Scene 1: First Meeting with Levona


It was our first day on the job; seven weeks of research had lead up to this meeting. As we pulled into the facility one of our liaisons worked out of, a guard lifted a gate, and another unlocked the front of the building. While we did not know what to expect, we did know one thing, that we were going to meet with one of our two liaisons, Levona Powell, for the first time. Having never formally communicated with her the prior term, we knew this meeting would prove to be important and control the direction our project would go.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
WPI Professors: Scott Jiusto, Lorraine Higgins
City Employees: Levona Powell, Reggie O’Brien, Anneline Plaaitjies, Estralita Kwalo


The City of Cape Town Informal Settlements Department office in Ottery.


We arrived on site at the informal settlements department where we were escorted into a large meeting room and left to seat ourselves. Seated around the table was our group of ten students and our advisers, Scott and Lorraine. After waiting a few moments, a woman walked in wearing an informal settlements management polo shirt. No introduction was needed; we all knew that the woman standing before us was Levona Powell, the woman we would all be working with for the next seven weeks. Three others then walked in the room, a man followed by two women. Levona made quick work in introducing herself and her three personal staff members, Reggie, Anneline, and Estralita. Scott then introduced himself and his co-adviser Lorraine to those in attendance. Scott concluded his introduction by thanking Levona and her team for being able to sponsor us and what a great honor it would be to be work with the city on such a valuable project.

With the introductions complete, Levona began talking about her view towards the proposed project. Plot 9 would be consolidated into 7de Laan and City Mission would be consolidated into Masincedane. While this was her thought about the project, she also expressed the views of our second liaison (Johan Gerber), that both City Mission and Plot 9 would be merged into Masincedane. Either way this would leave the city with two informal settlements rather than the current four. This would allow the city to offer the settlements better more reliable services, while simultaneously reducing the cost.

Our job for the first day was discussed next. We would be going into 7de Laan following the meeting to be introduced to the people, the settlement, and the area.  She advised us to go slowly and be considerate toward the community members. We were new to the area and the residents would take time adjusting to our presence. The community had been briefed about our impending arrival; there was no need to worry about being unexpected. To connect to the people, the best method Levona told us was to talk to the community and learn about what unifies them as a settlement and what experiences and backgrounds set them apart from each other.

Discussion then shifted to the dynamics of our impending arrival. We were told to introduce ourselves as students from the United States and then to discuss our role – that, working with the city, we were exploring the feasibility of reblocking the settlement, by getting the views of those currently living there. However, it was stressed that if we talked about the project, we would have to be clear that we cannot make any promises to those present, as we ourselves do not have any decision making authority.

The final topic of discussion was how to prepare ourselves for what we would encounter in the settlement. We would probably hear stories and problems that would surprise us or even anger us. Since we did not work for the city directly, we might hear things they otherwise would not tell a city official. Beyond what we would hear, we would have to prepare ourselves for the sites we would see. Most notably the living conditions, the conditions of the people, and the environment were discussed. However, no matter what we were told, Levona stressed “Seeing is believing.” No matter how much we prepared, we would never be truly ready to enter the settlement. With that the meeting ended and we were off to finally visit the informal settlement we had researched for nearly two months.


We went into this meeting knowing little, but left feeling confident in our project. We had officially met our liaison, Levona Powell, for the first time and she was successfully able to explain what our role in the settlement would be. We learned that we were there to ask the people what they needed and to communicate those views to the city. We would be a breath of fresh air for the settlement since we were new and eager to help. The nervous excitement that permeated our group prior to the meeting was eradicated. We all had a new found confidence in ourselves and our project. This confidence was reassured by Levona. We would be fine and would know what to do when the time came.