I have often noticed that listening is an art that most of us have yet to master. Our evening talking circles afforded the group the opportunity to speak once and listen twenty four times. What I loved the most is that everyone shared their candid feelings, and thoughts. There were no right or wrong things to say, and if you wanted to pass for that evening, you were able to do so. I was able to hear twenty four different thoughts, emotions, ideas, feelings, fears, worries, joys, and sorrows. I learned so much through what everyone said as it gave me a chance to reflect on my personal journey while I was in Cape Town. Through the talking circles I had the opportunity to share my feelings, and not have anyone question or provide feedback. If I'm not mistaken, I think that was the first time I had ever experienced that. There was power in being able to share, openly and honestly about what you were processing internally, and have a group of individuals that were attentive and respectful to what was shared.
I was then drawn to ponder on individuals in the townships that perhaps have many things to say, yet there is no one there to listen. I wonder how many children, youth, mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, brothers, and sisters have been stripped of the power of their voice, and internalize their experiences. Upon our visit to Delft township, the several families we visited were happy to share their stories with the group. They openly shared of their struggles, successes, and lives, and what was powerful about those moments is that we sat quietly, and listened intently. During those moments I didn't feel the need to speak. I wanted to listen, smile, and accept the process. I wanted to be an agent of healing as I stood and listened. Sometimes there's more power in listening than there is speaking. Of course there is a time to speak, and a time to listen, but the talking circles reminded me that not everything I'm thinking needs to be said. Sometimes it's okay to sit quietly, and listen to the other person speak without judgment, without distractions, and without complaint. Through listening we have the chance to learn, grow, and appreciate. I am thankful for the opportunity to listen twenty four times because through that my admiration, respect, and appreciation for each of my buddies grew each time.
that often share their rights, beliefs, ideas, and feelings, yet seldom take the time to listen to others. Some people become so egocentric, whether consciously or subconsciously, that they deprive others the room to freely share. Then there are some people that are afraid to speak for a myriad of reasons. Through this talking circle, I saw people
As we began our 3 days, and 2 nights in the mountains for the Educo retreat I didn't know what to expect. What I did know is that I had to sleep in a cabin with 12 of my classmates, as well as the possibility of spiders looming around. I felt uncomfortable, yet at the same time ready to accept any challenge. To my surprise, the facilitators of the retreat informed the group that our phones would be stripped of us, as well as any time keeping devices; I was shocked! I couldn't remember the last time I was without my phone for more than five minutes. I was hesitant to drop the phone in the bag that was going around collecting everyone's phones. I wanted to comply, and accept the process, but did not want to let go of that small device that kept me preoccupied, and sometimes disrupted any chance for relationship building. I knew that the outcome of the following three days in the retreat was contingent on my attitude, actions, and interactions with those around me. I prayed, I contemplated, and reminded myself that it was not everyday that I was in South Africa with 25 other students studying the history of the Apartheid, and participating in discussions surrounding social justice, and advocacy for the oppressed, as well as the oppressors.
For those three days I felt naked not knowing the time, or what the next activity was going to be, but I engaged in relationship building, meaningful conversations, and self-reflection. I learned that when I am in the United States I usually have my phone attached to my hip. I am on a constant schedule accounting for every second, minute, hour and day. I often tell my friends that I don't have time to stay in contact with them while I'm in school because I am inundated with work. I realized that constantly being concerned with time, schedules, and deadlines that I have failed to nurture established friendships, as well as build new friendships. I realized that I barely make time for myself where I leave the phone behind, and soak in the beauty of nature. Those three days in the Educo retreat taught me that life would go on with or without a phone, and that most times, I will be just fine if I don't have my phone to enjoy the power of human relationships, meaningful conversations, and self-reflection.
Although these last three weeks have given me so many things that I may never be able to put into words, I am going to do my best to try. Starting this trip, I had no idea what to expect. When we had the pre-departure meetings, I was really intimidated by everyone who had an amazing story and reason for being there, and I really did not feel that I had as good of a reason, making me feel like a little bit of an underdog. Hearing the alumni come in and talk made me feel a little more at ease, but I still had my fears and reservations that I would not compare and be as ready as everyone else.
Arriving in South Africa relieved some of the tension; I was finally in this beautiful place and ready to learn. Many people came to heal, or learn how to forgive, but ultimately I believe the reason that I went was to find myself in a way that I don't think I could have done anywhere else. I learned that the power of a voice is nothing that can be measured, and that everyone deserves a chance for his or her voice to be heard. Although I didn't think that my voice was quite as important as other people, I really benefitted from other people sharing their voice for some it was their first time and that was really powerful.
I found myself slowly turning into someone who realizes their privileges, and isn't ignoring them anymore. I am ready to embrace that knowledge and the burdens it brings with, and hopefully that will make me a better person, that will benefit this beautifully challenged world that we live in.
Ultimately I believe that this trip gave me the strength to someday share my voice, no matter how small I think it is. Although I didn't share my whole story while there, I believe that because of this experience some day I will have the power to do so. This trip has been the most amazing experience of my life, and has changed it forever.
Community created 3,500 feet up
Today I am going to blog on the experience myself and 9 other classmates had on the mountain(s?). We started this little adventure at 2 in the morning, assuming that it would only take us about four hours to reach the top, so we could see the sunrise. Well, as awesome as that idea was, that did not really work out so well. We started from the University of Cape Town campus, close to the Devils Peak, which is right next to Table Mountain, the ultimate goal. We started climbing and got to almost the top of the peak, when we heard Fanny say the directions got lost in the wind, so we had to pretty much wing some made up directions. We kept going on what we assumed would be the trail we should take and somewhere we got a little lost and were not making it to our destination in the time that we thought we would. We ended up being on the wrong side of the mountain and missed the actual sunrise, but got to see the whole city light up, which was really amazing. Long story short, we finally ran into the trail that takes you up the mountain, and we eventually made it to the top. The thing that I would really like to talk about in this blog is the sheer community that was created out of small panics (at least from me) and the fact that we were each others only sense of direction, so we really had to trust each other. It was dark, and cold, and windy; all we had for light was phone flashlights. We only each had a bottle of water, and we were all really thirsty but we got each other through it. We communicated to each other road blocks that we encountered. The danger (imagined or not) made us all put trust in each other that we probably would not have done without this experience, which really made me feel connected to everyone in a very community like way. Two people that really helped me get to the top were Olivia and Ivan. Halfway up the Table Mountain trail, I really didn't think I could make it any further and they definitely helped me get all the way up by encouraging me along with having to get up the mountain themselves. They were really selfless when we went on this trip, and not only thought of themselves, but made sure I was doing okay, and I will be forever grateful that they gave me the courage and strength to make it all the way up that mountain. My lived body experience once I got to the top is really undescribable but the best way I can think to describe it is that I got such an adrenaline high that I felt like I was floating, and I felt pretty much invincible while we were in the clouds, I felt a way that I don't know I will ever feel again, in a good way. I felt close to heaven, which was a really amazing spiritual experience. Overall, this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I don't think I will quite be ever to do the occurrence justice with just my words.
One of the places I wanted to make sure I visited in my time in South Africa was the Cape of Good Hope, I hadn't known much about it but I knew that was where the penguins' were- and I wanted to see them.
After hiking table mountain hike I wasn't anticipating other places would quite compare to table mountain in the hiking experience and diverse scenery but Cape Point in its own ways it was just as exceptional as a view from table mountain. With limited time Fanny and I hiked up the paved path to the first lighthouse and then beyond towards the viewing point of the second. Taking advantage of the trail the led beyond a crumbling brick barrier of the lookout we went further. There weren't any other onlookers that far out and we came to the paths end at a small drop off. The feeling of standing there with no protection from the wind on a high cliff at the southernmost point of the continent in-between two oceans the most accomplished yet belittling feeling I've experienced. The hike to that point was a challenge especially following the 6-hour trek the day before. I felt the adrenaline once reaching that point where time wouldn't allow us to go much further. I let myself take it all in, to my left I was witness to the enormous mountains surrounding the bay that was sprinkled with beaches. Swarms of fish, kelp, and tour boats were in clear sight in the ocean. From an aerial view everything was the size of a pen point, the penguins, which peppered the boulders below, would have been easily overlooked if we weren't aware of them. Behind me on my right was the cliff face that connected to the point where we were standing. It was enormous and showed a lot of similarity to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. To be able to see as close up as the face of the mountain and beyond to the span to where the mountain laid across the coast was almost unreal. I found my perceptions skewed just by how big things are and how small as one person I felt then standing at that point. This experience wouldn't have been as memorable for me without making the trip with Fanny, the shared experience of the sights we saw and how we felt taking it all in makes this point of the trip an easy one to reflect upon.
I was able to gain so much experience and enjoyed very much with my dear friends in South Africa, it was a life changing experience, lot of things happened in this trip. I feel very matured and understanding others and myself. Our whole team was able to reflect themselves; it's a spiritual wound healing experience for everyone. I was very thankful they opened up themselves, its very hard for human being to have all the things inside their heart, at some point you have to let out everything. The retreat in the mountain was so amazing; my mind was going crazy when each of my friends open up about their fears and what is bugging their inner soul for long time. I never thought I will have to go through such an uncomfortable process and it was totally worth it. Looking back, it was such a wonderful time to be without knowing what time it was and no cell phones. I started to admire nature more and all the gifts provided to the mankind. It's always good for people to stay uncomfortable trying new things in their lives. The talking circle is a great idea where all of us have to share their general thoughts; I get to know more about them as the conversation progresses. Also, South African history is so beautiful; it's hard to believe everyone who committed atrocities during the apartheid granted amnesty through reconciliation committee. Even after ANC took power, they could have forged their power into the opponents of the apartheid, instead they chose to grant pardon, based on forgive not forget for the future of this country. It was the craziest experience watching video of people giving their statement of insane things they have done and the victims and their families sitting next to them crying, letting all their inner emotional struggles away. I have no idea what went through in the minds of South African people who watched this whole TRC hearing for more than five years. Apart from all these struggles, I witnessed the good side of this country in our visit to Afrika Tikkun; it takes a lot of courage to helping children and their families, providing food, arranging accommodation and other services to make their lives better. It takes bravery and really strong motivation to devote you to the betterment of community. I learned a lot of lessons and gained ample experiences throughout this trip, I am very happy to be part of this journey.
I think one of the most memorable experiences that I had this past week was the hike that ten of us have embarked on starting at 2 am to reach the sunrise. Our plan was to reach the top of Table Mountain in time to see the sun rise over Cape Town. I ended up not sleeping at all since I figured that waking up that early would not make a difference if I had slept or not. When we began our hike, we were close to the base of the mountain and it was dark and it had the night chill along with the wind to keep us company. We had to use the light on our cell phone to keep our footing. When we got high enough, I was surprised to see that the city below provided enough light to set a shadow on the ground towards the top of the mountain. I never realized how much light a city actually gives off.
One thing that I will never forget will be the fact that during the dark night, all ten of us worked together to reach our goal. We all needed each other's help. The point that this was demonstrated the best was when we were very high in the mountain at this point and we were walking a trail that was narrow and on the edge. One wrong move it would not end well for anyone. But we helped each other. We got through and I will never forget that moment.
We ended that hike on top of that mountain in the midst of the clouds. It was quite and I had a moment of meditation to reflect on life. I thought about a lot of things and I won't go into detail but it was a moment of calm and I left that mountain feeling good. I don't think that I will ever be able to repeat and experience like that again.
I am amazed at how much strength Cape Town, South Africa has given me. When I was at the top of Table Mountain, I felt complete. I did not need anything from life, but air to breathe. All my worries, struggles, resentment, anger, and sadness, was overshadowed by the light that illuminates the world, the light that shines every given day, the light that gleamed at my face, it was the light of hope that I saw. They say that we walk on this Earth in search of enlightenment and usually enlightenment is found in death, when we rest in peace, but I do not believe that. I think enlightenment is within us, but in order to feel it we need to be healed from all the things that bring us down. I now, know what it feels to be enlightened, I am at peace with myself. South Africa has truly healed my soul and a simple thank you is not enough. I want to give back to Africa not through words, but by putting into action what I learned in this beautiful place. My goal is to go back home to help first generation and low income students to empower themselves. I want those students to experience a professional education because access to education is vital.
