Noam Schimmel ’02 had been visiting a teenager for weeks during his walks around Cape Town streets, but Schimmel was unable to convince the teenager to participate in an educational program or to return to his family. But last week, the teenager walked into Schimmel’s classroom of his own accord and asked to join the class.
Schimmel has spent the last two and a half months in Cape Town, South Africa, working with street kids on a Gordon Grand Fellowship. After his six-month stay there, he will travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to do similar work. He spends the majority of his time in South Africa teaching English and computer skills to children with the Salesians, a Catholic religious order devoted to helping youth.
Schimmel met the new student while “streetwalking” — traipsing through Cape Town asking children about their lives and talking to them about options for education and shelter.
“It’s really interesting for me, being Jewish, to work in a Catholic environment and see how tolerant and liberal they are,” he said. “The best part is just being with street kids and just trying to make a difference in the lives of people here.”
He is currently working on developing a program to take children to museums, libraries and government offices, encouraging them to continue their education and take advantage of community resources. He attends the meetings of the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum to learn more about the nongovernmental organizations that help Cape Town street children. Schimmel also researches South African laws on child welfare, education and programs designed to fight poverty and improve healthcare.
The project Schimmel is most excited about is developing a skateboarding park and program for street kids. He said that he thinks it would provide the kids with an alternative to crime and an opportunity to learn a new skill.
“What skateboarding does is that it allows them to do an activity that has the same kind of thrill, but doesn’t have all of the negative things that are associated with living on the street,” he said. “It forces them to be disciplined and creative and forces them to work on a task.”
Schimmel said he became interested in working with street kids while taking a junior term abroad in Buenos Aires. In the summer of 2001, he also visited Manila through a program run by the International Partnership for Service and Learning. There, he studied social and economic development and volunteered with street children and orphans in a shelter.
International Education and Fellowship Programs Assistant Director Mark Bauer said he worked with Schimmel on the Marshall Scholarship application and enjoyed receiving “Noam Schimmel travelogue e-mails.”
“I believe he was in Thailand with Buddhist monks and reflecting on his application,” he said. “[He is] just a thoughtful, present, engaged young man.”
Last year, Schimmel organized a spring break trip to El Salvador. He said he was happy to see that Reach Out, a student organization devoted to global awareness and responsibility, was working on promoting the cause at Yale. This spring, the group is organizing trips to El Salvador, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Reach Out coordinator Jocelyn Lippert ’04 said Schimmel’s work at Yale has helped sustainable development awareness.
“The trip that he organized last year really was the impetus for everything we’re doing now, because it was the group of people who went on that trip who formed the board of Reach Out in the fall,” she said. “When Noam started that trip to El Salvador, he did it definitely not just as an isolated trip, but hoping that it would lead to more action on campus — and get students involved in nonprofits overseas.”