CPT 2011 co-educators attending a Welcoming Braai at Rose's home
Back row: Teddy, Marie, Joe, Siobhan, Katherine, Leanne, Dana,Logan, Kate, Tom, Lianna, Anna, Meaghan, Julian, Taylor
Front row: Ashley, Sharielle, Brenna, Emily, Nicole, Terri, Kayla, Susie
Center front: their new friend Georgia

Human RIghts Training Weekend

Human RIghts Training Weekend

13 May 2011

Lianna on being home

Since being home, I’ve really been missing life back in Cape Town.  No longer do I get to look up each day at Table Mountain, no longer do I get to wake up in a house of 17 of my friends, and no longer do I get to see some of the most heartbreaking, yet inspiring things I have ever seen in my life, on a day to day basis. Like Siobhan said, writing this last blog post makes me feel like our trip is finally over, there is not much left of our adventure, only attempting to share it with the people closets to us, which I have found to be very difficult.   Even when I have enough time to explain what I was doing, and the things that took place, I know that I’m failing at describing it accurately.  Perhaps we’ll get a little better as time goes on – the people who did last years symposium seemed to have to down pretty well, but for now it remains difficult to put everything into sentences.

I’m extremely grateful for my time there, the internship of my dreams may not have panned out according to plan, we never did get to go shark cage diving, and I never made it to the top of devils peak (got a little lost) but I guess that shows the benefits of being flexible adaptable and spontaneous (I’m not sure how long that phrase will be stuck in my head). Overall my experience was absolutely amazing, and life changing, and what better way to put that into perspective than returning to my small hometown right away.  Not much changed since I was gone, but looking at it from a whole new perspective, I can appreciate just how quaint and nice it is to live in this small town in rural Connecticut, and while its been a nice vacation back to my old life, staying here has got me antsy for my future.  Now that I have seen part of the world, and been exposed to a whole new culture, I can’t imagine not continuing on in this journey.  Also, learning what I have this past semester, I have been more directed in what I ultimately want to do in life, and with this new knowledge, it seems strange to have a normal summer before starting out on this career.

10 May 2011

Katherine's reflections and advice

I struggled to figure out what to write for this last post. While I don’t think I’ve skipped out on anything important in any of my posts, I wanted this one to really mean something. Therefore, I have a few things I want to cover in this post. First, as I am leaving, I want to take time out to thank everyone that’s made this semester as great as it’s been. To my professors Marita, Vernon and Vincent, I want to say thank you because without them this program wouldn’t be possible. They have provided so much valuable knowledge and guidance throughout my time here. Next to my internship co-coordinator Stan for not only allowing me to work with him, but also for going above and beyond the role of a boss. I would also like to thank Ben and Jess for being the best RA’s I’ve ever had and Ben for his notable story telling abilities. Finally, I’d like to thank all of my roommates for making this trip as memorable as it was. This would not have been as great had any of you not been there to experience this with me.

I also want to take time out to speak to any readers considering this program..DO IT!!! This was perhaps the best decision of my life to partake in this study abroad program. While studying abroad in general is great, I think this program is truly the best one offered at Uconn. This program is filled with amazing people (see above) that help to enhance your understanding of your environment politically, geographically, historically, culturally, and any other which way you could think of. Additionally, this is the only program at Uconn that provides you with an internship. This is not only a great way to build your resume, but for three months you really get to become one of the locals, and as a result get to see the city from a perspective you otherwise would miss out on. And finally, for those people that are looking to study abroad in Europe so they can travel to many different countries, although it would be more difficult to do in Cape Town, there is so much to do in South Africa that you don’t really have time to consider other countries.

Finally, in this last part of my last blog, I want to share a bit of advice for future Cape Town study abroad students. First, don’t leave things to the last minute! Cape Town has sooo much to offer and you’re going to want to do it all, so my advice is to do it early while you still have time and money. Secondly, don’t say no to anything (aside from the dangerous of course!). One of the great things about South Africa is that it’s sooo different from the United States. Embrace it! You may discover some things that you love that otherwise you would have never experienced. And even if you don’t like it, at least you can say you’ve tried it. Finally, don’t expect to change the world. This experience is as much about you growing and learning as it is you helping others. Come in with an open mind and open heart and you’ll certainly have the time of your life!!

