On my very first day with Scalabrini, I walked into the hall at the Centre to find dozens of people gathering for a celebration. It was World Refugee Day, and Scalabrini found a way to turn the day into an opportunity to bring people together in a celebration of diversity and culture, a celebration of Africa and of unity.
I knew I was in the right place.
As a Political Science and International Development PhD student from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, I’m in Cape Town right now researching the opportunities and constraints faced by civil society organisations in the region in their attempts to effect change in migration-related policy and practice. I’ve had a long relationship with South Africa over the last eleven years, but it continues to surprise and amaze me, both in terms of the incredible challenges so many people face in their lives, and also in terms of the resilience and strength with which people navigate their circumstances.
I’m a firm believer that research should not be an extractive process, but should also hold some value for the community that is the focus of the work, and so I’m working with Scalabrini in what I hope is a win-win arrangement, where I can offer my time and service to the organisation, while also learning by doing. And so, I’m working at Scalabrini with the De Doorns Integration Project, in a community about 140 km north-east of Cape Town, where in 2009, around 2500 Zimbabwean migrant farm-workers were forced from their homes by local South Africans in the most recent mass-displacement of foreign nationals in the country. We travel up to De Doorns from Cape Town every week, and we meet regularly with a committed group of about 15 local community members. Together, we plan and implement programmes that bring discussions of HIV/AIDS and various social issues into schools, farms, and the wider community, through film screenings, soccer programmes and other events.
Working here, I am able to connect the dots between the theories and ideas I’ve spent the last two years exploring, and the realities of the lived experiences of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and others here in the Western Cape. Everywhere I turn, I’m meeting exceptional people, doing exceptional work, and I wake up every day feeling privileged to be even a small part of it.