Town, but the following year in 2012, he suffered a gunshot wound to the head and his chin was damaged. The wound resulted in cancer, affecting his face. He was treated in the hospital and underwent surgery and different therapies. Appo was becoming increasingly sick and, unable to work, he also lost his job. Sadly, the hospital told him there was nothing more that could be done. Recognizing that he was terminally ill, Appo began to want to return to his homeland.

A final wish to return home

Despite it being uncomfortable to move, Appo got onto public transport and often came to Scalabrini. When Appo decided that he wished to return home for his final months, he approached the Welfare Team at Scalabrini for assistance. At that point, they could not assist him in returning home; and as Appo had no other means to leave, it seemed that Appo was trapped in South Africa.

He was renting a small room and Scalabrini assisted with transport, and rent, and was helped by his local church. It was increasingly difficult for Appo to move around and to speak, because the illness was affecting his facial abilities. Finally, Welfare was put in touch with a private donor who was willing to fund the flight home.

One would imagine that the return home of a terminally ill person would be a relatively simple, smooth process. But assisting with the return of Appo took the full force of the Welfare and Advocacy teams combined.

Ensuring a dignified return

Normally, returning to your country of origin is a complex administrative process; you must hold official documentation to both leave South Africa and enter your country. The Advocacy Programme  worked with the Department of Home Affairs to cancel Appo’s asylum documentation – a process that typically takes months. Simultaneously, the Congolese authorities had to recognize him as a citizen in issuing emergency travel documentation. For each of these processes, many other documents are required. Above this, the Welfare and Advocacy Teams worked to ensure he would be accepted on the flight as he was at stage four cancer. This process required Appo to come in and out of Scalabrini and to various places, which must have been exhausting for him.

Taking flight

Finally, after many hurdles and difficulties – which we were all aware fell mainly on Appo’s shoulders – Appo was on the plane to DRC. It was his first time on a plane, and he was alone and not well. Complications led to him being denied entry to the connecting flight in Johannesburg, and the Scalabrini team in Johannesburg were able to assist him in providing shelter and medical assistance before rearranging his boarding on the next flight to DRC.

Final words

Finally, Etienne received a call from a Congolese number. It was an official at the airport in Congo, who called to say that Appo was at the airport but no one was there to collect him. We believe that his family, with whom we had been in touch, had not been able to afford the journeys to the airport from the village and had perhaps suffered a break-down in communication as Appo was not on two previous flights that he was meant to be on.

The church network was alerted and a local priest from Lubumbashi was able to collect and host Appo. We asked to speak to him, but the journey seemed to have exhausted him as the priest told us that Appo was not able to speak anymore. Such a journey is exhausting for a person in good health, let alone someone in Appo’s state. Appo stayed at the church in Lubumbashi, where he was looked after by the church staff as best they could.

Weeks later, we received news that Appo had passed away. It brought us sadness and, to some degree, relief – because Appo was in pain and all he wanted to do was go home. Whilst he was not with his family, he at least passed away in his hometown of Lubumbashi, on his own soil, and was not alone.

We never got to speak again to his family, but we often think of them and wish them the best, as well as everyone who helped Appo along his way – from airport officials to priests. In memory of Appo, who fought until the end.

*Names have been changed to protect his identity.

Writing her own way

Geruza, who arrived in South Africa from Angola as a two-year-old, has carved a life in Johannesburg’s metropolis. Faced with documentation and identity challenges, Geruza escaped into literature. Her writing skills have now led her to an opportunity to study Creative Writing at Masters level.

In Angola, wars raged for 27 years. Amidst that conflict was Maria, a single mother of three young children. She fled Angola’s civil war with her children, making her way southwards to South Africa.

One of her young children was Geruza. ‘We arrived in South Africa in 1995, when I was only two years old,’ Geruza explains. ‘I have no memory of Angola or our arrival here.’ Within the metropolis of Johannesburg, Geruza’s mother worked several jobs to provide for her family.

Her mother’s determination to succeed was passed down to Geruza – who drew from her mother’s story for her own strength. ‘It didn’t seem to matter how difficult things got, my siblings knew that as long as we had each other, we could overcome anything.’ Together, her family navigated life as refugees in early democratic South Africa. ‘In South Africa, having pride in one’s cultural heritage has always been part of the fabric of the nation.’ Neither fully South African nor fully Angolan, Geruza struggled to define her heritage, and with time found her roots within her family unit.

‘As an outsider, literature has always been my home.’