It makes me sad to know that I am going to leave such a moral place in a few hours, but I feel ready to go back home. I am ready to take on the challenges that awaits me. I am going back as a healed and authentic agent of social change. I know I can not change the world, but if I start by focusing my attention on students, who are our future, I will open doors to a bigger positive change in the future. There was a painting in the Delft township of a quote by Nelson Mandela that read, "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." The quote demonstrates the great power that education holds.
I walk this Earth enlightened, fearless, and ready to make a difference. South Africa you have been great to me. I hope to visit you again in the near future.
18 January 2014
It's strange that our time in Cape Town is drawing to an end. It feels in some ways like we've been here for more than three weeks, but often it feels like we arrived just yesterday. There's so much yet to see and do and it's time to make some tough choices about what's feasible. Still, this has been such a rewarding experience and I'm walking away from it with so much--not just from South Africa but from my peers as well. I owe more than I can say to not just my new friends but to all of the amazing, inspiring people that I've had the privilege to meet here.
I must thank our wonderful teacher Nate, the staff of Educo Africa (who led us through our mountain retreat) and the staff at Afrika Tikkun--who opened themselves and their community to 25 students from the United States for a week. There are so many individuals that we've had the pleasure of meeting on this trip that have touched me very deeply, and though it doesn't seem like saying thank you is enough, that is what I do here. Perhaps the best way to thank these new friends is to keep their words with me as I head back home--and to act upon their advice and wisdom.
I'll take more than just this home though. I'll take the memories of our moments together--happy, sad, frustrating, and everything in between. This is really a class that pushes its students to reflect and to expand their horizons, but the beauty of it all is that we have our classmates to rely on as we experience change. From sitting together in class to climbing mountains with each other, we're always talking, listening, and learning from one-another.
I know from my past travels that it's easy to get swept right back into a routine and to forget bits and pieces of a trip once home. This is something that I'll have to work on, but there are definitely things that will be impossible to forget. Yesterday I was lucky enough to climb to the top of Lion's Head peak and watch as the sun sank in to the sea while a full moon rose just opposite. I was privileged enough to sit with my amazing peers as they told us their stories. I slept outside in the mountains under the most spectacular stars I have ever seen. I played with children in Delft and was reminded how healing it can be to laugh. I don't know that I can forget such special moments in the coming months.
None of this would have been possible, however, without the support and love of my friends and family. I can think of no more appropriate way to sign of from my trip than by thanking those that sent me on the path to Cape Town in the first place. To all of my close ones at home--thank you. Thank you for your encouragement and smiles (plus your willingness to Skype at the strangest possible times). Thank you for your love and kindness. I can't wait to see you all soon--and with all of my pictures in tow (promise)!
During our last week here in South Africa, we had the opportunity to visit the townships. We met the staff of Afrika Tikkun, an organization that has transform the lives of many families in Delft. Their hard work, dedication, and encouragement have kept Ubuntu alive. In other words, Afrika Tikkun is a great example of collaboration, community, and the importance of the power of relationships. They taught us about their people, their struggles, and their resiliency.
After visiting homes in Delft, we stopped by a community clinic. As we entered the clinic, I saw a lot of people sitting, waiting to be seen. I was not sure why everyone was there for, but as we walked through the narrow aisles we learn about different areas of the clinic (maternity room, HIV counseling, child check ups, ect.) and the work each "sister" (nurses or medical personnels) did. This visit allowed me to reflect on my own life. There are times when I complain about waiting in line for a few minutes. Some of these women, men, and families wait an entire day to be seen, and sometimes they do not get seen. There was one moment when we were walking toward the maternity area when a woman asked me what were doing. I responded, "we are visiting." She smiled. I smiled backed and took the smile as a sign of gratitude and appreciation.
The clinic may not have been one of the greatest, but for the people in Delft it was a place full of hope.
Throughout the visit, I felt like an intruder, but at the end of the visit I felt humbled and privileged to be in this community clinic. I became witness to their story, their community, and their home.
The question of Ubuntu and community is a common theme that arises through our course, class discussions and our experiences in the community. "I am because you we are" is one of the ways to describe Ubuntu. I am a strong believer that my parents and family have provided me opportunities that I wouldn't have had due to their hardships and sacrifices that they have made for me. However, the concept of community has always been hard for me to define within my own life. From the course readings and other readings, I have seen community in practice, but I am struggling to find my own community within my life. Being born in California and moving to Minnesota shortly after, I only grew up around my parents and older sister. We have no relatives or family residing in MN, so community to me has become my immediate family. However seeing community within South Africa in comparison to what I have or seen in America showed me different dimension of community.
When visiting the townships and listening to the people's stories I felt an immense emotional feeling, where I questioned myself on what can I do to help. But in order to accept that process of emotion I am beginning with education. Through educating myself and gaining knowledge about the people I have a deeper understanding of what I can actually do to help on an individual basis. The women of Afrika Tikkun also taught me the importance of doing what you love to do. They invest so much of their time and emotions to aide other children and families that often go unrecognized. But having the opportunity to go into the townships and listening to families has allowed me to view the meaning of home in a different manner. Although their home is different than what I define as my home, it doesn't make it any lesser than what it is to that family or that individual as home is to me. During my time in South Africa, I found remnants of what home means to me that has broadened my appreciation for culture. I hope to one-day return to this beautiful country with even more to learn.
It is finally coming down to the last day of the trip. Even though I will be leaving with a heavy-heart, I am glad to have experienced this eye-opening trip. I came on this trip expecting to be healed by the distance from home for a breather and to learn of forgiveness from the history of apartheids in Africa. What I now realized is, I was not only healed through both of those expectations but an additional, unexpected cure--that is the power of stories.
It was story circle,
my peers, and the lively South Africa culture that cured my depression and
stress. It was through them that I
gained my confidence to go towards the path of my dream and to be the person
that I am. I learned that everyone has a story, whether if it is sad or
happy--it is still a lived-experience. I
have a story. I have struggles but that
does not mean I should lose hope or hinder it from the world. Being an independent individual that I have
been for so long, I finally came to lower my pride. I came to seek for guidance when I needed it,
instead of trying to hold everything in. I
can now accept that I cannot control everything in my life or in this world and
that is completely okay. I came to
trust people. I learned to open my heart again.
In final words, I want to thank everyone who made this trip possible, including those who were on this same journey with me. It was a slap in the face to reality, it was a healing experience, and it was definitely a flight to grow wings. I am now free from the cage I locked myself in due to insecurities. I am now completely whole through the help of everyone. Yes, even you who is reading this.
Our stories connect
more than we will ever know. I am
because we are, and since we are, therefore I am. Ubuntu
until the end of this universe!
2:00am, was when nine of my peers and I began our journey up to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We had the intention of making to the top of Table Mountain to watch the sunrise, but things did not go as planned. I never imagined this journey was going to be one of my greatest challenge, both mentally and physically.
We started at upper campus of University of Cape Town (UCT). I was scared; I constantly kept praying and asking God to keep my peers and I safe. As we continued to make our way up to Devil's peak, the wind blew harder and harder. I thought this was a bad sign, because if the wind did not stop the cable car would not be operating in the morning, which meant we had to hike back down. The hike was full of surprises and amazement. We made it through one of the scariest path; it was very narrow that if I took the wrong step, I would not have survived. The sunrise was approaching; we kept hiking, but unfortunately did not make it on time to the top of the mountain to see it rise. However, we did see the entire city of Cape Town. The view was amazing! After resting for a few minutes, we continued our hike. The path that we were following eventually led us to the path up to Table Mountain. The path did not seem long. But I was wrong, as soon as I started hiking the steep, rocky and zigzag shape path I regretted coming on the hike. Every time I looked up to see if I was closer to the top, the path seemed endless. I was sweating, my legs were in pain, and at times I just wanted to get back down. I do not know where I got the strength and determination to continue; all I know is that this experience was worth it.
Getting to the top of Table Mountain was priceless! I felt liberated. The scenery was majestic and beautiful. Not even the pictures can capture the beauty of the place. This experience was unexpected, and the journey helped me appreciate nature and the wonders God has created in this world.
The lines of this world are drawn by the hands of a child,
Who plunges his arms in hope to wash off the stain of destitution,
And watches the sky for signs of change.
I see myself in him, though he is born of Delft and I privilege.
I smell the putrid air around him, which he proudly declares the heart of freedom.
I cry and crumble in the face of death, as he rejoices in the life of all.
I envy the resilience of his soul, while mine flutters in misdirection.
He is a child of Delft.
He is a child of South Africa.
I wrote this poem after visiting the township of Delft. One day during our service learning, we walked through the streets of Delft and met with some of its residents. It is like no other place on earth. The sensation of walking into a living breathing community in isolation and extreme poverty as a group of mainly American students with prominent cultural and racial differences was a shock to my system. I believe it was also a shock to the residents who eyed us carefully and intently as we walked by their homes and family. Although many were very friendly and greeted us, there we also those who had a look of confusion, possibly even a look of disgust. Early on I personally felt intrusive and a sense of foreignness which Cape Town has hidden well for me, but as I played with the children and talked with the parents, I felt much more at peace. There was one child in particular who I had a special connection to. He was a slightly older child who loved to play soccer. When I met him he was shy and stood behind the other children. I asked him if he went to school and he told me he was a good student but got into trouble a lot. He dreamed of being able to play soccer in a real stadium and live a life outside of where he was. He also said he wanted to travel and do a lot of good for the people of this world. It was this ambition and hope that surprised me. He didn't just have a child-like innocence to the problems of his community but rather a good understanding of his current environment. The hope that child had carries me on through my experience with Delft and the issues of its community from sexual violence to drug abuse to poverty. Talking with this young ambitious man has made me stronger and more resolute in my goals and principles. He has given me a new sense of hope that I can make a difference. Though we interacted for a good five minutes, I did not ask him for his name.
One of the most physically challenging, but valuable experience that I have had is hiking up Devil's peak and Table Mountain with 10 other members of this trip. Coming on this study abroad program I knew I wanted to be challenged to do something out of my comfort zone and this was it. This was one memorable and once in a lifetime experience. From 2:00AM till 8:00AM, we were hiking and walking the mountains in hopes of catching the sunrise, but instead we watched the city light up in the morning. It was mentally and physically exhausting for me to complete, but the support that I had from everyone made my experience worth so much more than I can imagine. There were times where I felt that like giving up, but knowing that someone was behind me motivating me allowed me to push through and hike all the way to the top. It took hours upon hours for us to do, but the feeling of reaching it to the top and being greeted by others was remarkable. Even though everyone hiked at their own pace I still felt a sense of community within our group of people. We were all concerned with each other's safety and were supportive with each other throughout the entire hike. Through this experience I felt a sense of Ubuntu and community within our small group. In a way we are all made it to the top because of everyone. I remember the first day in the Educo retreat, Wendy said that the "mountains will change you" and after this experience the mountains has changed me in many ways and I left a piece of myself up there.
When I heard that there was an AVERAGE of 40 kids were class with a 20 to 1 ratio with kids from 2 to 6 years old my mind had to have a conversation with my face (like Natisha says) to remind myself not to show shock and awe at the statistics. The shock was not disappointment in what Americans may call a problem of understaffing but it was amazement that these women could come to work and take care of 20+ children, go home and then come back the next day. We were only there for about 3 hours and by the end of the day I sat in the middle of the room unable to even pick up a puzzle piece, and then I looked up and as one of the teachers was putting away the last toy she looked at us and said, "Thank you so much" my heart sunk. I was sitting on her floor in pure exhaustion after 3 hours and she was thanking me. If I had enough energy to move my mouth I would have asked "for what". The women that I have met this past week through Afrika Tikkun have changed my perspective on life in more ways then they could ever know. Today as we reflected one of my cohorts quoted Galatians 6:9 "And let us not get weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up", and I hope every woman at Afrika Tikkun knows there work is not in vain and although there may not be immediate changes they are inspiring women like myself to strive to be better, strive to be stronger, strive to be a WOMAN in every essence of the word. Afrika Tikkun will never be forgotten, but they hold a place deep in my spirit. One day I hope to teach the next generation and when I get weary and tired I will never forget the teacher who looked at me and said "Thank you" and now when I think about it the answer to my question, "for what" is for understanding my struggle and recognizing the work that I do. If I can be half of the woman they are I will make a difference. Thank you Afrika Tikkun. Thank you Delft. Thank you Cape Town. Thank you South Africa.