08 May 2011

Siobhan facing the realities of re-entry

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post because it means Cape Town is really over. As great as it has been to see my family and friends, I really miss South Africa. I miss having something to keep me occupied every day, I miss my housemates who I’ve grown so close to I can’t even believe it, I miss seeing Table Mountain when I wake up every morning, and most of all I miss never feeling lonely.

We talked about how hard it was going to be at home, how hard it was going to be to share our experiences with people, but I guess I was holding on to the hope that my friends would be different and they would understand. I feel as though Cape Town happened in another universe, especially because I came home and everything is exactly the same. I’ve changed, but nothing else has. I feel like a different person, I feel like I have different interests and values and dreams, but everything here is the same. I’m worried that I’m losing my memories of Cape Town already, that it’s already starting to feel like a dream or something, and so I’m going to hold them inside, stop trying to explain things that have no words, and thank God that I have my former housemates to support me.

This summer is going to be different, to say the least, but I look forward developing new coping mechanisms as I settle back into my routine of work, going o the beach, and working again. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family more than anything, but this is definitely harder than I thought it was going to be.

04 May 2011

Kate's farewell to Cape Town

Our final week in Cape Town passed faster than perhaps any other 7 days of my life. It seems like only yesterday we were getting off the pane in an unfamiliar place, excited to spend an entire semester in Africa. And now it’s over. Tuesday was the last day at my internship with Beautiful Gate, a place that I have grown to love and will miss dearly. We made sure to take plenty of pictures, and had the children help us with our poster for the banquet. As we were saying bye to baby Iya for the last time, his house mama took her phone out and asked the 3 of us (Kayla, Meaghan, and I) to pose for a picture. After she snapped it she said, “So when he starts talking, I can show him you guys.” I’m sure that comment will stick with me for the rest of my life, and even more sure that I will never forget the time we spent with the kids from Beautiful Gate.

Thursday was a day I had been looking forward to for some time, as it was the day my parents finally arrived in Cape Town. With the help of Ben I met them at he airport. It wasn’t as thrilling as I was anticipating as they were literally the last ones to come out of customs, as in the terminal was empty when they finally emerged. Never the less, it was great to see them, and they offered some quality entertainment as they learned to adjust both to the rules of the road and the lingo of the locals.

Friday was the banquet in which the purpose was to thank our internships and serve as a closing event for the program. Everything about the evening was excellent, the company, the food, the entertainment, the venue, I could go on and on. After a bus ride with Faiak for the final time, we arrived home fairly late. Saturday we all ventured to the Old Biscuit Mill, before we had to meet back at the house for our final house meeting and to say our goodbyes. Saying bye to all those we had met in Cape Town was very difficult, as was saying bye to those who would be boarding the plane back to New York. As for me, I’ve spent the last couple of day showing my parents around this place where I’ve spent the past 4 months. But it’s all coming to a close as I leave tomorrow morning. So here’s to you, Cape Town, for being a place of discoveries; about the world, this beautiful country and its people, and most importantly, myself!

30 April 2011

Brenna "Enkosi, beautiful Cape Town"

I can’t believe the time has come for us to leave South Africa. I am not ready to say goodbye; things are just starting to come together with the environmental clubs, I am just starting to form deep relationships with the people I’ve met here and I am learning more and more with every day. Until I come back, I will hold on tightly to all the memories I have of Cape Town. In the country of Ubuntu, this experience and all the beautiful people I have met will be with me forever- with every day decision I make, with every thought I have and with every ounce of I love I try to spread in hopes of drowning out the oppression that still exists in this world. My soul has been warmed and enlightened by the people of South Africa and I will forever be in debt to them. The only way I know to repay them is to continue to love and learn in hopes of making this world better. My consciousness of humanity has exponentially expanded since being here and I will apply that greater understanding to all the work I do in the future.

