Eighteen hours of plane travel gave plenty of time to imagine what would be waiting for us at the end of the day. A busy airport, long lines at customs and baggage conveyor belts soon reminded me that parts South Africa weren’t going to be that much different than back home.
Tshepo, from UNICEF, greeted us at the airport and whisked us up a state highway to our hotel in Pretoria. Here, we met Jenn Button, our UNICEF partner from Canada, who greeted us with welcome bananas and water. A long day was done: it was time to sleep!
Today was our day to recover from the long travel that got us here. We took the opportunity to spend time learning a little more about South Africa so we chartered a tour into Pretoria. Gert, our tour guide for the day, shared with us an incredible amount of the history of area and showed how diverse the population base is.
Our first stop of the day was at the Union Buildings. Built on the tallest point in the area and overlooking Pretoria, the impressive red sandstone buildings can be seen from anywhere in the city. In the grounds in front is a statue of Nelson Mandela, his arms outstretched, symbolizing his embrace of the entire nation. The statue was built while he was still president, but he would not allow any monuments to him or his accomplishments to go up while he was still alive.
A third of the population lives in rural areas, and it’s into these areas we will travel to see what UNICEF is doing to provide educational opportunities to the country’s most vulnerable population.
UNICEF opened its first office in South Africa in 1994 and is focusing on four areas; health and nutrition, basic education and youth development, child protection and social policy, planning and communication. The next couple of days will see us focused on the education portion of that mandate.
We’ve picked up some ostrich jerky and we’re prepared to head to KwaZulu-Natal to see these programmes first-hand.