Although it was nearly a week ago some of the most influential lessons I have learned on this trip have been from the different places we have visited last week including the District Six Museum,the Slave Lodge, and Robben Island. Despite the critique some had of it being slightly touristy, for me my experience and connection with these places were so much greater than that.
While visiting the District Six Museum and learning about the forced removals that occurred, I was vaguely reminded of the story of the forced removal of the Rondo Community in Minnesota. Hearing and learning about the trickle down effect these travesties have had over time and how the effects have manifested into todays communities is similar. Hearing the personal stories of the tour guide and his family and how he has analyzed the problems of today's youth as a result of the effects of the loss of community, structure, and power in relation to these forced removals was extremely sad and all to familiar. For me, it brought up feeling =s of despair; how could situations such as theses happen so frequently, and if it manifests over time even after it's seemingly "over:, into a disrupted, and dismantled community that has so many issues, then does anyone have the capacity to change this? Seeing the similarities f the movements that followed, mirrored alot of those of the civil rights movement in the US.
While in the Slave Lodge and Robben Island, we learned the stories of all of the unspoken heroes. For me, this is what made the difference and helped return my faith. When speaking with the tour guide, who was himself an ex- political prisoner of Robben Island, it dawned on me the many people who passed through these walls that played distinct and significant roles with =in the struggle. Our tour guide explained his role as a chef within the prison, which I and many of my peers had not previously known there was a major significance behind. The cooks and nurses within the hospitals were a significant role within communication between the different sectors of the prison. My favorite speech (Drum Major Instinct by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) touches on this idea of being a martyr for change not for the recognition and accolades but for the deed itself. Often times within these movements those that play integral roles but don't require the accolades are often times overlooked when history gets retold. I think if we put an emphasis to look deeper into history, to figure out who these people were, within today's struggles it would be easier to understand these roles and why they are so vital to our communities. Not everyone is a Nelson Mandela, and not everyone is destined to be a Nelson Mandela, but let's not misinterpret the George Tamba and Bayard Rustins of the world and roles in which they played which the leaders where derived.
In anticipation of tons of commencement blog posts, I wanted to offer up something different: the idea that this is not the end of a journey but rather the beginning of one. I brought up this idea last night at our circle time but I wanted to reiterate what I already said for everybody to see/read.
This trip has brought many, many more lessons to my life than I ever had anticipated. I've learned more about myself in these past 3 weeks than I've let myself learn in my entire life. I couldn't have made any of this progress with all of the people in this group. These 25 other people have made me think about concepts in ways I would have never considered. These 25 people have made me challenge my own personal challenges in search of healing. These 25 people have truly changed who I am for the better.
Because you all have been such a huge part of my life, I challenge all of us to remember that this 3 week global seminar was only the peak of the iceberg in fighting social justice and finding healing. This trip has opened my eyes to social issues and also to problems I never before thought existed. It is my greatest hope that we all remain not only in contact with each other but more importantly I hope we remain friends. Nobody else out there will know what the 26 of us have gone through in these short weeks and I hope well remember Ubuntu - I am because of you.
This past week, we've been working with an organization called Afrika Tikkun in the township of Delft. Afrika Tikkun is a great organization; they work hard in townships to build meaningful community. They educate the children, help single mothers, assist victims of HIV/AIDs, and do much, much more. These past few days we've been working side by side with the Afrika Tikkun social workers.
I was so nervous our first day going into Delft; I didn't think I would be so on edge. I didn't know how to act or how I should present myself. I also had no idea what to expect. Making expectations for things you know nothing about is dangerous, so I had told myself I wasn't going to make any expectations or assumptions of how this week would be.
However, upon arriving in Delft, we were showered with warmth and friendliness by the Afrika Tikkun workers. All but one of the social workers made the time to walk up to me on their own, ask my name, and introduce themselves. It was such a nice greeting. It was so warm and welcoming. My nerves continued to melt away with every hug they gave me. I've noticed people in South Africa are more affectionate than people from home, and it is a nice change. Affection shows you care. We could all stand to be more affectionate with the people we care about in life. Throughout the next two days, the warmth of the workers did not decrease. They answered our questions, knowing our ignorance and naivety, but not blaming us for it. Never once did I feel uncomfortable asking them a question.
The third day we were in Delft, one social worker, Marcalina, who was the one worker I had not talked to yet, walked up to me when I was sitting alone on a bench. She bent down, took my hands, looked me in the eye and said, "Hello dear. I'm Marcalina. I haven't spoken to you yet. How are you? Who are you? Talk to me." It was one of the most beautiful things a human being has ever said to me. Why did she care so much about me? I could have left the township Friday having never talked to her and not even thought twice about it. She would've been just another adult, who I looked up to for her amazing work, but didn't know personally. Yet, she cared. She cared who I was and how I was feeling about what I was seeing. She sat there next to me and continued to sit and talk with me for a while. I don't know why that moment has stuck with me- out of everything we've experienced here- but it has. The more I talked to her, the more I realized what a wonderful person she is.
I don't think Marcalina will ever know how much her small act of caring affected me. But I know by meeting her, that I met someone incredibly special. I am so thankful for the entire staff of Afrika Tikkun, for everything they've done for our class these past couple days. I wouldn't have wanted to be with anyone else.
Alright here I will discuss white privilege that has recently been talked about in class and how I feel about having my own white privilege. I take it as not a burden, but a blessing. You should never be ashamed to have privilege, just like you should never be ashamed of living in poverty. It is something you are born into and have no control over. I don't take it as a burden; I take it as a responsibility now. I'm not ashamed to be white, I'm proud of it, because that's who I am and I like who I am. I haven't always, but I definitely do now. White people begin to feel guilty, discomfort, shame, and begin to feel sorry for themselves when white privilege is brought up. I contemplate at times whether it is because they feel attacked by all this white people are the oppressors talk that they start talking about the shame and guilt that they have so they feel less responsible past atrocities made by our race. I hope not and I don't believe so. One needs to embrace white guilt, white discomfort, white shame, and quit feeling sorry for themselves. I know it can be hard, but forgive yourself for your previous ignorance, because it is not your fault you were ignorant. White individuals that do learn of their white privilege put in a lot of effort to learn this as in taking classes like this one to rid yourself of ignorance. So be proud to be white, give yourself a pat on the back for shedding yourself of ignorance of white privilege, and move on because otherwise your white privilege owns you. But fuck it, let's own it white people! We could make t-shirts, I don't know but just let go of that negative feeling you have about your white privilege, whatever it may be and let's be optimistic, because the glass is half full. Look at the past and look where we are now, yes we repeat mistakes and get amnesia, but no one ever achieved greatness or changed the world with a pessimistic mind set on the future. In the Greek mythology story Pandora's Box after every know evil was released from the box, the last thing that fluttered out was hope. Hope is something that fear fears, hatred fears, oppression fears. It is something so contagious and so powerful beyond measure that it can defeat all evils. The only you have to do, and one of the hardest things to do is believe in it and have hope.
I still don't know all of the white privilege I experience and I won't know everything I gain from it for as long as I live. I know it exists though, and I'm going to use it to my advantage. Like the cliché kind of cool Spiderman quote "With great power comes great responsibility" and I'll be damned if I'm not responsible with this power. I'm not sure how I'm going to use this power yet, but I will. I will encourage every other white person to do so as well. With this great power of white responsibility I set out to make a change. I know a lot of people weren't sure what to do with their white privilege, I say to them the first step is just explaining white privilege to white people; this is you using your power responsibly and your first responsibility. Knowledge similar to hope is a powerful thing and can also defeat all evils. First responsibility of white privilege is spreading the knowledge of white privilege; this is not an easy task. Many people will have difficulty talking about this topic; don't be discouraged we are here for you. Also don't judge and belittle a person's ignorance of white privilege because we were also there, hell I wouldn't even say the word ignorance when talking about it. It is a word that is hurtful to many and it is associated a lot with an attack on a person's character. If a person feels their character is being attacked this is just going to make your responsibility to get them to see white privilege that much harder. Also if you are still confused on what you believe to be white privilege, I'll describe what it means to me. White privilege to me is a privilege that comes from centuries of exploiting other races to gather more power. We have the vast majority of power now, you can debate whether or not the exploiting has stopped or not, I'm not going to get into that. However, I will get into what we have gain from exploiting. We have gained almost all of the power to control and manipulate political laws, regulations, and sanctions, educational curriculum, social norms, cultural events (holidays, appreciation months, etc.), media, location of races into certain neighborhoods, and the list goes on. White privilege is what you get what you don't deserve, but you do deserve to use it. Though use it wisely.
This blog will discuss the Educo retreat into the Groot Winderhoek Mountains in the Western cape of South Africa. This was a three day retreat that stripped of us technology, no watches, no laptops, no TV's, and no cellphones. The only form of technology we could use was cameras. While stripping us of something we were given something else, we were given the freedom and inability to not escape into technology that shackles us from social interaction. This freedom places people in situations that made them feel uncomfortable, however that was quickly dissipated I'm sure after our first night there when we had our first evening talking circle where everyone opened up and many poured out their soul for us. By doing this they became completely vulnerable to us. However, for myself personally that gave our group a sense of invulnerability. In a very much contradictory manner the complete vulnerability expressed by many created an invulnerability of emotional connection for the group as a whole. With everyone telling their own story, the majority of them tear-jerking, we became tethered and woven together in mutual vulnerability. As individuals we were vulnerable, scared, and anxious, however together we felt strong, uplifted, and unified. In that circle as the day changed to night, no longer could I see faces. No longer could I see the mountains off in the distant. No longer could I see the individual rocks at my feet. No longer could I see the bushy terrain that envelope us around our seemingly sacred circle. This allowed us to only focus on the one sense that mattered at that moment which was our sense of hearing. We could only listen and that's what we all needed to do. We didn't need to give words of comfort as individuals struggled to produce words of past painful experiences. As person after person divulged their story all I could hear is the individual talking, the wind whisking by, and the sniffles of my comrades that were by my side. What could have been hours, I don't know because we had no concept of time, felt like minutes. Each story lended itself to a new one, each person opening up inspired another to open up. It took many people to open up deeply about their issues to give me the courage to open up about issues that I rarely talk about. To those that I have thanked already I thank you again, to everyone else I haven't had the chance to thank I thank you with all my heart. You inspired a scared boy to do something that was long over do.
After that incredible release of emotion the rest of the trip turned into focusing on myself and what I need to do to become a better person. A lot of self-reflecting occurred at the Educo retreat there were two things I got out of the trip. First was I need to diminish the impact that I have on the environment. I can make a big impact by doing very subtle things like turn off the faucet while I brush my teeth or in between cleaning dishes, as well as using electricity only when I need it. I feel back in love with nature as I always do when I get to spend an extended amount of time in it. The environment is so pure to me and so beautiful. It is a creation from over millions of years of adapting, changing, and trying to perfect itself. We as humans are sort of fucking it all up. Now what we need to do as human beings is keep going back to nature, never stop visiting it, because each time you go and visit you realize what you must protect and your amnesia is lessened. Ingraining that in our minds is key. It was ingrained once more time in my mind at Educo, however I know that I'm going to need more and more visits, because each time I leave a little is lost. Each time I go back to nature though that appreciation and that instinct to protect it increases more than was lost previously and it is constantly increasing in this matter as long as I keep going back. My intentions are to never stop going back, and my intentions are to conserve, protect, and diminish my impact on it.
We've been in Delft, one of Cape Town's townships, for three days now. Going into this week, I have to admit that I was nervous about what the 'service learning' would bring. I didn't know what to expect or what we would be doing. I started out the week going on home visits with social workers from Afrika Tikkun. We went out in the community and into the homes of their clients, to be able to hear the stories of people they work with and realize what the staff at Afrika Tikkun and the residents of Delft dealt with on a daily basis.