There is so much more I want to say about being here but I cannot put into words all that has happened to me. Seeing the disparities of not only in wealth but in treatment of humans here has angered me to the core, and I am departing feeling more confused than ever over this dehumanization. The most fulfilling understanding I have gained since being here is that different life experiences is only a façade- race, class, gender or any other superficial construction of segregation means nothing to me. People are people and everywhere I go I will find beautiful humans who I connect with honestly and deeply. I am leaving feeling unfinished, there is so much more to be done here – the only content I leave with is knowing that this unsettled feeling will motivate me to work harder and stronger towards making this world a just and equal place – the work I do anywhere will not be done until this world is one ruled by compassion, peace and people instead of money, greed and selfishness. Enkosi, beautiful Cape Town for all that you and your people have done for me, I will work for the rest of my life to repay you.
Leanne, Brenna, Abongile

29 April 2011

Teddy: everyone has a story, anyone can be an activist!

So, what do I write about here at the very end of this series of blogs? It took me a while to determine what to write about, but I eventually realized it would be pretty appropriate to write about the most important things I’ve learned over this study abroad.

So, for starters, everyone has amazing stories to tell which we can all learn from. The young, the old, the degreed, the non-degreed, the whatever have you... each story I have heard has enriched my understanding of South Africa in its own unique way and brought me closer to the story-teller.

Second, anyone can create meaningful change as an activist. We have been fortunate enough to meet loads of successful activists here in Cape Town and each is a part of the solution in their own ways, some big and some small. But if just one person decides to start consuming more ethically, or contributing a small sum monthly to a charity, or is willing to start conversations on sexism, etc, their impact is felt by all the people who they encounter and then from there.... It’s like the song we danced to at the Human Rights Weekend: ...Where you are, in the corner... (In your own corner you can change things).

Thirdly, people are generally pretty interested in helping out when you have a good idea. Whether it’s fundraising for a cause, collecting shoes for a soccer program, or trying to make a website for an activist so he/she can reach out to more people, people seem to always be willing to help.

Fourth, positive results CAN happen even in short-term efforts with limited resources. In just the time we’ve been here the NGOs we’ve interned for have made big differences in people’s lives. For example, the children Logan and Siobahn spent time with every Thursday in Nyanga have surely benefited from their kind and loving attitudes. Christel House regularly helps students stay away from the influence of gangs. Further, Brenna, Leanne, and Anna absolutely empowered the young women of the Girl Child Movement in their workshops with them.

Ok, so, there are of course many other points, but the above are just a few I really wanted to stress! Please keep them in mind...

Tom looking back with hopes for the future

So this is my last blog and I think it’s going to be a short one.  It still hasn’t dawned on me that I’ll be back home on Sunday.  I am very excited to go home, I miss it, but I’m realizing more and more that I simply do not want to leave this place.  I know I will be back, this place means too much for me not to return eventually.  I guess I’m so sad because I wonder what it will be like here when I do return.  Will the drive from the airport still feature the informal settlements on the side of the road?  Will the Cape Flats still look like they do today?  Next time I go to Muizenberg will there be more black people and colored people than white people (they are after all the majority)?  Obviously I do not know the answers to any of these questions but I really hope to see a marked improvement on my return.  Every time I saw a little kids face in Khayelitsha I wondered what his or her life was going to be like.  Were they going to be stuck in the same exact trap as most black people in this country right now?  I would like to think that this next generation is going to be the one to do it – to forcibly drag South Africa to the level that it should be.  When I come back I’d like to see electricity and running water in every home.  I’d like to see no more informal settlements.  I’d like to see all people treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.  As I sit here and type I realize just how invested in South Africa I am.  This place has changed me; it has meant more to me than anyone could ever understand.  It was the exact right place at the exact right time.  I’m finally beginning to understand that this place is home.

