ELDORADO PARK: A POCKET FULL OF POVERTY
I battle to fight off the heat and tears. The modular, zinc, classroom is hot and humid. I fan myself – an exercise in futility. Another day of teaching a class of 37 children leaves me worn out. Actually, it is more than the teaching and heat that make me feel blurry-eyed. At this point, in hot November, I was finding it harder to accept what was brought into my classroom every day. My humanity was constantly being questioned by my conscience. And all I could think was, “How can we fix this?”
I am a teacher at Nancefield Primary School in Eldorado Park. I have worked here for ten months now. What is my every day struggle? Being okay. I have the honour of teaching a grade three class. During these ten months, I feel that I am become part mother, part teacher. I deal with scraped knees, colds, nearly broken limbs and bloody noses. I give them pocket money and lunch. I make sure some have clothing. But still, it feels that I am not doing enough..
NEW DAY NEW STORIES
A new day brings new stories. Some stories I listen to with eagerness – the birth of a baby brother or sister, a new experience that is retold with sparkling eyes. Some stories make my blood boil. My hands shake. A child is locked out by drunken parents. Another has no socks to wear. Some simply make me laugh. No two days are the same. I realised just how much Eldorado Park had changed since my schooling from 1997 to 2003. I cannot remember it ever being the way it is now.
I remember families having fathers. I remember well-fed children. I remember caring parents. I remember parents fetching children from school. I remember parents attending every school function. My ten months in service show me that this is now a legend of what Eldorado Park was. In its place is single-parent homes, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, starving children and absent parents..
NOT THE SOFTNESS OF INNOCENCE
I am stunned by the moral decay of the community. The shadows following children over the threshold of the classroom door stand as witness. I wonder how the children smile through it all. How are these children so strong? My somewhat sheltered childhood leaves me in the dark. These children have faced more hardships and battles in their decade of existence than most of us have in our entire lives. Their faces do not glow with the softness of innocence. There is a look in their eyes that tells me more than the words of their stories. There is a silent fierceness that comes from self-defence and self-preservation. It is the reflection of the underbelly of Eldorado Park.
Eldorado Park is a mixed-race township sandwiched between the opulence of Johannesburg’s Southern Suburbs and the prominent south western township, Soweto. The streets are constantly buzzing with activity. Women stand out in the main road, under the blistering rays of the sun, doing their laundry. Children wander about in search of friends.
A couple stops to correct a piece of furniture atop a trolley they’re hauling to their next location. Bright plastic bags, papers and bottles are a colourful contrast to bleak circumstances. Accompanying the startling visuals is the pungent smell of sewage water, running freely in the streets. Life is lived on the streets.
THE POISONOUS WEB
Eldorado Park was established in the late 1960’s as part of the Group Areas act of the apartheid regime. It was made up of formal, low-cost, small brick housing and council owned apartment blocks. The area is designated for working class, mixed-race families who cannot afford the small houses. After 21 years of a post-apartheid and democratic government, there has been very little improvement of the state of Eldorado Park. A lack of development and empowerment is visible in its infrastructure and in the lack of ambition in the community. This lack of ambition, coupled with dismal circumstances, creates a poisonous web from which fewer and fewer people manage to escape.
Upon entering the township, I am faced with a superficial “okayness”. The houses are of a decent size. They are mostly well-kept. Litter is at a minimum and a few fancy cars may even pass you by. However, as I continue my journey through the area, disintegration occurs with every step I travel. Finally, I arrive at the real Eldorado Park. I see its personality. The images of suffering are both of a physical and socio-economic nature – images that are so inadequately portrayed by the media. Despair and disbelief overwhelm.
Children play in rubbish heaps. They fashioning toys out of old produce boxes and plastic bottles. A three-year-old boy with a runny nose, broken shoes and perforated clothing runs after his mother in an attempt to keep up.
Many factors such as substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, poor infrastructure and malnutrition plague the community of Eldorado Park. Those most innocent seem to bear the brunt of poor decisions and hopelessness. No child should suffer the consequences of alcohol abuse. No child should go without food for a day no less a weekend. No child should just survive. Every child should live and thrive. Inevitably, they do suffer the consequences and are left to dig their way out of a pit that was dug by their parents and their parents before them.
In following articles, I will address the above-mentioned issues and share the untold stories of the children of Eldorado Park.
 Soweto was created in the 1930’s when the “white” government separated black South Africans from white South Africans. The area was far removed from “white” suburbs and was used to house the majority of black people living in Johannesburg. Soweto is the largest “black” city in South Africa, with a population of approximately 1.3 million people.
 “Apartheid” is an Afrikaans word meaning “the state of being apart” or more literally “apart-hood”. The Apartheid regime was a system of racial segregation enforced by the ruling party at the time: The National Party. It was established in 1948 and abolished in 1994. The Group Areas act was the title of three acts enforced by the apartheid government. This act enforced the segregation of different racial groups in different areas within the urban area.
 El Dorado was a place of incredible riches that was said to exist in the New World by 16th and 17th century explorers.
Dannealle is studying photography in Cape Town, South Africa. Through her creative work she aims to share her compasion and empathy for her fellow human beings. She says ” The thing i hold closest to my heart is my ability to help open minds and hearts to what’s truly important.”
Ashleigh is a school teacher and a writer. She is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She teaches in the Eldorado Park township. After graduating from wits University in Johannesburg she worked at a community radio station in Eldorado Park for a year. It was here where she first encountered the neglected state of the community. She is passionate about being more than a teacher. She wants to be a change agent in vulnerable communities.