On the first home visit of the first day, I was very uncomfortable. I didn't know how to act, or what to say and I was extremely nervous about offending anybody or doing anything wrong. These feelings dissipated as the day went on, and by the end of the first day I felt better prepared to go into the community and listen to what the clients had to say. I was struck by how open the people we met were. Not only were we going into their homes, but they were also telling us deeply personal details about their lives--maybe they just wanted somebody to listen. I gained a sense of our greater humanity in listening to them tell their stories and being able to share in their vulnerability.
The next day was devoted to home visits as well. As we were walking around yesterday, I began to notice the beauty of the townships. Sure, I saw shacks that were smaller than my room that an entire family was living in, garbage lining the streets, and stray animals walking around. I was told of drug problems, lost loves, and children with disabilities. But through it all, I was struck by the resiliency of the people telling their stories. I was inspired by their strength that allowed them to face their struggles and make change in their life. For everything I witnessed that made me feel sympathy for these people, I also witnessed such vibrancy and strength. I saw children smiling, laughing, and dancing. I saw neighbor greeting neighbor, and I felt such a strong sense of community that I haven't encountered anywhere else. The people are so resilient and they smile through it all. Their smiles and their spirits were contagious and I left those home visits not being able to stop smiling. It was such a powerful day.
I've learned so much in the past few days that I am still struggling to put into words, and I feel so privileged to be here and so grateful for everything I do have. And I do know at this point that these experiences and the things that I have learned in Delft will stay with me forever.
Samantha Weaver/ 01-14-14
The last several days we have spent time in the township of Delft, about a 20 minute drive from Cape Town. We've helped weed the garden, cook and clean in the kitchen, and observe and ask questions during home visits that the social workers made. Along with these tasks, we have also visited the hospital and clinic that is in the township. When I saw how crowded the hallways were with patients, with everyone staring at us, I knew that this hospital was nothing like the hospitals I had seen in the United States. Our tour guide told us that they have thousands of people going through the hospital every day. That was astounding to me; the building wasn't very big. She also said that most of the services they provide are free to the clients. This is a very good thing because many couldn't afford to go to the clinic for a check-up if they had to pay. When we made our way to wing where the delivery rooms were and where pregnant women have their appointments, there was barely any room for all of us to stand. Women were everywhere waiting to be seen. When we got to peek at the delivery rooms we were told that mothers only get to stay for six hours after their child is born to make room for the next mother. It was very surprising to me that mothers were in the hospital for such a short amount of time, but it makes sense because there are about 200 births a month and only a few delivery rooms.
After the maternity ward we went to the rehab therapy wing. This was what I was waiting for the whole time because I want to go into Occupational Therapy, and I wanted to see the difference between Occupational Therapy in the U.S. and Occupational Therapy in South Africa. A few of us got to meet the Occupational Therapists, and they told us that they do a lot with burns, cognitive function, wheelchairs, splints, and canes, and hand/arm therapy. Everything is outpatient. They also mentioned that they have group sessions to teach clients about certain exercises that will benefit them. This is a little different than anything I have seen in the United States; usually appointments are one-on-one. But, it was nice to see that work was being done rehab-wise.
Before going into the hospital and clinic, I thought that clients may not be properly cared for judging by the appearance of the building and space inside. After the tour, I know that the community in Delft is doing everything they can to provide the best care, and they are doing a pretty good job with what is given to them.
The mountains sat quiet and still.
We had just finished the "Passing Gifts" tradition. Wendy said hundreds of Educo students have done this activity for many years, and this exact spot holds hundreds of stories--I was amazed. We were asked to wander to a spot that we can sit and reflect for our Solo time.
The voices from the other students faded as everyone made
their ways to their designated place for Solo Time. I found myself walking towards a huge rock.
This will be my spot, I decided.
I sat down, quiet and still.
I reflected on what I saw and heard as the newly group exchanged gifts and made wishes to people they barely knew. Tears were shared and hearts were felt. Our struggles and things that have been bothering us were all released at the same time, the same spot.
I squinted at the setting sun as it made its last stroke of beam through the mountains. I closed my eyes slowly and felt the chilly wind tickled my back. This was when I felt the mountains. I felt what it is like to be a human. We all have struggles and that is just life. We are here, as brothers and sisters, to encourage and enable each other to continue with our path as we spoke of our struggles.
A whistle was blown to signify that it was time to regroup.
Like the mountains that witnessed brave souls expressed their emotions of admiration in the scenery--I too, witnessed Ubuntu.
I always thought there were two kinds of people in the world, the ignorant and the accepting, and I have always associated the western world with ignorance and the rest of the world as accepting, loving and kind; this trip has turned that logic on its head. South Africa has taught me that there are loving, kind, selfless, and accepting people in all races, religions, sexualities, ethnicities, creeds and genders AND there are also mean, ignorant, and selfish people is all races, religions, sexualities, ethnicities, creeds and genders. My first time encountering this was at a restaurant in downtown Cape Town, Capello's. While eating we met two men one was black south African and the other was Brazilian but living in Cape Town. Both were in their late twenties or early thirties and both were extremely ignorant. They attacked different countries in Africa saying all Nigerians did drugs and filled the jails, all Somalis are pirates and thieves, Ugandans are cannibals, and Black Americans are thugs, never mind that they were speaking to a Somali, Ugandan and African American plus out waiter was Nigerian. Due to my own ignorance I was shocked that these hateful words were coming out the mouths of a South African and Brazilian man. As they laughed about their racial and sexual jokes I couldn't help but allow the disappointment to fill my face. Fighting with them wasn't changing their minds, explaining to them their ignorance only made them laugh harder, and asking them way they thought these things only made them go into more racial jokes about how Caribbean's in New York smell and speak a "monkey" language. After that conversation my view of the world shattered and I realized in that moment that my disappointment was not in their ignorance but it was in myself for assuming that the world was roses and chocolate outside of the United States and outside of the white supremacist western world. It was then that I realized people are people no matter where you go in the world you will find the best and the worst right next door to one another. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, meeting those men was for a reason. Their words, although they cut my heart, also gave me peace in my mind and soul because it was then that I realized as an American I am not prone to selfishness, ignorance and hate but that can be overcome and I have just as much of a chance to love and care as I do to hate and neglect. At this point in the trip, a last minute dinner decision has completely reshaped the way I see the world and that meal will forever be priceless to me.
As we pass the half way point of our time here in South Africa I cant even begin to describe the vast amount of beauty Ive seen here. In our free time Ive gravitated towards seeing the places outside of the city which have involved a lot of hiking- and i love it. theres so much variety in landscapes plants and scenery going from the ocean and a short distance are the mountains that its pretty unreal. on the top of table mountain one path leads into the clouds with rocks surrounding each side. on the majority of those rocks are sand stones stacked vertically in perfect piles. I noticed after walking away from the path was the vast amount of plants that are thriving in that little area and can survive in the mix of cloud cover, sun, sand, rock, and changing temperature.
Along the lines of never being able to know what someone elses lived experience- even if you live it yourself you can only speculate, ive come to the conclusion so far that really is no way to describe being here unless you come here. Class concepts building off of this are live in the moment, do you, and remember the purpose of being here.
It must have been a little after midnight, and the three of us were lying on the grass of Groot Winterhoek Outdoor Learning Center staring at the expanse of stars above us. In our lives, we all need to feel a sense of belonging, and this was a time for us to connect. Oftentimes, I find myself taking community for granted, but the deeper connections we form are what make us whole. I had only known these people for a few days, but already we were able to trust each other enough to form a friendship. I don't know how long anyone will stay in my life, but to know that I have him or her at least temporarily is comforting. I think we need to know that we are not alone. As we stared into the universe, we discussed our lives--our likes, dislikes, thoughts, beliefs, pasts, and our hopes for the future. I've never seen stars quite like that; I think that's because I'm such a city girl. We all began to realize our smallness compared to the rest of the world, and that in addition to our stories bonded us. Humans are social creatures; we are not meant to be alone. Community is important to us. Sometimes I think we need to slow down, leave our cell phones behind, look at the stars together, and truly connect. Thank you, Educo Africa, for this opportunity.
This past week has been full of adventure, learning, conversations and history. We've done numerous museum tours and also began classes. The museums have opened my eyes and allowed me to see the incredible importance that history has taken in forming this country's social beliefs. I know that sounds silly and you might be thinking "Yeah. Of course history played a big part." If I'm being honest, I knew very little about South African history prior to this trip so I feel very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to open my mind to these ideas. The tours have opened my mind to the history of slavery, the beginnings of political movements and different aspect of Apartheid history here in South Africa. We've done tours at District Six Museum, the St. George's Cathedral, Iziko Slave Lodge, and Robben Island. All of these museums have been amazing learning opportunities to become more aware of how this beautiful country was formed, destroyed and rebuilt.
We've all talked about how it's easy to get swept up in the madness that exists with being in a brand new country full of places to explore and take pictures of. What we tend to easily forget is the importance of the education we're getting while we're here. This week we began our classes in a hall at the University of Cape Town. Since we began classes at UCT campus, we've gotten the wonderful opportunity of chasing after the Jammie Bus which brought with it a sense of being back at home chasing after Campus Connectors. Once we finally catch the Jammie, we get to go to class with 25 other people with brilliant, new ideas and open minds. Back at school, it has always been easy for me to be a listener and passive student because of the large class sizes. With this course, it is completely different. I'm engaged in class. I'm participating in class. I'm excited about what we're learning in class. The small class size and connection amongst us (as a result of the time spent together and a huge result of Educo Retreat) allows us the opportunity to have great discussions in class about race, social class, Apartheid and other normally difficult topics. I can't wait to see what other discussions are sparked by this group and how my ideas will be challenged!
A powerful gust of wind blew past our ten bodies as we stood in the dark. In the distance, the red lights of two taxis faded to unseen specks of the night. My first thought was, what have I gotten into? Our decision to make the early, early morning hike was one which spawned out of casual discussion. We had just finalized the plans a couple of hours ago. After a brief nap with lots of time-checking and a taxi ride full of anxious energy, the ten of us were standing at the upper campus of UTC, together, but slightly disoriented. The dim glow of my phone was the only light in a sea of darkness. The hushed voices around me seemed to come all at once. Where are we? What direction is the mountain? This is insane! It was almost exactly two am when we took our first steps towards the mountain pass which we hoped would ascend us over 1000 meters to the top of Table Mountain.
The next eight hours would push our bodies and minds to the limit. As much as I would like to believe that I was well prepared, nothing could prepare me for the grandiose nature of the mountain or its strangely captivating danger. At one particular leg of the climb, we were faced with ledges of no more than two feet wide. On one side was the unsympathetic harshness of the mountain, which we clung on to with dear life, and on the other side was a cliff and then nothing. At those points I was happy that our vision was only limited to a circle of light from our cellphones.
Walking in darkness had its advantages and disadvantages. Disregarding the obvious dangers, the darkness acted like an adhesive, stringing us closely physically and mentally. During that limited time, our small group worked together and existed as one. We were responsible not only for the safety of each other, but also motivating each other to continue. Throughout the trip, we leaned on each other, we shared with each other, and we faced the hardships of mountain and life with each other. On the surface, we probably looked like a group of thrill-seeking Americans with the simple goal of seeing a Cape Town sunrise from the mountain top. In actuality our intentions and motivations go far beyond that.
Samantha Weaver/ 01-12-14
The places we have gone to and activities we have done in the last several days has been amazing and incredibly tiring. We visited the Iziko Slave Lodge where many slaves were kept years ago and the District Six museum where black South Africans were forced to move out of in the 1960's through the 1980's. We stopped by St. George's Cathedral and the Crypt to learn more about the Peace Walks that happened in Cape Town during the Apartheid time period. We were honored to take a ferry to Robben Island to see the very cell that Nelson Mandela was held in for 18 years of his life. Some of us trekked to Simon's Town to go to Boulder Beach to see the African penguins that are settled there. Yesterday we took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain (the view was amazing) and attended a soccer game in the Cape Town Stadium, with the South African team called Bafana Bafana winning against Mozambique. Today several of us got the chance to go to the Aquila Game Reserve for a safari. We saw every animal that we possibly could: elephants, lions, antelope, zebra, rhinos, wildebeest, hippos, crocodiles, and a giraffe, buffalo, leopard, and cheetah. As I said, the last few days have been packed.