28 April 2011

Marie: “A Resurrection of Hope: a reflection on Easter Sunday, Activism, and Returning Home”

Marie with Thandokhulu Metric Class 
This past holiday was, perhaps, the best Easter that I’ve had in a while.  It was my last Sunday spent in Cape Town at the Church of Christ—a community which I have come to know and love—and probably the last time that my African friends and I will all be in the same room together.  At an Easter party hosted by one of the girls on Sunday afternoon, I remember stepping back, looking around the room, and truly appreciating my new life in Cape Town—a life that will be over in just a few short days!  It’s futile to describe in words just how much I will miss the people of Cape Town, but I can say that I have never before had the privilege of meeting so many amazing people in such a short period of time.  My time in South Africa has been truly blessed and I thank God every day for allowing me the strength, opportunity, and finances to come here and enjoy this beautiful country. 

As my mind shifts to my old life above the equator, I am left wondering how I can incorporate all of my newfound knowledge gained during this experience into my life back in the States.  Undoubtedly, my American readjustment will be an interesting and memoir-worthy process that I’m sure will require me to draw upon much of the strength that I’ve amassed here.  However, as my Mother always says, “hope is the last thing to die.”  The kindness, generosity, and dedication to humanitarianism that I’ve witnessed here are more than enough to pull me through any obstacle and ignorance that I will encounter back home.  As much as I am outraged by the life situations of so many people around the world, I am also hopeful for the change that I can enact and see others enacting.  This journey has been a thrilling rollercoaster ride full of ups and downs—it’s exhilarating to be here and learn so much but it’s also unimaginably hurtful because I’m aware that it’s a sordid reality that I am learning about.  Now that I know, the torch of education has been passed to me and it’s my responsibility as a human being to educate and pass that torch to others.  We have the potential to live in a free world; we need to tap into that potential so that we all have an equal chance for happiness.

Remember: Live, laugh, love—the best things in life aren’t things!

27 April 2011

Sharielle not wanting to go home

For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to fight the old adage, “All good things must come to an end”. Actually to be honest, I'm still fighting it. I have made so many African friends here, mostly from my church. They have all made me feel welcomed and at home.

It is a sad feeling knowing that you may not see a person ever again. However, I must realize that people will not be in our lives forever. Yes, there will be some people who will be in your life longer than others and others who will be there only for a brief moment. I am coming to realize that it does not matter the amount of time someone is in your life, but what lessons they have taught you within that time.

This gets me to thinking, if these people have made such an impression on me in such a short time, I wonder what impression I leave on others. I do not live in this world in isolation, I come into contact with people everyday. Knowing that we may have an effect on someone's life no matter how briefly we have been it, makes me want to be an even better person.

So while I have not fully wrapped my head around leaving, I know that I have grown as a person. I will be leaving South Africa a better person than when I first came in and I have all my friends to thank for it. I would like to give special mention to the following people: The Staff at Africa Unite, my friends at the Seventh-day Adventist Student Movement (SDASM), Vernon Rose, and all the other Capetonians I had the pleasure of meeting. South Africa had been one of the best experiences in my life and I know that this is not a goodbye, but a see you later because South Africa has a special place in my heart.

Julian on the best possible study abroad experience

I haven’t studied abroad anywhere else, so I guess I have no legitimacy when I say that this is the best program any person could possibly go on. I’ll leave that up to everyone else to decide after they read this.
You can never run out of things to do in South Africa. Surfing, hiking, the night life, Mzoli’s, Stoanes and other bars/clubs, the townships, concerts, museums that I actually enjoy, professional sports, Seal Island, bungy jumping, kloofing. I think you get the point. Out of my 97 days here so far, I have had 2 days where I stayed at the house and did nothing. This has been the most eventful 3 ½ months of my life, and it will probably remain that way. The city of Cape Town provides endless amounts of things to do and there is no way for us to see everything in a semester, but I can guarantee that our program allows us to see more than anyone else studying abroad can see. Between orientation week and our excursion where we went to Cape Point, Robben Island, Kruger Park and other must sees in South Africa we covered a lot of the country. We also are given more freedom than other groups which is essential to our experience. I’ve met other American students who have been told to never use the mini bus transport system. If I didn’t use these buses I would have run out of money half-way through my time here and would’ve missed a lot of great experiences. We are trusted and taught how to be smart in the city more than anyone else. Our RA Ben, who has lived here for years now, is probably the most helpful person when it comes to this. When we saw American students arrested at Mzoli’s for drinking in the street a couple weeks ago the first thing I thought was “it’s too bad they don’t have a Ben.”