‘As a teenager, I always felt like I didn’t quite fit in. I struggled a lot and spent my school lunch breaks huddled in the school library,’ she explains. ‘And because English was the language my siblings and I used at home, coupled with all the books I was reading – I excelled in English literature and creative writing at school.’

The school library offered a refuge for Geruza. ‘Writing has always allowed me to be me – it was an outlet where I could express my identity as I experienced it,’ she explains. ‘Reading introduced me to new worlds, experiences and people with stories very similar to my journey.’ Immersing herself in literature as a young girl, Geruza had already begun a journey that would pave the way to her future career.

An unticked box: living without an ID number

Geruza worked hard at school, and was awarded a year’s merit bursary to study at the University of Johannesburg. Propelled by a lived experience of injustice, she enrolled to study law. ‘My passion for social justice stemmed from the injustice I experienced living as a refugee. We were denied so much and I saw and experienced the impact. I wanted to be empowered with knowledge, to bring about change.’ she says. Once at university – aside from volunteering at human rights NGOs – she held down three jobs whilst balancing the full-time degree.

But this hard work was not enough to overcome certain administrative barriers. ‘My mum raised us saying that if we work hard, we will do well. So, my siblings and I went through life always ticking the check boxes. But the one box that no one told us about was having a South African ID number.’

Crushingly, in her second year of the law degree, during a module about the requirements to be admitted as an attorney, Geruza realized that she would not be able to practice law in South Africa due to her documentation status.

The cessation of refugee status

In May 2013, the South African government announced the cancellation, or cessation, of all Angolans’ refugee statuses in the country. This affected an estimated 8,000 Angolan people on refugee status at the time. Geruza and her family were some of the 2,000 people that opted to remain in South Africa on a ‘special permit.’ The permit was known as the ‘Angolan Cessation Permit’ (ACP). It was pasted into an Angolan passport and it was valid for two years.

‘I was concerned because my degree was 4 years and I needed a permit that reflected this.’ The ACP permit expired in 2015 – before she was due to graduate. Geruza pushed to complete her studies, with the stress of knowing she could not practice law thereafter, and that her permit was soon expiring. ‘I felt that I was always on borrowed time, due to the papers expiring … but I was only the second member of my family to go to varsity so I pushed through’. She graduated with an LLB in 2015.

Borrowed time and piles of books

In that same year, all ACP permits expired. The Department of Home Affairs did not intend to extend them, and the Angolan former refugee population was faced with an uncertain future in South Africa. For Geruza, whose family had been in South Africa for over 20 years and who had no living memory of Angola, this was an impossible situation as there was nothing to return to Angola to.

Unable to work or study, she immersed herself in her writing. ‘The year that we were waiting on decision on our documentation, I escaped back into books and wrote vigorously.’ It was during this time that Geruza really grew and developed her writing portfolio.

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town advocated for permanent residency to be granted to ACP permit holders. Following a lengthy legal negotiation, the Department of Home Affairs agreed to allow ACP applicants to make application to permanent residency in South Africa. Geruza, who is well accustomed to the struggles of remaining on valid documentation in South Africa, heard that The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town was collecting applications for permanent residency. She and her family took a 19-hour bus from Johannesburg to Cape Town to submit their paperwork. And, when a new permit was granted (the Angolan Special Permit), they again returned by bus to apply for this new permit, and then again to collect the permit. The Angolan Special Permits expire on 31 December 2021.

California calling

Working as a freelance editor and copywriter, Geruza managed to support herself and her family. Geruza found comfort and inspiration in books by similarly placed people – people who had fled as refugees, who had to be headstrong, who survived the uncertainty. As Geruza describes, ‘living the life of a refugee means everything is uncertain. You are taught to take what opportunities comes and make something of it.’

In 2019, one such opportunity came to Geruza: a friend told her about a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Chapman University in California and advised her to apply. Geruza submitted her portfolio of writing – much of it compiled under the stress of a semi-documented state in South Africa – and awaited a response.

She has been accepted onto the Master’s program with partial funding. Geruza is determined to complete her MFA and has made applications to source the remaining funds – using the determination that was perhaps set in her by the same determination of her own mother, back in the 1990s.

Emerging African writers taking center stage

Geruza is due to be in California in August this year. Her experience in South Africa has set the tone for her future plans. ‘I want to get into publishing and seek to promote emerging African writers – encouraging them to tell their stories.’

Throughout the stormy landscapes of her journey as a refugee, it is Geruza’s family unit that has offered sanctuary and a strong sense of identity. The prospect of leaving her family for a brief period is daunting. ‘I get emotional when I think about starting a new chapter without my family at my side. But I truly believe there’s a reason I was called to write – and I look forward to becoming a master of my craft.’