This past week we also started going to class at the University of Cape Town. In class we don't do worksheets or have quizzes, instead we discuss. We have talked about the Apartheid government that was evident in South Africa for such a long about of time, white privilege, and, most importantly, forgiveness. In South Africa, there was an Apartheid government until the mid 1990's that separated black South Africans and white South Africans. Blacks didn't get most of the rights that whites did: for example, they couldn't vote, had to carry a passbook wherever they went, and had to live in designated places. Once the Apartheid government was finally overthrown, many people, especially whites, would have been put into jail because of the cruelties they committed. But, instead of doing this, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was created decided that these people could be granted amnesty if they told the truth about what they did and asked for forgiveness. Learning that humans are capable of this level of forgiveness blew my mind. I didn't think it was possible that so many victims could forgive their perpetrators and so many families could grant forgiveness to those who killed other people so close to them. This forgiveness helped South Africa out of a rut; they can now build up their country that was once being torn down.
It is so freeing to forgive someone or be the one who is forgave. A worry that was once in the front of your mind vanishes by simple words. Because this forgiveness worked so well in South Africa, I think that I should use this South African forgiveness to my own life, and I advise others to do the same.
When the class went to visit the District Six Museum, we were given the privilege to write a note to Mandela and his family. I thought to myself, "wow, there is so much I have to say, but there is little room to write everything down." I took a few minutes to gather all my thoughts and wrote, "love, forgiveness, and freedom, that is the definition of Nelson Mandela." Mandela is my hero because he was able to bring freedom to his people not through revenge and resentment, but through forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is like climbing up a big mountain to get to the top, it is not impossible, but it is also not easy. It takes time, patience, and spiritual strength. Mandela learned to be patient and gained spiritual strength through self reflection and inner healing, all of which was made possible by the oppressors themselves, whom locked him up for 27 years in Robben Island. I believe that Mandela's time in prison was a significant moment in his life because it shaped him to be a stronger agent of social change. With that said, I was kind of disappointed that I was not given enough time to take in the rich history that Robben Island holds because the tour was rushed. However, I felt blessed to visit a place where Mandela learned that through love he could forgive and obtain freedom.
"hate is taught, you can learn to love"
This past Wednesday, we visited Robben Island. As many people know, Robben Island is the place where the Apartied government took political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. It is a small island about 7km from the coast of Cape Town. I was really excited for this trip. Nelson Mandela is, obviously, an extremely inspirational man who served 27 years in this prison and still came out of it a fighter. However, even though Nate told our group it would be a "touristy" hot-spot, I didn't expect that to bother me too much. I thought to myself, "Well of course, many people want to see this place where a hero was imprisoned for 27 years." But as soon as I stepped off the ferry onto the island, I was taken aback by how "touristy" it really was.
Not only did the hundreds of people all around bother me, but also the state of the island, and how it wasn't preserved exactly how it was back when it was solely a prison. Wasn't that supposed to be the point of visiting there? To try to experience a small part of what these prisoners experienced? Beforehand, I figured I would walk off the ferry ride and feel as though I was walking in Nelson Mandela's footsteps, but I found myself walking by many colorful buildings full of gifts and food for people. I thought I would walk off the ferry and only hear the crashing of the waves so I could think what Mandela must have been thinking; nervous, in an unfamiliar place, unknowing of the future. Yet what I heard was music playing merrily in the background and the loud mumblings of many people and languages.
We were escorted to a nearby coach bus where we toured the island in it's entirety. On the bus tour, they mostly talked of what the island is today- a home for people who work as tour guides and such at the prison, one church, one market, etc. Then we came upon the limestone caves, the place where they took prisoners to work at chipping limestone all day for absolutely no reason. While we were there, I kept wanting to get out of the tour bus and look around. The tour guide talking at the front of the bus gave a lot of good information, but there were a couple times when I just wanted her to stop talking and let us think for ourselves; imagine what it was like for prisoners being here, working and sweltering under the hot sun all day. It irritated me as we drove away that we had no time to think for ourselves.
After our bus tour of the island, we got to walk into the maximum security prison where political prisoners were held. I thought walking in the halls and looking at the cells would give me an eerie, unsettled feeling, but with the bustle of at least 40 other people on the walking tour with me, different languages talking, kids laughing and jabbering, it was hard to concentrate on what the history of this prison really held.
The last thing we were able to do was see Nelson Mandela's jail cell. Our tour guide, an ex-political prisoner, told us to look at the cell, take pictures, and move on. I understand we had a large group of people, but it just seemed so unauthentic to me to just glance at the cell, snap a photo, and keep on walking. Sure, I can look at my single picture I took of the tiny enclosed space Mandela sat in for years to come, but I'll probably never be able to stand there and take it all in, quietly. Being able to hear my own thoughts, to sit and look at the cell for more than a couple seconds, and to truly grasp what this man had to live through, would have been ideal.
Overall, Robben Island was a great experience- probably something I'll never be able to do again. However, my expectations were let down due to the ultra-touristy aspect of it. I didn't feel as though I got to "take it all in" as I'd hoped to.
It amazes me how quickly
friendships are building in such a short amount of time. I know it is silly to point out because it is
quite obvious to see, but to just take the time to truly comprehend the quick
cohesive friendship bonds that are forming. It is spectacular! A quote that I
came across a few years ago said, " We are strongest, when we are at our
weakest point". This quote came to my mind during story circle. Together we sit and share a circle of
struggles. Being the strongest soul to share a piece of our self and be
careless of criticisms, even when that means being stripped to face our own
struggle in the eye.
With 25 students and only three and a half weeks together, it is challenging to personally connect with everyone. Story Circle closed in that gap. The people that I have not gotten the chance to speak with, spoke. I was given the chance to hear them voiced their stories and to understand them--and that itself, made it quite simple enough that I didn't need to talk to somebody on a personal conversation to connect with them. I can feel their pain through your stories. Tutu said it best when he said, " Speak, so that I may speak" during the Truth Reconciliation. I was able to speak, be heard, and be more confident in the person that I am, because someone was brave enough to share a part of his or her life. I believe that makes it easiest to connect with people without having to take time to deep talk with them.
11 January 2014
Time really does fly when you're having fun--but it also seems to slip away in much more subtle ways that often escape our grasp until much later. Our time in South Africa seems to be speeding on and at times I feel like I'm struggling to keep up. There's so much that we're seeing, hearing, feeling--experiencing--in Cape Town much of it sobering yet much of it extraordinarily fun. I went from seeing the District Six Museum and an exhibit on peace marches in this country one day to swimming with penguins the next. We'll be attending a South African soccer game this evening (let's go Bafana Bafana!) for which I'm undeniably excited--but I'm still trying to process what I saw at the Izikio Slave Lodge just days ago (a museum in which I could have spent hours) and what I learned in our short visit to Robben Island.
Time undeniably flies when you're having fun and I've experienced that so much while I've been in South Africa--whether we're visiting gardens, wineries, markets, monuments or beaches. Still, time quietly slips away and leaves me with a torrent of emotions to try to work through in those few moments before sleep and after waking up--the only time I allow myself for rest because there's so much I want to see, do, and discuss with my classmates.
To complicate matters I've been dealing with a personal loss within my family during our stay in Cape Town. Losing a family member while so far away from my support network of loved ones is undeniably difficult though it makes me all the more grateful for my parents and close friends that reach out and hold me up from across the ocean. This experience as a whole has reinforced for me how special and empowering personal relationships can be. It has also forced me to slow down, to think, to process, to evaluate--to set aside time no matter how precious a commodity it is to simply reflect, and to just be.
Time flies when you're having fun, but it's always worth taking a moment for yourself to slow down and to reflect. I am grateful for the support I have both within my circle of family and friends at home and here among my classmates. My challenge going forward will be to take that step back and claim time for myself. I challenge myself to think about what it means to live, to love--and within the context of post-Apartheid South Africa, what it means to reconcile and forgive.
We went to Robben Island yesterday. We took a boat ride that was about 30 minutes ride there and then we went on a 45 minute bus tour of the facilities. I would say the part that probably had more of a profound impact on me was the maximum security prison itself. Actually getting a tour from someone that had been imprisoned during apartheid was amazing. He talked about his time spent in Robben Island and I almost cried. Being forced to sleep on a mat on the floor for years before actually getting bed to sleep on is something that I can barely imagine such a horrible thing. While talking to him and he was telling us how relieved he was to have a meal after 7 years in prison and to see his family was probably the most heart breaking thing, and these are things that we take for granted daily. Walking into the courtyard where the prisoners played and worked and seeing the garden that changed history forever gave me goosebumps. Seeing the where Mandela hid his manual scripts for the "Long walk till Freedom" was even more surreal. Then seeing his jail cell was another thing that I have always wanted to do and it was just crazy actually seeing it with my own eyes. Also the thing that gets to me is that Mandela didn't do this alone. I wanted to know the names of the other political prisoners that lived in the cells next to him. If you think about it besides Oliver Tambo on the outside doing all of the work and promoting the end to Apartheid, there were other political prisoners that were released before Mandela and they took his messages out with them. I just wish that they themselves were recognized as well. Then walking outside and talking the "Long walk to freedom" was gut wrenching. And watching the ex-political prisoner walk on his way back into the prison was just surreal.
The Educo Retreat was an experience that challenged me on many levels, particularly physically and emotionally. When I first heard that we were going to spend three days in the mountains of South Africa I was taken back and nervous for the trip, due to the fact that I have never experienced the outdoors and wilderness before and I was scared. I am a person that likes to set schedules and lists for myself, so that during times of chaos or stress I have a sense of control. I dislike the fact of unknowing the future. I have always learned to prepare for the future and the fact that our technology and time was taken away from us during this part of the trip was difficult. However, by the end of the retreat I learned to appreciate the feeling of not having a sense of time or schedule. By not knowing the time I was able to enjoy others company without having to worry about what's next on the schedule.
As humans we always have a desire to be connected in some way or form so by stripping our technology, phones and time away from us I learned to appreciate who and how I spend my time instead of how much I have done in a day's time. In addition to gaining my value of time, I also learned the power of stories and my own voice. The first night of being in the mountains I didn't expect to hear or even share my story with others, but I did. A part of me felt vulnerable, scared, and nervous to share, but those ahead of me that did share their powerful stories gave me a sense of security and safety net to do so. I also believe that I had an obligation to share my story with others because they have trusted me with theirs and in return I opened myself up to them. One of the best activities that we did during the retreat was Solo Time. This activity was so simple, but yet so powerful and important for me. The first Solo Time we had was during our first night in the mountains while watching the sunset where I faced some of my emotions of self-blame and guilt. From this experience I feel that I am more connected to others and even to myself as whole.
The Educo retreat allowed me to see the, "God of Nature" or at least that is what I like to call it. I am not very religious and constantly question many things, but I do believe that nature has the power to strengthen the soul and mind because it did so for me. Being in the mountains, away from technology, away from my family, away from many distractions, enabled me to reflect on myself and gave me the strength to let go of my pain, worries, and struggles. It was in that moment that I felt like I could breathe again and truly appreciate the beauty that I am surrounded by. Nature spoke to me in ways that I never thought possible. It told me that it is okay to be afraid, but now, I need to let go of my fears. It told me that it is okay to cry, but now, I need to wipe my tears. It told me that it is okay to fall down, but now, I need pick myself back up. Nature woke me up to a light of positivity and prosperity. I thank Nature for what it has done for me and admire nature for not giving up on humanity, even if humanity fails to see that modernization sheds away the life and richness of nature. My hope is that we can come together as a community to respect the "God of Nature", allowing it to blossom and heal the souls of many individuals.
Our time here so far has been amazing. It's hard to put into words how much I have gained from this experience so far. Being on an entirely new continent and in a new place is so exciting, and fills me with a new sense of hope and strength.
The warm weather is much appreciated here, as I know that the Midwest is experiencing bitter cold right now. We were fortunate enough to be able to go to the V & A Waterfront for New Year's Eve, and then to the beach on New Year's Day. Cape Town is such a beautiful city and I felt very fortunate to start 2014 in such a gorgeous, inspiring place. It gives the feeling of a new beginning for 2014.
