Scene 4: Finding Hope


On our second day in the field, the entire Strandfontein team split into small groups much like we had the first day to explore the other side of 7de Laan. We planned to get acclimated to the rest of the settlement and begin connecting with the community members we had yet to meet.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
City Employees: Reggie O’Brien, Anneline Plaaitjies
7de Laan Residents: Caroline, Kevin


The part of 7de Laan that the team visited on the second day is sandwiched between the road and the dune that divides the settlement in two. Shacks were aligned much like they are on the other side of the settlement and community members mingled, dispersed throughout the settlement. The air lacked the charged excitement from community members on the first day and in its place was a more indifferent and maybe even suspicious attitude from some community members.


A small group of the Strandfontein team made up of Jason, Mike and Molly made their way through the unexplored half of 7de Laan.  We approached a woman standing by a relatively large and put together shack. The woman was older and had the calm and collected air of a wise and self-assured person that comes with age. After introductions, there were a few moments in which no one spoke and we just smiled at the refreshing air Caroline had about her. Caroline was a person with whom you could share silence appreciatively instead of grasping for words to fill an awkward pause in conversation. After introductions, Caroline lead us into her unique home. From the creatively painted walls to the thoughtfully placed decoration and furniture, any visitor could appreciate the effort exerted by Caroline and her family to create a comfortable home for themselves.


A glimpse on a conversation Caroline is having with WPI students

After being introduced to Caroline’s son, Kevin, our small group conversed with Caroline in the usual way we had with other residents. We learned that Caroline moved to 7de Laan four years ago and has since lived in the shack with her two sons. We learned that they once had chickens and that Caroline is the oldest person living in 7de Laan. She opened up to us about the concerns she had for the community’s health due to the drug influences, presence of sickness and a lack of some necessary safety precautions. When she spoke of these concerns, her words were not loaded with government accusation or grasping for sympathy and a handout. This ability Caroline possessed, to constructively speak about challenges, reminded me of a wise and caring leader, focused not on her own individual needs or dwelling on negative circumstances, but instead on communicating her ideas for 7de Laan’s future honestly and effectively.

Caroline told us about her hope for establishing a community soup kitchen in 7de Laan and building a safe place for the children to play. When she told us about her idea for a soup kitchen she offered her and her sons’ assistance in it as cooks.  Without any prompt, Caroline had identified to us a skill she had and offered her ability to use that asset to improve the living conditions in 7de Laan. This was yet another uplifting and impressive quality Caroline had. Very few other community members we spoke with had made these kind of home improvements or had offered concrete ideas for 7de Laan’s improvement and identified ways they could fit into that plan without prompt. Our refreshing conversation and the warmth Caroline radiated through her caring nature brought smiles to our faces. It was easy to imagine her cooking meals for the hungry and serving her fellow community members with a smile of contentment.

As the conversation came to an end, Caroline softly asked us to pray with her. We joined hands in a circle and after a silent pause, Caroline lead us in prayer. Her voice was still soft as she said her prayer of thanks to her God for sending us to help her community. Even in prayer, Caroline did not bring up her grievances or ask for anything, she only thankfully acknowledge what she’d been given and hoped the gift would bring new life. Caroline’s prayer was not forceful or pushing, but uplifting like our conversation had been. We ended with a resounding “Amen” before thanking Caroline and Kevin and moving towards Reggie to continue meeting community members.


Caroline’s leading and inspiring personality left a strong impression.  This one conversation proved the importance of the connecting stages in our project approach. We had one of our first conversations with someone we identified as a true leader, and we gained insight from Caroline. Our team had not yet considered the many benefits that installing a soup kitchen in 7de Laan could bring to the community, and we hope to look more into Caroline’s thoughtful suggestion. Our conversation did not just serve as a refreshing breath of air that all of us appreciated on our second day in 7de Laan, but also motivated the group to think outside the box and gave us hope that we would meet more driven community members willing to contribute to improving 7de Laan’s future.