New perspectives on being a leader

To Aza, a leader has always been “a person in the spotlight” – someone who leads from the front. Joining UNITE has given Aza a new perspective on what it means to be a leader. She now believes that a leader is someone who pushes others forward and offers them the support to believe in themselves. This has been Aza’s experience of UNITE. Although 2021 has had an uncertain start, Aza is looking forward to being able to begin her first year of university.  

Aza was in her final year of high school when South Africa announced its first Covid-19 cases. Schools closed down and students were left uncertain. “It was hard to believe at first!” explains Aza. “This was my matric year – how could this happen?” Aza felt like her life had come to a standstill and she was filled with feelings of frustration.  

Although times were difficult, Aza learnt to value the things that she has. She was surrounded by support structures; her family, UNITE and other school clubs. Aza knew that when times were difficult, she could contact any of the UNITE facilitators. For example, when Aza and her family were running low on food supplies, UNITE quickly stepped in to assist. “I felt very supported by UNITE during the lockdown.”  

Aza has been provisionally accepted to study Business Management, but she is waiting for her matric results to be released before she can get started. “It seems like it’s still 2020. I feel like my year hasn’t really started because I haven’t started university.” 

Aza joined UNITE as a way to combat low confidence. “In primary school, I’d always seen myself as inferior. When I got to high school, I wanted to change that – I wanted people to recognise that I can make a difference.” 

“I grew up and saw other learners with determination and drive, but I didn’t have that. I wanted people to recognise me and I wanted to recognise myself.”  

Through activities and sessions, UNITE “encouraged to be a person who looks at things differently.” This shift in perspective has encouraged Aza to pursue her life goals. “From that moment, it made me realise that I can do anything that I put my mind to. All of these teachings have made me realise that it’s all about being you. You can add value to the world just by being yourself.” Because of this, Aza began to see herself as someone who can make a positive impact: a leader.  

Aza has always viewed a leader as a person who leads from the front. But in Grade 11, Aza’s perspective on this changed. In that year, it came to the surface that Aza had been struggling with substance abuse. The day that she was caught smoking at school, she was heading to Scalabrini for a UNITE meeting. “I told myself to accept the fact that they were going to kick me out , I am supposed to be a leader yet I am doing these things.”  

 Instead of being kicked out of UNITE, she was shown love, support and encouragement. In what was a collaboration between UNITE, her school (Heideveld) and her parents, Aza was given support and the strength to stop smoking. “You know when you have a line – something that prevents people from getting close to you – that day the line was completely broken. I knew that I was loved.”  

“We all make mistakes but being given the opportunity to understand the causes of those mistakes – or difficulties – and be able to overcome them with support is what matters most” says Jade, the manager of UNITE. UNITE has been able to use this as a learning tool – not only for Aza, but UNITE as a whole.  

It was after this that Aza’s idea of what a leader should be, changed. “UNITE has taught me that leadership is not about leading from the front, it is about pushing others to go forward. It is not about you or the spotlight. It’s about being there for others like UNITE has been for me. It’s made remarkable changes in my life. It’s been a long journey and I’ve experienced some real family.” 

A butterfly effect: How English School’s WhatsApp classes contributed to research on mining and indigenous rights in Brazil

Adriana, who is based in Brazil, studies transitional justice and the impact of mining companies on indigenous people in the Amazon. When she came to Cape Town to compare the findings of her research in Brazil with indigenous people from Southern Africa, she realized that her abilities in English were hindering the research. This realization led her to Scalabrini’s English School  – which opened up her world to the melting pot of South Africa.

When Adriana arrived in Cape Town, she only knew basic greetings and how to say ‘thank you’. Like many people in South Africa, English was to be her third language. “I was born close to Venezuela, so for me, learning and speaking Spanish was easier. It is similar to Portuguese. English is different to other languages and is difficult to learn.”

English is not a common language in Brazil and is mostly spoken by the younger generations. Language has been an important part of Adriana’s research. “When Brazil was colonized, it was forbidden to speak other languages. Even the indigenous people in Brazil cannot speak their indigenous languages. There are 174 different languages in Brazil. Only the indigenous people who live inside their own tribes speak their indigenous languages…In South Africa, people speak their own languages. It’s not like this in Brazil. If these people die, we will lose those languages.”

