Scene 1: First Day Observations


After seven weeks of background research in the U.S., we began our first day of work in Cape Town on Thursday, October 22nd, 2015. Our first day at Service Dining Rooms (SDR), a soup kitchen in the East City District of Cape Town, was focused on observing and learning about an average day at SDR. Throughout the morning, we wanted to gain a better understanding of our project and the people that we will be working with.

Cast of characters

Ricky, the Program Manager of SDR, who serves as our liaison, oversees much of the daily operations of SDR and facilitates programs for guests.

Jessie is an employee of Khulisa Social Solutions, a non-profit organization geared toward helping street people in Cape Town. She is also the liaison for the Khulisa team, but is also an advisor for our project.

WPI SDR Team is our IQP team consisting of four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI): Aaron McGinnis, Briana Rodriguez, Drew DeRubeis, and Liz Desjardins.

Khulisa Team is another IQP team from WPI that is working at the Canterbury Lot across from SDR.

Streetscapes participants are clients of SDR that are part of a pilot program, known as Streetscapes.


The majority of the day took place at Service Dining Rooms in the main dining rooms. Inside, the walls are plain and beige in color. Green, wooden benches and tables comprise most of the furniture. Many large windows and blank wall space met our glances around the room. The wooden floors appeared freshly swept. A vase of dead flowers stood as a decoration on a shelf high on the wall, overlooking the room. The walls echo the voices, groans, and laughs of SDR guests and staff.


Today started off as we anticipate most of our mornings will. We crowded into a taxi with the Khulisa team at 7:30 AM to head into downtown to arrive at Service Dining Rooms (SDR) before 8:00 AM. On this particular morning, a nervous, yet excited feeling permeated among the group. After seven weeks of research and preparation, we were finally on our way to SDR.

As the group exited the taxi and approached SDR, our level of excitement rose, but with it came a sense of caution. We all recognized the brick building with barred windows and the black and white “Service Dining Rooms” sign mounted above the door from pictures we had Googled long before. However, today, in addition to the building’s physical exterior were many of the soup kitchen’s clients hanging out in the lot across from the facility and sitting on the sidewalk or front stairs leading to the kitchen. As our group neared the stairs, we were greeted with good mornings and waves full of excitement, curiosity, and cautiousness. As we replied and waved back, a feeling of reassurance swept over our group.

Service Dining Rooms in the morning, with various street people resting close by.

Service Dining Rooms in the morning, with various street people resting close by.

Once inside SDR, Ricky’s wife Sharon greeted and welcomed us, leading us into the office area where we met up with Ricky. Instantly, he welcomed us all with a hug and his positivity and excitement were overwhelming. After quick welcomes, Ricky led us on a tour of the facility. We first entered the kitchen where Ricky introduced us to several staff members who were already busy preparing for the day’s meal, cutting vegetables, and stirring multiple large pots.

We then entered the dining room where a few of the clients were taking benches off the tables, preparing for lunch. The dining room is split into two sections by a wall remaining from the apartheid era, when government policies required physical segregation of SDR’s guests by race. We took a seat at benches in the back of one of the rooms to wait for the morning meeting of the Streetscapes program to begin.

One of the dining rooms

One of the dining rooms

The second dining room at Service Dining Rooms.

The second dining room at Service Dining Rooms.

About 20 minutes later, between 20-30 participants of the Streetscapes program had entered the facility and taken a seat at the benches toward the front of the room. Ricky greeted each and every one of them and had small conversations as they entered. He began the morning meeting by asking how everyone had slept and if anyone had been arrested last night.  Then he moved on to the topic of this morning’s conversation hopes and dreams. Everyone shared their future goals, ranging from being a teacher to an artist, and why their hopes hadn’t yet come true. Reasons why they believed their dreams haven’t happened ranged from financial issues to being told they were not smart enough. Ricky listened intently to what everyone had to say, and then responded with words of encouragement and advice. He spoke powerfully of how everyone has dreams and failures, but how we must take charge of our own lives.


Through our observations of guests and the morning meeting, we gained a new perspective of the background research we acquired in the U.S. Ricky exemplified a strong passion in expressing care toward the development of the Streetscapes participants. His message of taking action echoed across the bare walls of SDR. After observing the reaction and discussions that pursued among the participants, it was clear that many felt uplifted and strong by Ricky’s words. We learnt that the purpose of the Streetscape programme is not only to give street community members the opportunity to earn an income, but also to allow participants to recognize the value they have to the world around them.

Although our perceptions following the morning meeting were uplifting and positive, we do not dismiss the initial atmosphere we felt when entering the space. With the passion that Ricky and stakeholders of Streetscapes have toward allowing participants to feel self-dignified, we feel that the space that hosts the programme does not yet complement this initiative.