I was a bit unsure at first about yet another township tour, I thought I’d have little else to say. Oh how wrong I was. On each tour I notice how personal the guides make it, after all if you take a walk in any town with someone local and let them tell you about their life it will be a different experience every time. The women from Emzini Tours have built something bigger than just taking people around the township in a minibus. Penny and Ella, who take people on township tours, have built a whole company tackling issues in the townships and helping in the community in many ways.
This township tour was different from the ones I had been on before. Penny and Ella do more than just taking people into the townships to look around. They rescue abused or neglected children from broken homes where the parents are alcoholics. Ella takes these children in and gives them a safe place where they can overcome their traumas and learn to smile again. When we visited Ella’s home after the tour it was hard to believe that this little pack of cheerful kids had such a rough road behind them, they were active and laughed a lot, and happy to play with us strangers. Penny also takes care of the township dogs, which I was so glad to see since it’s the first time I heard of someone worrying about the countless skinny scruffy dogs that run around in the townships. It felt to me like we didn’t go into the township just to see, but to learn that you can actually make a difference.
The way I experienced it up to now, the tour guide is usually someone who grew up in a life that’s very different from mine and acts as a bridge between two worlds. So I was a bit surprised when I got onto the minibus to find this woman chatting to the tourists about camping trips, good hostels and the problems of travelling with little children. Penny is the first white person I met who works in the townships, because she wants to. In the township we visited one of those barber’s shops in a container, a little grocery store and a kindergarten. The little children there were just as eager to interact with the tourists as it was the other way around, they wanted to play ball and be picked up and hugged and receive all attentions. As I crouched on the ground a little girl immediately sat on my lap and started playing with my hair, while a boy inspected the bear pendant on my necklace and started pretending that it was eating him. It was good to see that these children are being taught positive values and that they react so happily. We also went inside the main library, which has all sorts of awareness posters (“How to recognise breast cancer”) hung on the walls – it wasn’t clear to me what sort of importance awareness really has, I always only saw it so that problems are just there and a solution must be found, taking breast cancer as an example, when in fact people must know about the problem in the first place.
Driving around we often stopped to hand out sweets and pellets to the groups of children and dogs that came running eagerly at the sight of the minibus. Penny and Ella often do the tour twice a day so they are well known. Here again they strive to do good: they hand out candy to the children, but when they see one of the older kids who should actually be in school they ask right away why they are not studying. This way they try to discourage the kids from dropping out. It also warmed my heart to see the dogs being fed; most of them were so starved that they’d devour their food without even chewing.
The last stop was at Ella’s house. We sat in the little living room and had tea while learning some basic khosa sentences. Everyone tried getting the clicking sound right and everyone failed, and it was really fun. Songs were sung, there were drums for everyone to have a go at playing and the kids were the centre of everyone’s attention. The people working with Emzini tours did such a beautiful thing taking in these children. The youngest ones were at home, but there are also older ones in their care, they were in school at the time. It was incredible to hear the stories of the children (and dogs) that were now living so happily in this new home.
The positive energy involved in all that Emzini Tours stands for is such an inspiration. They genuinely do good. And they do so mainly with the help of donations. Emzini means home, and the name fits the feeling behind the concept really well. Ella’s home is home to many who really need it.