Adriana and her family lived in Cape Town for two years.  In the beginning this proved difficult because of the language barrier, but through her lessons with English School, Adriana improved her English abilities enough to be able to communicate easily. “ provided me with the most important thing that I need – to speak to people and understand. I am not scared about talking to people anymore. Before English School, Adriana was very shy to try and communicate in English, but she now has the confidence to use the language

English School helped Adriana build on, not only her speaking skills, but her writing and reading too. “Because of that, I was able to contact people across Africa. I now have a group of people that I discuss all the readings of different genocides with, as well as my other findings.”

Adriana has found both similarities and differences between the indigenous populations in Southern Africa and Latin America. “Across the world, there has been a refusal to recognise the crimes against humanity {with regards to indigenous populations}.” Adriana has found similar practices in Africa and Latin America with the “illegal appropriation of labour, lands and resources from the communities.” The differences are centered around reparations. Where in Latin America, the judicial process is looking at individual reparations, the African concept – in some countries – “is about collective reparations and building the memory.”

Adriana and her family left South Africa just before Level 5 lockdown in South Africa. They made the decision to go home because her step-son back home in Brazil fell ill. He sadly passed away from Covid-19 before his symptoms were understood.

When the pandemic hit South Africa, English School needed to adapt to be able to continue. English classes were moved online – this enabled Adriana to continue her English studies online. “It was not the same, but I loved it. English School still provided us with lessons and sent us links to watch some videos, they also helped us with our writing.” Adriana was able to complete her course with English School via WhatsApp.

Adriana now hopes to begin learning her fourth language –French – in order to continue her research of the indigenous people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.



Education and new opportunities with UpLearn

Before coming to South Africa, Charlotte never imagined that she would be able to further her education past high school.  A chance encounter with a stranger in a taxi led Charlotte to Scalabrini – she now holds a BA degree in Management specializing in Logistics and Operations. 

Charlotte’s journey with UpLearn began in 2018.  When she completed her Associate of Arts (AA) she experienced her first graduation. “It was amazing! There were 28 student’s graduating and everyone was very excited. After receiving our certificates there were many tears … but they were more like tears of joy.”  

After graduating, Charlotte began her BA in Management. Students are given four years to complete their AA and BA, but it took Charlotte just over a year. “The journey was really a difficult one. Whenever you accomplish something in a short period of time, it’s going to be tough.” Being a mother of two young children and having duties to do at home whilst finding the time to study is not always easy. This was where Charlotte saw huge benefits with UpLearn. “, you can choose your own schedule and working online is flexible, you can do it at night when your children are sleeping or on weekends when their father is there.” 

When Charlotte first came to Scalabrini she accessed Employment Access and through being at the office she met some of the UpLearn students – and she immediately let Employment Access know that she wanted to study too. Charlotte’s dreams were almost dashed when she was told that UpLearn was full. “I was so disappointed, because I really wanted to educate myself. After a month I received a call from EAP saying one student dropped out from the programme, but there was a long waiting list. I didn’t know if I stood a chance. I decided to apply and sent my application. They then called me in for an interview.  After two weeks they contacted me and said congratulations I made it through! That was the happiest day of my life.” 

While still living in Zimbabwe, Charlotte worked as a secretary and furthering her education was just a dream. “In Zimbabwe if you do not have mathematics your chances of going to university are very slim. I never knew that I would end up at a university and leave with a degree.”  

“I was not an A student, but if you look at me now, you can say I have a degree. With dedication and perseverance, you can achieve this. I was very shy. Through being equipped with different skills and being part of workshops where you have to facilitate sometimes, I have learnt to become bolder and more confident. I have become more confident because I have gained skills.”  

Charlotte felt supported by UpLearn during her studies and always knew that there was someone to assist with problems relating to studies or personal problems. “There is constant support available to students. Even during Covid they gave us 10 gigs of data so we can complete our assignments and last year every student got given a laptop. They (UpLearn) always provide resources.” 

At the time of speaking to Charlotte, she was busy with an internship with the Global Education Movement (GEM), where she is responsible for graduate support and helping with CV’s and cover letters – similar work to the services she first accessed at Scalabrini with the Employment Access Team.  

UpLearn is a part of GEM launched by SNHU in five different countries: Rwanda, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, and Lebanon. Charlotte assists people from each of these countries. GEM’s aim is to address the reality that worldwide there are more than 65 million refugees and other displaced peoples and only 1% have access to higher education. The objective of the initiative is to give those who may be prohibited from accessing tertiary education by financial or legal barriers an opportunity to empower themselves through education.    

