Can this journey answer my questions?

I’m sitting here in South Africa with a great deal of impressions that has not really sunken in. We have stayed in this country for three days and today was the first day of visiting a school. One primary school and one secondary school. But first and foremost I want to take the opportunity to express my sense of gratitude for being given the chance to join a UNICEF field trip. I feel very humble and proud to be representing IKEA in such a wonderful way.

Before the journey I attempted to imagine what we would see here. When I finally realized that I was building my expectations mostly on poverty, HIV and AIDS, crime and a long history of suppression, I felt sad. Is South Africa still like that? How would I react to the experience? And what is UNICEF’s role in all of this? Can UNICEF as a neutral organization manage to make a change in a country of so many complex challenges? These were some of the questions I wanted to find answers to, when visiting schools and health centres here in South Africa.

After having spent a full day together with people living here and experiencing with my own eyes how they live and how UNICEF together with the government and local authorities has started the “Safe and Caring Child Friendly School” programme, I am starting to get some insights into what we, living at home in Norway actually are contributing to.

Happy faces - By Elisabeth Rytterager UNICEF Norway
Happy faces – By Elisabeth Rytterager UNICEF Norway

The first school we visited today was a primary school with 450 pupils. Our visit began with a presentation where the principal presented the school and told us how things have changed since the programme started, to secure a child friendly school. Then we were so lucky to visit their mascot, a rhino with the catchy name of “Cefi” – who once and for all broke the ice and got our dancing moves out. We even got to join a classroom where the subject being taught was mathematics. What I had been looking most forward to, was to meet all the children who were standing in a cluster, excitedly waiting for us. They had prepared a fantastic performance especially for us, consisting of a lot of singing, humor, dance and music. It was a really good experience that made an impression. Finally, we got our gifts out; skipping ropes, tennis balls, beach balls… and got to play with the kids overjoyed with the toys that we had brought.

Kids enjoying the small gift we brought - by Elisabeth Rytterager  UNICEF Norway
Kids enjoying the small gift we brought – by Elisabeth Rytterager UNICEF Norway

The second school was a secondary school giving us the best welcome imaginable. Dressed in extraordinary outfits they marched along our cars when we drove into the school yard. They danced and sang and drummed, until guiding us into the room where we were to meet the principal and his colleagues. A presentation was followed by a performance of the national anthem of South Africa, as well as their own songs, a lot of dancing and positive energy. We were standing two meters from the singing kids, and believe me; it was a fantastic experience. “Cefi” even made a surprise appearance, also a hit with the older children.

Lucky to meet the school mascot - Cefi the rhino - by Elisabeth Rytterager  UNICEF Norway
Lucky to meet the school mascot – Cefi the rhino – by Elisabeth Rytterager UNICEF Norway

The youth wanted to demonstrate how they use their own knowledge to motivate the younger students, by sharing their learning skills. We joined in the classroom and got to see how three of the students played the role as teachers and instructed their fellow students, teaching them tools for greater learning. It must be said that one of the boy’s teaching ability exceeds anything I’ve ever seen. He demonstrated the importance of listening when the teacher speaks; unless you listen, you are not going to learn anything!

Having a lot of fun together! - By  Elisabeth Rytterager  UNICEF Norway
Having a lot of fun together! – By Elisabeth Rytterager UNICEF Norway

This has been a fantastic day with so many different impressions and experiences that I will carry with me into the next few days. And hopefully, by the end of the week, all this will contribute to an even better understanding of what UNICEF does for the children of South Africa.