Everything really changed when we went on the Educo Retreat to the Groot Winterhoek Mountains. We spent three days up in the mountains with the amazing Educo staff and our group. There, we were stripped from our technology and had no sense of time. Our scheduling was handled for us and we had many activities planned for us. They were self-reflective activities, as well as team building activities. One of the questions that we were asked, while watching the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen in my life, was "What are you leaving behind as you come to South Africa?" The responses from our group moved and inspired me, and what happened up on that mountain top was magical in bringing us together as a coherent whole. We also reflected on what we would take with us from the Educo experience. One main thing for me was a new found appreciation of nature. I had never been in such beautiful surroundings in my life, and I came to the realization there that I need to spend more time in nature and would love to move somewhere that is surrounded by mountains in my future. Another thing was a sense of empowerment and inner strength that I found within myself that I will carry with me in all my future endeavors. Lastly, I left with a new understanding of what it means to be South African and a deeper understanding of the history of this place. Since we've been back from the mountains I've felt such a connection to this group and I know that we'll remain close and stay in touch once we get back in the U.S.Since Educo, we started classes and excursions and it has been very educational thus far. Today Nate reminded us that we were half way through our trip and our class, and I cannot believe that. This experience is going so quickly. Lived time in this experience seems to pass at warped speed and I cannot believe that in a week and a half, we are returning home. Until then I am going to soak up the experience to learn all that I can, and I hope to return to the U.S. a better person who is more capable of helping the communities that I serve.
Samantha Weaver/ 01-06-2013
There has been so much going on in the last week. We have visited different gorgeous parts of the cape: the V&A Waterfront for New Year's Eve, Camp's Bay, and Hout Bay. At Hout Bay we all had the opportunity to bargain with sellers to get cool, handmade souvenirs and knickknacks. That was definitely a new experience for me; in the U.S. bargaining rarely happens. We also got to see seals in the harbor and put our feet in the water (too cold for swimming). Saturday night about half of us ventured to Long Street to check out the bars and clubs. The weather has also been beautiful. High 70's to mid 80's F every day, and it has only been rainy once.
Although Cape Town has been a great experience, I really enjoyed going up into the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area (about a three hour drive from Cape Town) for the EducoAfrica retreat for a few days. The mountains were breathtaking, the creek we all swam in was just what we needed to cool down in from the hot sun, and the sunset was the best one I've ever seen. Along with the scenery, we all learned. We learned how vital sunscreen, water, and three minute showers are. We learned the true meaning of African Time when it came to dinner. We learned about struggles and thankfulness. We learned what it was like to work as a team to accomplish a goal and how important communication is. But, most importantly, we learned about one another. People opened up about their own lives because others were there to listen and support them.
This trip has been extremely rewarding so far, and there is still a lot of time left. We still have to visit Table Mountain and Robben Island, and several of us still have to go on a safari and shark diving. We are also helping out in a township called Delft in a week, which I am looking forward to. I feel that we need to give back on this trip to gain a greater outlook on our own lives, and helping others is a wonderful way to do this. I cannot wait to see how much closer I become with other students on this study abroad experience in the next two weeks and how much I will learn about not only South Africa, but myself.
Today we visited the District 6 Museum as well as the crypt at St. George's Cathedral.
At the District 6 Museum, our tour guide's name was Joe and he was a man whose family was directly relocated from District 6. District 6 used to be a place until the forced removals from the Apartied took place- now it doesn't exist anymore. As he stood there and talked through the history of it all, naming off facts left and right, knowing everything so precisely, throwing jokes into the facts crack us up, I realized how awesome this guy is. Around 50 years ago, this man, who was just a little boy then, and his family were completely uprooted and kicked out of the only place they had called home and thrown into an unfamiliar new "home." They weren't moved with their neighbors or friends. They weren't moved into big comfy houses. They were moved to places with strange people and small unlivable homes. He talked how people he knew died of broken hearts, and how many hid their sadness and depression by taking drugs which ended many lives. Joe was walking history. I understood by listening to him that this was his passion- informing others of the truth. I noticed that he didn't come off as angry when he talked about the removals in District 6, just sad. I'm sure he was sad that his once childhood home was completely demolished, but I think it was more a sadness from deep within that wondered how people could ever be so cruel as to let this happen.
Next, we went to the crypt at the St. George Cathedral where they gave us a tour about the peace protests that went on down the streets during the Apartied. The part that hit me as the most demonic act was when the tour guide talked of "purple rain." Purple rain was spiked water that they sprayed on protesters that would discolor and stain their clothing and skin so that later on, the police would be able to identify who was protesting. How sick is that, to discolor another person's skin? I wondered to myself what the peace protesters were thinking during the protest. Were they scared out of their minds or were they too angry to be scared? Were they too sick and tired of being treated so inferior to whites that the fear had left them? I think that these people, who stand up for what they believe in against all odds- against millions of people, governments- are the most heroic ones in all of history. The courage they must have had... I don't think I could rack up that much courage in 1,000 years.
These two places we visited today really made me think. It's easy to read about the Apartied and feel something, but it's another thing to see someone who has lived through it and look at real pictures from the events that occurred here. I have always believed humans by nature are good, and I never want to believe different of that. However, seeing what I saw today I struggled with that thought internally.
We've just returned from Groot Winterhoek, or 'Great Winter Place,' where we spent a little less than three days in the mountains, getting to know one another and telling our stories. Though the mountains are just a few hours drive from Cape Town, the learning center at which we stayed feels like its worlds away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I've had a hard time putting my experience into words thus far--I'm still reflecting on all that we said, did, and heard--but it was such a special place that I want to put something about it down in writing.
There's something deeply humbling about those mountains. In watching sunsets, hiking the fields and hills, swimming in a river and just sitting in the grass I felt completely embraced by the natural world and more at peace than I have been for months. I was in awe of the natural beauty around me and the complexity of the ecosystem, and I found myself equally amazed by my classmates. As we told our stories--where we come from, what makes us who we are--we opened ourselves and trusted one another, becoming closer through the process. I think we started to form a single group rather than many small ones.
While I'm excited to be back in Cape Town and dive in to our classes, I think the mountains will hold a special place in my thoughts for a long time to come. Not only was I reminded how wonderful it can be to explore a new landscape or to spend an entire day outside, I realized how special a group this is. I feel privileged to attend classes and to see South Africa with my peers and I am so glad that we have two weeks remaining in which I can get to know them better. I have never before realized just how important it is to stop myself from talking and to listen. For that I am forever grateful that we had our three days away from technology and time in the mountains.
In addition to our Educo Africa trip we've been seeing quite a bit of Cape Town's suburbs and outer-lying areas. We spent a wonderful day along the coast, stopping in Hout Bay and at Mariner's Wharf where we saw seals swimming in the harbor! I tried my first french fries in South Africa while we were there and I now understand why they're called 'slap chips.' They were the soggiest fries I've ever had-the oil was so thick it repelled the vinegar and dissolved the salt! I may refrain from eating fries along the waterfront for the remainder of the trip but I don't regret trying them!
I can't wait to see what the rest of the trip will bring and I'm so excited to continue getting to know everybody. Still thinking of all my friends and family-everybody that has supported me and has helped me to get here and as I sign off for now I send a special thanks out to them. Well wishes to everybody as we enter the new year and until next time!
There are so many reasons why I want to go on this trip to South Africa. I have been interested in the South African culture since the 6th grade when I started to read books about Nelson Mandela. I became interested in his story, the way he forgave those that have wronged him as well as the way that the people of South Africa believed in him. I then started dreaming of one day going to South Africa to learn about the culture and follow in the footsteps of Mandela. Another reason why I am going on this trip is that I want to learn more about myself. There are a lot of things that have happened in my life politically and personally that have made me a semi-angry person. I am going on this trip to learn more about myself as well as learn how to channel my anger into something amazing that will actually have a positive impact on the world. Lastly I want to really understand the concept of forgiveness. It is something that we all preach but I feel that it is very hard to do. South Africa is a country that was able to forgive the atrocities that happened for the greater good.
My expectations and hopes for this trip is to be able to learn more about myself. I want to be able to walk from this trip as a different person. I also want to be able to meet new people as well as enjoy the South African culture. Lastly I hope to "come in right" leaving behind all of my "American" ways of thinking so that I am able to learn from the people of South Africa.
I remembered the day when I immigrated to the United States, the only thing I was thinking about was that I was going to travel around the world. The main places I had in mind were London, Spain, France, and Italy, but never the continent of Africa. However, the farthest that I have gone other than back to my country is New York. I never imagined that one day (in about a week) I would have the privilege to visit South Africa. I will be ending and starting a new year in a place full of life and hope. Just thinking about it lightens my heart!
South Africa has a lot to afford. The reasons why I chose this program was, because I want to learn more about the strategies and strengths the South African community used to overcome Apartheid. Also, how they where able to forgive, which is an important piece for a socially just world. All these lessons and stories I want to use to help me guide my life and to bring social change in my Latino community. I want to have a lived experience of what South Africa truly is like, especially the townships. I want to feel, to learn, and share stories with each other. As I prepare to departure, I expect to be leave back the stereotypes that the media has portray about South Africa. I hope that during these three weeks, in some way or another I am able to make small changes in the South African community.
I am ready to embark in a journey to a country that will see me grow intellectually, personally, and socially. I will celebrate with the South African community the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. An individual who taught us the essence of what it means to be human in a diverse world.
I've wanted to visit South Africa since reading Cry the Beloved Country my senior year of high school, and I cannot believe that I will actually be there in just 8 short days. After spending all of spring semester 2013 in Copenhagen, I think most people thought I was insane when I told them about wanting to pack up and leave again to spend winter break in Cape Town. Pat Conroy has said, "Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends", and that is definitely true for me. Being abroad sparked some wanderlust within me, and now I want to keep traveling to see new places, experience new cultures, meet new people, and learn new things.
To say that I am excited for this experience would be an extraordinary understatement. I cannot wait to embark on this new learning experience. It will be nice to get out of my comfort zone again. It is amazing how quickly you fall into routines again, and I am looking forward to challenging myself. Additionally, I want to challenge my beliefs about the world and I know that going to a place with a history like South Africa, and being able to learn from South Africans and my classmates will impact me for the better. This opportunity will be such a valuable growing experience and I'm sure my life will change as a result.
Between New Year's Eve on Table Mountain, the wilderness retreat, all of the class excursions, the Bafana Bafana game, and a safari, it is next to impossible for me to pick one thing that I am most looking forward to. However, I chose this program because of the service learning and the opportunity to serve a community in whatever they need and in exchange meet all of the people and hear their stories! I cannot say enough, how fortunate and grateful I am to have this amazing opportunity.
From cold, snowy Wisconsin to sunny, beautiful Cape Town. Just 8 days and 8,487 miles stand between me and this life-changing journey :).
Coming out of the semester and knowing about this trip for so long it seems unreal to me that it really is happening in 8 days. Each semester I tend to fall into a pattern of taking on an intense workload between school and work- this fall being no different. As I've had a lot on my plate this semester I've put thinking about preparations, packing, and things that I was to see and do while we're there at the back of my mind and as my schedule lightens up Im beginning to take it all in and feel the excitement; and I will say I'm a little nervous. Its not until I realized that this is going to be the first time ill be away from my dog in two and a half years- since I got him as a puppy- that the 8 day departure date really started to set in...
My reasons for going on this trip beyond the fact that I love to see new places, experience new things, and learn as much as possible given a new opportunity, is to get out of my comfort zone- again. Until this year I felt like I was really still transitioning into life in Minneapolis and im finding that the city can be a bit overwhelming at times, while also confining when trying to be responsible in school. I hope this trip will be as refreshing as I anticipate it to be, and that my own opinions and ideas will become more concrete as I get to take a step back for these next three weeks and hopefully think of only the things that matter. One thing I found in the challenges of school is that I really didnt know what I wanted or could see a place where I fit and now that Ive got an Idea I really hope that I can grow as a person and set that Idea more-concrete. I hope to take in as much as possible of the culture in South Africa and their foresight of day to day life compared to ours here in the US, and I really hope to leave every sense of Midwest passive aggressive attitude behind me upon returning.. Im really excited to travel, to be faced with challenges, to see all the beautiful places, connect with new people and do something different; the list goes on an on!