The internship was supposed to be three months, but when the interview took place her internship had already been extended more than once. “I started in June 2020. It was supposed to be 3 months, but they decided to extend it with a month. They extended it again and now I am still there. I am enjoying it and I am so grateful to be granted such a wonderful opportunity.” 

With a firm interest in logistics – Charlotte hopes to one day work for a transport company in the logistics team – specifically focusing on keeping packages safe. “I read in so many cases whereby some goods are being lost when transporting them. I would like to introduce an idea or a system of different packaging, which makes sure the goods arrive safely at their destination. We don’t want to have a case where goods are lost or broken.” 


Since this article was written, Charlotte’s internship at GEM has turned into a part time position as Assistant Editor.  



#FarFromHome: Blaise

Welcome to our global #FarFromHome series: reflections on the time of Covid-19 from people who are are far from their family and home-country. We hope this brings comfort and reassurance. We chat to Blaise, who is from DRC and lives in South Africa.

Has anything brought you hope or inspiration during this time? Firstly, I’m a Christian and believe in God. I never lost hope, despite the way the situation got worse and uncontrollable but I believed that God will restore peace. I started spending more time with my neighbors and eventually getting to know them well. Sharing was an amazing experience during the pandemic.  

What other emotions has this period brought for you? I have never experienced a period such as this and It is clear that covid19 is an exceptional pandemic which destroyed many lives and destabilized the world economy. In some instant, life became uncertain. I was surprised and shocked to see in Italy, people celebrating when they only had 800 deaths a day. I believe that life is sacred even one death is a loss. 

What in your life history has made you better able to deal with this situation?  I understood that life is a mysterious journey. People need to help one another, care for the vulnerable and make the weaker ones stronger. 

Thinking about the covid-19 pandemic, what good qualities has it brought out in you?  I became more sociable than before. But also thought I must become more economical. I understood that I shouldn’t take my freedom for granted but rather use it constructively and intelligently for the best interest of the community.  

Has this experience changed your interaction with your neighbours or community? In my neighborhood things were a little different. More people ignored the danger of the pandemic. Everyone was tired of sleeping or staying indoors. Therefore, people started spending more time outside to enjoy the sun and interacting at the same time. This has given me a strong plot to get to know the neighbors, what they do and what they think… 

What would be your advice to those people facing difficult situations at this time? We need to be strong and never lose hope. I understand that things are even worse especially when you are far from home because the government somehow can assist foreigners in certain level. However, the privilege is firstly given to citizens which is logical.  

As for individuals, every time we put food on our table, we shall remember those who don’t have. The least we can do, is to share with people around us, contribute to accredited charities NGO that help many people when we can. 10 rand won’t really do much but can make a difference. 

We pray that things get to normal very soon. 

#FarFromHome: Amkelwa

Welcome to our global #FarFromHome series: reflections on the time of Covid-19 from people who are are far from their family and home-country. We hope this brings comfort and reassurance. We chat to Amkelwa, who lives in Paarl and is from the Eastern Cape.

This is a difficult time for us all. But, what activity, or thought, or philosophy, has guided you through this time in the pandemic? During the pandemic, I involved myself in an English learning group. That helped me a lot to improve my English. I was also involved in a community soup kitchen. We were cooking porridge for small children every day in the morning, because we are a very poor community. 

What other emotions has this period brought for you?  

This pandemic has brought me nothing but pain, because I can’t watch people going to bed with an empty stomach. I had to take food from my home and share it with those who have nothing, even if it’s 2 people I will know that at least I have tried. But in this whole situation I felt helpless because I couldn’t help other people because I needed help myself.  

What in your life history has made you better able to deal with this situation? 

I was able to deal with this situation because of the situation that I grew up with. When I grew up my father was an alcoholic. He used to drink the whole weekend, from Friday to Sunday. When he was drunk he would beat my mother up, and we went to go ask for a place to sleep with our neighbours. Growing up like that has made me strong and I can deal with tough situations. I was the reason why my father has changed and become a better person.  

Thinking about the Covid-19 pandemic, what good qualities has it brought out in you? I would say I am good at solving problems. The pandemic has brought out the real person that I am – some of the things I have done for other people, I never thought that I would do them for anyone. The thing that made me get through this pandemic is being tough, because if I wasn’t tough and brave, I wouldn’t have made it.  

Has this experience changed your interaction with your neighbours or community? If so, how?  

Yes, I have learnt a lesson that I must always look after my neighbours, because you know when people need your help.  

What would be your advice to those people facing difficult situations at this time?  

My advice to other people, if you have problems just pray about your problems and be patient, have faith. God is alive you just need to communicate with him and put your trust in him.