Megan Gieske is a storyteller and photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Langa Township, which means “the suns,” was one of the many townships in South Africa designated for black Africans before the apartheid era.
“All we wanted in South Africa was to be free—to live together without any hatred or separation,” says Siviwe Mbinda, who’s lived in the township for 23 years. “The townships achieved that. This generation is still enjoying to be free.”
Though things are far from perfect, life in the townships is filled with entrepreneurial energy and community spirit. That’s what inspired Mbinda to start Happy Feet Youth Project in 2007 in an effort to provide an after-school dance program for township kids.
When he started the project, he wanted to be able to say “I live in the squatter camp (the township), where we have the best dancers.” Now, Happy Feet has connected with event planners who invite them to perform in hotels around Cape Town. “If you say ‘Let’s come and dance,’ they will come.”
“I’m from the townships, and I’m proud,” Mbinda said. “How do we, the people of the townships, see South Africa? How do we feel about South Africa?” After he asked himself this, Mbinda and the other volunteers at Happy Feet dedicated themselves to providing leadership skills, a sense of belonging, and role models for local boys and girls ages 3-20.
One dancer, “Tyson” Monwabisi Macingwana, says, “I have been in Happy Feet for eight years now. Happy Feet has taught me many things. One of them is to become a leader.”
Happy Feet has even been able to establish scholarships to pay tuition fees and school uniforms for fifteen of the youth participants.
“We feed the brain through education, the heart by giving kindness, and the stomach by offering food,” Mbinda says.
By helping local students find a safe and encouraging after-school environment, Happy Feet Youth Project is a demonstration of what a community can achieve when people have vision, passion, and compassion.