Let the adventure begin!
Exactly 8 days away, I'm patiently awaiting and welcoming the beauty of this country with open arms! I feel so excited, curious, nervous and humbled for the upcoming trip we are about to take to South Africa. Excited about the opportunity, curious about what will come of this trip, nervous about the unknown that comes with any new experience, humbled at being given the opportunity to share and experience the culture, people, and values of South Africa and above everything fortunate to be able to study abroad and experience another country in what I hope will be an inspiring experience.
Being immersed in a culture other than your own, is one that teaches you many fundamentals of life and learning in general that can be brought back and applied to other aspects. I anticipate and welcome the challenges that I will face while abroad. I chose this program specifically, because I feel like it will help me to self reflect and learn in a way that will help me be a better servant to the community through experiencing South Africa, their community, their history and having a candid and blatant display of all the social injustices that still exist today. I hope to bring my unique experiences & education back to my community to implement change within the environmental justice field & help to curb some of the disparities that are so prevalent in urban areas.
As the child of a first generation Ugandan immigrant, I learned about some of the struggles faced under the Museveni regime that some believed mirrored that of Apartheid. This is what initially peaked my interest to learn more about this. As I got older what I realized was that no matter what I read, some of the greatest teachings come from experience. I wanted to learn about the prolonged effects that this racial structure has had on these societies and how they have overcome these institutional disparities. From what I have learned thus far, the resilience of these nations is one that no teachings other than actually experiencing it can display and I believe the people, culture, and overall environment emits this when you hear the stories of those who have lived through it.
While I am grateful for my college education, and I recognize the privilege, I often feel like it's "missing" something. As if it's missing the authenticity of everything that we learn and read about,, missing the application of the theories and ideas we discuss daily, missing the genuineness of the human context. What my college education has lacked thus far in reference to my teaching of social change, is what I hope to get during my time in South Africa. I have an invested interest in social change and through my experiences I have found that no course can encompass the spiritual and physical aspects involved with making actual change, which involves actually experiencing, feeling and reflecting on the lives of others rather than being constrained to that of a textbook. I am especially looking forward to the service learning aspect of this trip and as discussed by some of the alumni, not feeling pity or any related feeling as much as feeling the positive spirits of the people we will meet along the way.
If someone asked me a year ago how I would be spending New Years I would have probably told them I would be in New Orleans visiting my family, or if I was really dreaming big, in New York watching the ball drop in Time Square, but that would be the limit of my imagination, hopes, or dreams. Today if someone told me that I would be spending New Years in New Orleans or New York I would be heartbroken. Heartbreak that is unique to being an American and the ability to choose, heartbreak that has developed in the past four years as my eyes have been opened to what it really means to be an American. Over my college career as a biracial student studying European history at a predominantly white institution (PWI) I have been exposed to the horrendous human rights violations and atrocities that have happened throughout time in the name of an "American democracy". I have also been told indirectly that half of me is dominant, my white half, and half of me is destined to be subordinate, my black half and this has been reflected throughout the course of American and world history. I've shamed myself for being American, I've shamed by mom for being white and I've shamed my country for being built on the persecution, oppression and murder of millions of innocent people.
The contempt that has festered in my heart for my conflicting identities has been my main drive throughout school and my main reason for studying history, it is not the healthiest reason or the most productive but it is motivating beyond measure. When I learned about the history of South Africa, apartheid and reconciliation I was at a loss for words, how could a people reconcile with their European oppressors after hundreds of years of persecution and discrimination and I couldn't forgive my mother for her skin color? I searched for anyway that the historiography surrounding the South African experience was false or misconstrued. I needed it to be false because that would validate 21 years of self hate, shame and pain. After hearing the stories from my roommate who went on the trip Winter 2013 or my sorority sisters who went Winter 2011 I knew that it wasn't false but the truth that was held in the reconciliation was a strength I have yet to experience in life. There was an entire population of people who had experienced things I could never imagine and were able to reconcile their pain through the process of forgiveness and yet with all the resources available at my fingertips I was unable to do the same. After hearing their stories and learning the history I knew I had to experience the history and the South African people for myself and learn what their secret was.
This experience is one I am hoping will illuminate the path of forgiveness for me, one that will expose the heartbreak I feel as a biracial American and turn it into pride not only in myself but in the good that I can do through my identity for others. My privilege and oppression are unique, my shame and pride are combative and my dreams and reality have yet to converge but I hope taking a step to self reflect in South Africa and live history, instead of learn it through the pages of a textbook, will allow me to erase tolerance from my understanding and replace it with acceptance and love. If someone is to ask me a year from now how I spent my New Years I hope that I will be able to say I spent it with amazing people, in an extraordinary place that blew all my expectations, fears and apprehensions out of the water. I hope I will experience a new heartbreak, one that is reminiscent of a country filled with acceptance and forgiveness, with people stronger than anyone I have ever met. I hope this heartbreak will give me a new drive and passion for the work that I have yet to complete and the lives I have yet to change.
It's a great privilege for me to go to South Africa with my colleagues in a week, I am still pondering what to pack after depressing finals week. There is so much expectations in this trip, I feel like I'll be a completely new person when I am back. I've talked to some people who took this class before, they told me this is the best thing they ever did in their life. There were four former students came and shared their experience in one of our monthly meeting and that raised my expectations even more. They sounded as if they came back from South Africa yesterday, they are very motivated and the impact of the South African tour has affected them in positive manner. It'll be very interesting how each of our perspective will be over there because of our different backgrounds. We may argue over certain issues, I am sure it will be very interesting. I feel very nervous I will be in other side of the world in couple of days but spending New Year's Eve in Cape-town is something special. But this won't be a grand one after Madiba's passing away, based on the news media, people are cheering and celebrating their unsung hero's achievements. I felt really bad when I heard he passed away three weeks before our arrival. It was nice all our current and former presidents attended memorial. I thought it would have been even better if we go to Johannesburg to Mandela's hometown, I am sure the New year's eve celebrations will either be super awesome or completely silence environment. I feel like his death have awakened South Africans, and their thought process of racial discriminations have changed. Also, I am big fan of cricket, South Africa cricket team is really good, but they are chokers, they loose the playoff matches. I am very excited to go to the national soccer game, I think that will be the highlight of our trip. I am very happy for the all the historical sites we are going to visit and other excursions. The lessons I learn in this tour will definitely change our lives.
I am so excited to be in South Africa, but I'm also nervous. I think it's the kind of nervous you get before something big is going to happen- and you know it. I think my mind knows how much it is going to see, experience, and change over the next month.
I wanted to go on this trip to South Africa to open my eyes. I've grown up in such privilege, and I think it's important for us to see what else is out there. I don't want to live my whole life being naïve, even if that would be a much easier life to live. I grew up in a small town in western Minnesota which consisted of absolutely no diversity. While I would never give up my childhood home, and it will always have a special place in my heart, the further I move on in life the more I realize how good diversity is. Diversity is good because it incorporates new ideas and cultures into society, which brings in new ideas as well as makes society more enjoyable. How boring would it be to always be around people exactly like you? Would you ever truly learn anything? People with different cultural backgrounds are bound to be different than you; that's the beauty of different cultures. Diversity gives people inspiration and motivation to expand their minds and change the way they think.
This expedition has already changed me. This class, as well as teaching Sunday school and tutoring in an inner-city area of Minneapolis these past 2 years has persuaded me to pick up a minor in Family Social Science and accept an internship to help with youth programs at the YMCA. If I was not just 8 credits away from my business degree, I may have changed my major altogether. I've always struggled with not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and a degree in business seemed like the safest choice, as it could be incorporated into many jobs. I feel as though at the end of this trip, I will have more knowledge into what I want to do with my life ahead of me. Working with kids is my passion, as I have realized lately all of my extracurricular activities involve them. I've worked with kids in my hometown and in Minneapolis, and I've come to see they are really no different from one another. They might be dressed different, or have different shades of skin, but their hearts (the only part of them that truly matters) are no different from one another. The portion of this trip where we get to go into Delft and experience a township interested me most. I am going to learn so much from these children and their families, more than I think they'll ever know.
My hope for this trip is that I will experience and learn. I can't wait to get out of this freezing tundra we call Minnesota and into the beautiful seaside, mountainous South Africa. I'm so excited to see enormous great white sharks while cage diving , take pictures of little penguins chilling on the beach at Cape Point, and drive right next to lions lounging in their natural habitat on a safari. I'm thrilled that I will get to know each and every one of my classmates (you too, Nate!) and develop a friendship bond that will last for years to come. I'm counting down the days. I'm getting giddy just writing this post! See you all next Sunday!
For whatever reason, I've always had this fascination with African cultures and ideals. I think the contrast to my own, normalized culture is what draws me to African cultures alongside my love of travelling. I think that travelling gives us such a beautiful opportunity to expand our ideas and have them challenged in a way that is not possible when we confine ourselves to a comfort zone of our own cultures. If even just one idea of my own is challenged on this crazy adventure to Cape Town, I will consider the trip a huge success.
I've only been counting down to South Africa since the moment I found out I got accepted for the trip. My thoughts have been everywhere from "what should I pack?" to "how much Dramamine should I pack?" to "how different will this experience be from my hometown?". I've let these thoughts consume my ideas of the trips but I don't hold strong expectations based off of them. My expectations at this point revolve around my attempt to keep my mind and heart as open as possible on this trip. In preparing for that openness, I'm trying not to set expectations for the trip but rather let whatever will happen to just happen. Appreciating all the beauty in this new country is going to be consuming enough without worrying about what I should or could be doing; instead, I will focus on where I am and being present in that situation and allowing the experience to unfold itself.
The part of this trip that most excites me is experiencing a culture so incredibly different from that in which I've been raised. I think there's such a beauty in immersing yourself in something so extremely outside your comfort zone. I always learn more about myself than ever thought possible while also opening my mind and eyes to ideas that I never before could have considered. I'm looking forward to experiencing the South African culture from the touristy places as well as the townships that encompass the ideals of South African traditions. As I've learned so far, the concept that excites me the most is the idea of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the idea that I am who I am because you are who you are. We as humans cannot be who are without considering the influence that others have had on us as we've grown and developed into who we are. Without others in our lives, we would not be who or where we are. It is such an intriguing idea because it focuses on the beauty that exists in relationships among human beings.
Only 9 more days! - Becca
As winter fully consumes Minneapolis, coating the landscape with a layer of harsh ice and whipping the poor souls who take passage within its grasp with an implacable chill, I'm glad to say that I'm not there. I was able to escape to the not-so-much warmer city of Springfield, Illinois. Nonetheless, among family and friends, the bite of winter feels much duller. It is here I will recuperate from an exhaustive semester and prepare for my journey to Africa.
While I mark off the days until the trip with a bright blue marker on a small calendar hanging next to my desk, I can't seem to escape the feeling that I'm not ready. It is this uneasy feeling that holds me inches from sleep nightly, beckoning me to learn more about South Africa, its history, its people, its stories. The stories I have read and watched have brought tears of sadness, frustrating anger, and even sudden bursts of happiness. As I stumbled from site to site, I came across a short African folktale. It was titled "The Little Red Tortoise."
The story begins with the birth of a little Red Tortoise, apparently a rarity among the vlakte tortoises, zand-kruipers, and water tortoises (types of tortoises through further research). In the tortoise nation, red tortoises were only born once every thousand years. He grew up and learned the traditions from his elders whom he respected. He learnt about the Oubaas Giraffe, a terror among the tortoise nation. The Oubaas Giraffe, also known as the Blue One for the blue ashes he gives off when burnt, swallowed tortoises whole, who when frightened retracted into their shells, sliding down the Blue One's throat. One day the Blue One saw the little Red Tortoise, picked him up and swallowed him, but instead of hiding within his shell like the others, the little Red Tortoise stuck out his claws and held on to the Blue One's throat. The Blue One struggled and thrashed but ultimately sank to the soft earth and died.
