Introducing Our Fifth Member (October 29, 2015)


When we first made contact with Vuyiswa, we were informed that not all the ladies we would be working with were comfortable speaking English. While they understood some words, we would need a translator to effectively communicate the larger concepts to them. Sbu, an active member of Philippi’s youth, was recruited for this purpose.

Cast of Characters

WPI Team

Sbu is a socially active youth that, in 2006 at 16 years old, co-founded the Inyanda Youth Network, an organization that helps local members of the youth community inform each other of job opportunities and empower them to be socially active. This group also shares space with Sizakuyenza, which was lent to us for the duration of the project. Sbu is a crucial member of our group, and listens carefully to all of our interactions with the co-researchers. In addition to his direct roles, Sbu helps us see through the eyes of a South African who is about our age. He regularly engages us in conversation discussing political and cultural events happening in this country and gives us personal insight into the social climate of Philippi.


Sbu during one of our large group sessions


While we had met Sbu for a brief period on our first day at Sizakuyenza, neither he nor the WPI team realized that we would be working together throughout the course of the project. Sbu was introduced to us originally only as a member of the Inyanda Youth Network, and then joined us halfway through our second day with the core group of co-researchers. While we had originally been distributed evenly around the table as we worked closely with the women one-on-one with their computers, Sbu’s arrival, combined with our shuffling as we left to eat lunch, resulted with all of us at one end of the table and our co-researchers, now including Sbu, at the other.


Sbu’s first meeting with the team came after a productive first attempt at introducing our three core women, Sylvia, Dube, and Thandi, to computers. The group had been doing well communicating with us, and we were excited to take a break from the computers and get them talking more by brainstorming organizations in the community that we hoped to later put on our social map. We were surprised when Sbu came in, since our liaison had informed us earlier that he wouldn’t be able to join the group until Thursday. Despite this, we were excited to begin working with him, so we quickly sat at the table to begin brainstorming. We explained to the ladies and Sbu what we wanted to do during the afternoon. We looked to the ladies for a response and instead of talking right back to us, like they would have earlier, the women looked to Sbu for translation. We understood that the women were more comfortable speaking in Xhosa, but we had hoped that they would continue trying to speak to us in English as much as possible to keep communication open between the groups. At times it was awkward for the team to listen to Sbu and the women speaking in Xhosa for an extended period of time and only come back with a few things to say. While this was frustrating for the team, we knew this problem could be easily addressed by talking to Sbu about it, which we planned to do as soon as we got a chance.

Our next chance to talk to Sbu about speaking in Xhosa less was on Thursday. We hoped to pull him aside during another computer session with the three women where we hoped to continue building their confidence in their abilities. We were planning to pull him aside and talk once the session began, but as we began working with the women, it was clear that this was not as much of an issue as we thought. Sbu mostly kept to himself during this session, only interjecting when it was clear from the women’s reactions that there was a miscommunication. It became clear that some of the words we were using did not make sense without previous exposure to computers and became a theme of disconnect. Sbu shined by helping to not only translate what we were saying into Xhosa, but explain our words in ways we had trouble producing on our own. This continued into Friday’s larger group training session, where he mostly  translated concepts to women who did not have as much experience speaking English as others, with occasional interjections in the large group. He was incredibly careful about only translating when necessary, and would preface them with telling us how he was going to explain something to the group in a little different way that they would be able to understand more easily.


Sbu assisting in the explanation of Google Maps

Overall, when talking to both groups of women, it was clear that he already knew most of them very well. This helped to make both us and the women more comfortable, and he was able to contribute a lot of helpful ideas in breaking the ice with women, including starting the day with tea and biscuits and having everyone introduce themselves with their name, where they are from, and a New Year’s resolution. He also lightened the mood between groups on many occasions with his jokes, lively impressions, and singing. The increased feeling of connectedness when Sbu was involved in our interactions was tangible, and clearly a result of much more than just helping us communicate through words.

Reflection and Learning


Sbu assisting Brendan with project logistics after hours

Our interactions so far with Sbu have shown us that he will be a huge help in many aspects of this project. It is important to remember that Sbu is just as new to this process as we are, and so will likely be learning with us when are good times to interject and when to let us try and keep talking. Seeing the difference in communication just between these two days shows that Sbu is fully capable of observing the same situations we are and changing how he sees his role in our project based on the interactions he observes.

While we have many ideas for activities that help us bridge the gap between our cultures, and there is no shortage of things we will be able to show each other, the language barrier between us and our co-researchers poses a much more significant challenge. While it is sometimes difficult for us to sit and listen to them speak in Xhosa because we want to be more engaged in the conversation, it is important for us to recognize that we are the main source of this issue in not being able to speak Xhosa. In our introduction to the women when we talked about languages, they were surprised to hear that all of us can only speak English. While their English may be limited compared to ours, their overall language capabilities are much more advanced than ours, so it is critical for us to remain patient in these exchanges so that they can share their thoughts fully and express how they are feeling truthfully. Coming here and expecting the women to speak the language we know exclusively reinforces the dynamic that we are the experts and they are here to learn from us, which is something we hope to avoid entirely in order to have effective Shared Action Learning in building our map. Speaking in Xhosa will hopefully help avoid any pre-existing assumptions that English is the main language that this project has to be conducted in. The program that is left behind will be run in Xhosa, and so it makes sense that the women become comfortable talking about computers in Xhosa as well. Having Sbu to translate will help us to let them keep communicating in a way that is comfortable for them and allows them to contribute as much as possible. Sbu’s ability to interpret rather than just translate goes both ways, and so it is our hope that his presence will allow both groups to communicate effectively.

On a different level, Sbu has a connection to the women through the Xhosa culture that we are not able to have, and having him with us throughout the project will help us bridge that gap with new people we continue to meet. He has a lot of great ideas, and having someone with a different perspective on these trainings contributing to the project in this way will be extremely helpful. We are excited to learn more about him and get him more involved in our project in any way we can.