By Terri van Iperenburg
Fourth-year Social Work student at Avans Hogeschool (ASH)

It has been a long time again since I wrote one of these! That is because a lot has happened since I last wrote my blog.

To start with my schoolwork and my thesis. On the 6th of July everyone heard if they passed their thesis. I of course only handed in half of my thesis to get feedback, since I only got to half of my thesis. When I got my feedback I was devastated. I got a 1.2 which is BAD (obviously)! But that was not the only thing the feedback I received made it seem like I couldn’t redeem it in a week and a half. What made me think this was that my English writing skills weren’t good enough according to the feedback and I had no idea how to get this up in a week and a half. So I had a few options… 1) translate my whole thesis back to Dutch 2) Find a magical way to improve my English writing 3) Give up and start over next school year. So I decided to go with option 3. I felt very disappointed in myself because I had always done very well when it comes to school. I had passed High School in 5 years and my study now was going well. So it was very hard for a perfectionist like me to let my thesis go and decide to start over again. But you know, I am still 21 years old and have plenty of time to do another year of school. Why not? It even gives me the chance to evolve and become a better Social Worker.

Like I said in my last blog I was talking to an organization called Peter Pan (which is a special needs school). I observed there for 6 days to see how this part of Social Work and education comes together in South Africa and how they work with the limited resources they have. It turned out to be an amazing experience, which also distracted me from the failure of my thesis.
Peter Pan is a school that teaches to children with special needs (like kids with Down syndrome, autism etc.) but also mixes them with children without special needs. Talking to the principal was what made me understand how difficult it must have been in times of Apartheid but also now, in the times when the democracy is building and getting in a better shape, but still having people who can’t let go of the ”olden days”. I said to her when we first met that I hadn’t seen that many people with a disability on the streets in South Africa and explained that in the Netherlands we have a lot of people with disabilities who work in supermarkets, restaurants and many more places, because it gets accepted quite good. There are a lot of projects that try to combine people with and without disabilities. An example of that I saw in my sister’s primary school where they made a ”star class” for children with disabilities, but they mixed them among the classes to have children without disabilities understand that everyone is different but that doesn’t mean you have to exclude people, but you enjoy each other because everyone is still a human being.

We also said goodbye to Mabel, Max and the Belgian students (Fien, Lieselot, Jana, Nora and Sofie) so only Pepijn, Carmen, Leonie and me were left. I found it harder than expected to say goodbye to them, because we have been through soo much as a group, but have experienced soo much fun times as well in different groups. I miss them 😉 (Love you guys, see you soon hopefully). Also seeing people go home and not being able to go myself was hard. I really wanted to go with them and see my family again, but I am almost there!

In South Africa (as the principal explained) there is a lot of shame when it comes to children with disabilities which is why parents often keep them hidden away. They still aren’t accepted in society. Also when the school opened in the times of Apartheid the school wanted to mix children with and without a disability, but parents wouldn’t have that and especially not white and black kids together, which was also a goal of Peter Pan, that everyone is welcome no matter what!
It was very inspiring to hear from the principal how they were able to push through and how the school is getting more and more known in the community (also in a positive way). It was amazing to be able to see how the teachers interacted with the children. It was a pity that it was the last weeks of school so the children had a lot of playing time, so I didn’t see a lot of the teaching. It was a challenge (but great fun) for me to be able to talk to a lot of inspiring people who believe in including everyone and accepting everyone for who they are, and I think South Africa could have a lot more of these people, which will help the democracy and the acceptance of everyone even greater!

And then something bad happened (AGAIN). It seems like all the bad things that can happen to people studying abroad have happened to students from this CASO project. Our house got broken into. A lot of things were stolen while we were asleep in the house. Luckily none of mine or Pepijn’s stuff was taken but still we felt very unsafe. That is why we live somewhere else now for the final days. It feels weird typing this, but I really feel that these experiences also need to be heard. Students need to be aware of all the dangers that comes with living in a country like South Africa and that it is not only Sunshine and rainbows… I never expected to experience this myself!

After this also parted ways with Carmen and Leonie who are travelling now, which was also very strange, but I hope they have an amazing time (seeing in their pictures they are enjoying themselves ha-ha, you deserved it!)

To end on a positive note, of course I did some fun things in my free time as well. As some of you know, I am travelling with my boyfriend around the country starting the 27th of June until the 29th of July. We are taking the Bazbus which is a hop-on hop-off bus that takes you from Cape Town to Johannesburg with over 40 stops. We are doing 13/14 stops so we are very excited to do that.
To get a taste of how it would be like travelling with the Bazbus we made a trip with them to Cape Point. It was an amazing day which got us both very excited to go travelling after feeling so unsafe in the last weeks…

So now I am busy planning our trip, finding a job for when I get back to the Netherlands, finding a new research project, practicing for my Dutch test (from my second year of Social Work, which I am horrible at!!) and packing my stuff for the journey ahead…

Yeah, this is the final blog about my CASO experience. I learned soo much I think and changed (which sounds soo cliché). I can’t wait to write about my journey through South Africa. Hope you enjoyed my blogs!

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