I believe the moral of the story was that although tradition and old wisdom are important, sometimes there needs to be someone who is willing to make sacrifices for change. In this folktale, the little Red Tortoise was a special person, both due to his bravery and exceptional birth. As much as I enjoyed reading this folktale and the many others I began to feel that although courageous and revered leaders of change may come one in thousand years like Mandela, Ghandi, or the Dalai Lama, we all have the capacity to become agents of change. Every one of those leaders we hear about have supporters who work tirelessly on their behalf. And for every news worthy story which graces our televisions and social feeds, there are hundreds of unheard stories of equal courage and conviction. Although there will never be another Mandela our planet has an unending resource of potential. It is about recognizing that potential in each of us.
This trip means different things for each of us. Whether it is just a phase in your journey or a first stepping stone, I am excited to learn more about the lives and experiences of each member of this class. I hope we can support each other during this trip and learn from diverse, courageous, and proud people of South Africa. Happy Holidays everyone!
Since visiting West Africa in 2005, and having moved there for six months in 2008, my love for the continent, and its people has grown immensely. When I learned about this particular study abroad program I was intrigued by the title, which focuses on social change. For years I have worked in the inner-city of Chicago with a myriad of vulnerable populations, and disenfranchised individuals and communities. My passion and commitment to social change has been in existence since I was young. I've been serving the community of Humboldt Park since I was a teenager, as well as traveling abroad on working missions. Embarking on this journey to South Africa entails deep contemplation, self-reflection, and prayer. Upon learning of the atrocities that many of South African people were subjected to, shocked me, and left me questioning what has happened to humanity. I learned of the idea behind Ubuntu when working as a case manager and job readiness instructor at a social service agency in Chicago as I was receiving a workplace training. It has been 2 years that I have carried the belief of Ubuntu with me, "I am because you are." The power behind that statement has penetrated my being, and I can only hope and pray that through my example, others will begin to model that same belief. I am excited about experiencing how the people of South Africa are continuing to walk in forgiveness, reconciliation, and freedom.
As I'm in Cape Town I hope to take in all the wonders this city has to offer through the people, food, languages, culture, music, and more. I hope to acquire first-hand knowledge on how badly the apartheid affected the people, but most importantly, how they were and are still in the healing process. Furthermore, I absolutely love direct service work, and am eager to work with the people in the townships, specifically, the children. There is a lot one can learn from children, particularly the innocence many children possess despite the hardship or danger they may face. Their joys and smiles can be quite contagious, and having the opportunity to learn from them is something I look forward to. Prior to applying, and being accepted to this study abroad program, my knowledge on the apartheid was minimal. Preparing for the presentation for our third pre-departure meeting I learned a plethora of information on the creation of the apartheid, and its implementation into the South African government. I am truly looking forward to meeting many people that suffered years of segregation, and how the power of choosing forgiveness has produced healing within individuals, as well as their country. Forgiveness is not an easy journey, yet the power of releasing someone that once thought they had a hold on you can be more liberating than anything in the world. It is for this reason that I am elated to experience Ubuntu-I am because you are!
Now to more light-hearted stuff about our future trip. I'm very excited for shark cage-diving, safari, the soccer game, and new years eve on Table mountain, because I know it will make all my friends envious and I will just found a downright great time with you guys. However, the thing that I'm the most excited for that my friends back home won't truly comprehend is the service-learning with the children in the township. I love children (in a good way). They are so full of happiness, that its just contagious. They are also so pure and not yet poisoned by some of toxic shit that our society diseases people with. I have always worked with kids, whether it'd be "at-risk" (for lack of a better term) youth, disabled youth (mentally, cognitively, and physically), abuse youth (sexually and physically), and the last one is sort of an outlier, but the rich country club youth. So I'm absolutely ecstatic that we will get to work with children, because I just finish up a job at the Washburn center for Children which helps children who have been abused and my job at a affordable housing community called Louisiana courts where I worked and tutored some youth there. Next semester I will not be working at either place and totally focusing on school. So it will be nice to get some time to do some work with children, whatever it may be. As you guys will soon figure out I can still be a child so here's to our collective new experience together and to coming in right (a super vague term that hopefully we all figure out).
The day is quickly approaching! While everyone else will be stuck in the bitter weather that Minnesota brings every winter, I will be on a safari, in a cage with sharks swimming less than an arm's length away, up in the mountains, at the stadium where the 2010 World Cup was held, and helping out in a township. More importantly, I will be learning more about others and myself that I would have thought possible.
During my senior year in high school I wrote a history paper about Nelson Mandela. At that point, I knew that I wanted to go to South Africa and see all the good that had come from one man not giving up, even after being put in jail for 27 years. My high school wasn't very diverse at all; in my class of 116 students we had one non-Caucasian student. The University of Minnesota opened up a whole new world to me. I now have many friends who are different than I am, and I think that going on this abroad experience will further my cultural understanding which is one of the most important characteristics to have in a world that is so unique.
I also wanted to go on this abroad program because I have never been out of the United States (besides Canada), and I want to get out and explore. I feel that there is so much out there that I need to see, hear, and experience. How can someone help the world if they don't know what's going on in it? I believe that you really need to be put in someone else's shoes to actually understand what they have experienced, and I think that helping out in the townships will be more than sufficient in this aspect.
A concern I have for this trip is "coming in right". As I already stated, I haven't been around many diverse populations my lifetime before coming to the University of Minnesota. I do believe that the information obtained from our pre-departure meetings will help us all go into South Africa right. We all know each other a bit, so we can talk to one another about any questions or worries we encounter. In our meetings we have also talked about the culture we will see when in Cape Town, which will make "coming in right" more likely and less stressful.
One African word that Nate said at a meeting really suck out to me: "Ubuntu"- I am because we are. Human kindness. We are all connected. The kindness that South Africa presented during the Reconciliation period blows my mind. How far South Africa has come in the past 20 years blows my mind, and how far South Africa still has to go blows my mind. Everyone should live through the word Ubuntu. I want to live through the word Ubuntu. I think South Africa will teach me how to live through the word Ubuntu.
See you all at the airport (minus Nate)!
9 December 2013
Of late, every time that I've been asked what I'm excited for in regards to South Africa, my answer, without fail, has involved comments on weather and temperatures above zero degrees. While it's true enough that I'll enjoy a few weeks away from the snow and ice, a more honest and complete answer to such queries would touch upon the reasons for which I applied to the seminar in the first place.
It may seem strange that a student who has focused primarily upon the Middle East throughout the her undergraduate career is so keen to spend her senior winter break in Cape Town, South Africa, taking a class on social justice. It is, however, my original interest in the Middle East that has led me to this juncture. While taking a course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I became fascinated with the opposing yet mutually dependent narratives of identity that each side of the divide has drawn from the events that unfolded from the mid-twentieth century on. It intrigued me that readings of the same events--the 1967 War or the Intifadas for example--could be so different. My interest in intractable conflicts and the forging of opposing identities was further piqued during my time in Ireland where I was interning for a member of the Oireachtas. I was lucky enough to accompany a Parliamentary delegation to a conference in Northern Ireland, and as we drove past abandoned watchtowers and I listened to my companions share their memories of 'the Troubles,' I could not help but realize how deep the scars of the Irish conflict are to this day--despite over a decade of official 'peace.'
Through studying Middle Eastern conflicts and interning in Ireland I became increasingly interested in intra-national conflict and conflict resolution. I hope that through traveling to and studying in Cape Town, I will come away with a deeper understanding of what sort of impact a long standing, internal conflict can have--of what sort of social divides and inequalities must be addressed and how a nation can cope with deep-seated anger and guilt. I have long been intrigued by the role that the Unity Government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its amnesty hearings played in the healing and re-building processes that followed the official end of Apartheid and I hope to build a better conceptual appreciation of how South Africa has handled the challenges of recovering from its own internal conflict.
I have had little exposure to academic materials on South Africa up until this point and I very much hope that I can still manage to 'come in right' with the help of my classmates, my instructor, the onsite staff, and the Educo Africa representatives who will guide us through our first few days in country. I worry as I always have in traveling that I will not be able to recognize stereotypes that I unconsciously hold and that I will offend or upset the wonderful people I meet, but I think the best approach is to listen from the time I arrive to the time that I leave and beyond. I know that I have so much opportunity to learn from this program, and I feel very privileged to be a part of it. It is in large part because I am so grateful to be engaging in this seminar that I will try my utmost to keep an open mind, to come in right, and to listen to the stories and knowledge of others. It is also important to me that I not view this trip as an isolated experience of my life. It is my hope that I can incorporate what I learn into my everyday life beyond the program--and it is this opportunity to grow and to learn that has me most excited to spend three weeks in and around Cape Town. I've been marking off the days until we depart and thinking more and more about my reasons for engaging in this program. T-minus twenty days and counting--and I can't wait!
Welcome to our class BLOG. This is now the forth iteration of this course with nearly 75 alumni who have participated and gone on to change lives. I invite parents, family, and friends to comment and read along while we are away in Cape Town, South Africa. This BLOG is our collective story to share with our loved ones back home - a glimpse into our journey, our new learning, and transformations.
Tracing the footsteps of social change in South Africa is not an easy task. Though the path to revolution and social justice takes cultural, economic, and socio-political strides, the purpose of this course is more existential in nature - a journey towards giving meaning to life and for living life passionately and sincerely. The aim is to explore our innermost selves and trace "soft-footprints" of a conscious sort - to seek the wisdom South Africans gained during their long-walk in defeating Apartheid. The course will include an examination of South Africa's history, collectivist community, lessons on living together, forgiving one-another, and healing. Using the lens of lived-experience, Ubuntu, and Reconciliation, we will attempt to mend ourselves from oppression and bigotry in our own lives - as both perpetrators and targets - in order to become stronger agents of social change.
Cape Town, South Africa is a medley of sheer natural splendor, beautiful weather, and astounding bio-diversity. The plethora of treasures produced by nature is reason enough to connect to a larger world - from Table Mountain dwarfing the city bowl to Great White sharks and baboons. Though the magnificence of the Cape is vast, it is often said that visitors "ignore the view" by overlooking the juxtaposition between poverty-stricken (though vibrant) shantytowns and immensely affluent neighborhoods (built for-and-by the White minority during Apartheid). Mindful visitors will often put into question South Africa's progress towards "non-racialization," "Reconciliation," the legitimacy of a "free market" system (so valued in the USA), and recognize that Apartheid's history of racism and classism still exists in all fabrics of life.
However, Cape Town has a wealth of human diversity that enriches all aspects of the "Rainbow Nation." The people of South Africa, through struggle and wisdom, have helped many to live from the inside out - to achieve a deep sense of happiness and a zeal for life. Their story of overcoming Apartheid is unfinished yet their spirit to endure is essential to our understanding of human possibility. This seminar will engage with both the people and the places of South Africa. Through lectures, site visits, service-learning, and a wilderness retreat, students - via a direct exchange with South Africans - will start to transform their understanding of "community" and the essence of what it means to be human.
There are communities in the United States who have undoubtedly been pushed into marginalization and face injustice daily; and, there are incredible resources here at home to combat these realities. By visiting South Africa, we are not washing our hands of this responsibility at home. I have come to learn that by visiting South Africa, we can gain meaningful new insight into how the United States may have gone astray in our own struggle for equality. By baring witness to the drastically observable challenges South Africa faces in terms of poverty and racial inequity, we begin to see the dilemmas here at home; we become fish of water. In this sense, South Africa for many US citizens can be the mirror in which we look at our privileges and ourselves. By traveling to Cape Town and learning from and with South Africans, we become citizens of the world and strengthen our capacity to make change at home.
This global seminar was created in the spirit of critical pedagogy, progressive social justice, community and peace studies, and youth development theory and practice. A commitment to understanding the importance of social justice (the movement towards a socially just world) is critical; this includes an intense look at white privilege and white supremacy, fundamental defects in Corporatism and Capitalism, cultural myths about poverty, and more. Students should be open to new ways of thinking and "accept the process" with a readiness to look intensely at "self." At times, the experiences we will have during the seminar will be difficult to ingest; though we may walk through doors of uneasiness together, I am confident we will all find the journey to be deeply meaningful. Nelson Mandela once stated, "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."