The people I live with are amazing. We’ve all grown from our internships and other experiences together and we are as tight as family. I have no doubt that I have made some friends for life and will hang out with these people in the future. Everyone has their own distinct place in this family and the trip wouldn’t be the same without them. I’m normally the first to wake up in the pool house and I am shortly accompanied by my good friends. I’m going to miss this to no end. I live with 5 younger siblings, so I won’t be lonely at home, but it won’t be the same. I actually enjoy being woken up at 2 in the morning by my friends. I just go to hang out no matter what the time is. I never want to miss a moment with my friends.

The people in this country are equally amazing. Our friends from internships, human rights weekend and even the people we meet on the side are all willing to show and share their country with us. The same goes with their culture. They just want to make sure we’re having a good time. People become close friends faster here than they do back at home. This goes with my friends I’ve made at the house and outside the house.

I’m ready to see my family and friends at home, but I will miss my experience here forever. The people I’ve met and the things I’ve done have given me the most incredible experience and I cannot wait to come back.

Leanne impressed by the spirit of the children

One of the things that I will miss most about Cape Town is Thursday afternoons in Nyanga.  I am so grateful to Siobhan for taking me to the community center there!  Since then, Logan, Siobhan and I (and lately, a few others) have been venturing to Nyanga after class to play with the kids at their after school program.  The program is run by Estelle, an amazing woman that works for Africa Unite.  The centre is based out of an old church building and provides a safe environment for the kids to come to after school, receive a hot and nutritious meal (which, for many, is the only real meal of the day) and hang out with their friends, work on art projects, play sports, sing, dance, etc.  A social worker is on the premises and holds sessions with different groups of the children and some of the older children work on drama performances. 

Each week brings something different, but some of the favorite games are red light green light, duck duck goose and a version of freeze tag.  The kids have also included us in a few singing and dancing group games.  The songs are primarily in isiXhosa so I’m usually lost, but it’s always fun!  The couple of weeks that I’ve forgotten to tie my hair back, I’ve ended up with my head adorned with a variety of braids.  Another time, we brought nail polish and painted nails. One of the older girls, Noqolo has taught me a couple of fast-paced clapping games (similar but more complicated then Miss Mary Mac, for anyone who remember that one) and two of the younger girls have spent the past couple of weeks patiently teaching Brenna and I the dance moves to two traditional songs.  We can judge our progress by the amount of giggling from our audience – less giggling means better dancing! The majority of the girls are excellent dancers, and several of them have beautiful singing voices.  The two girls that primarily play the drums for the group are quite talented. 

I am immensely impressed with the spirit of the children and the amount of talent that they have.  The arts are an important part of the culture here.  At the same time, the children make do with a lot less than the average American child in terms of toys and possessions and because of this, they find their fun from being with each other instead of playing video games, watching television or playing with the ‘latest and greatest’ new, overpriced toy on the market.  The whole experience has made me find American materialism disturbing on a couple of different levels.  First of all, American children miss out on a lot by always playing with things rather than spending time with people.  Second of all, some of these wonderful South African children live in one room shacks with barely enough to eat while many people in America enjoy lives of abundant material excess.  Of course, one doesn’t even have to go as far as America to see the harsh disparities. I doubt you would have to drive more than fifteen minutes out of Nyanga township to find people living lives of incredible privilege.  It’s disgusting and has been one of the things that I’ve found the hardest to process here.  

25 April 2011

Nicole's realization: seeing is not knowing and just knowing is not enough

It’s strange to think that our time here is quickly dwindling, and the countdown until we are back in the U.S is beginning. I remember that 3 months ago I was feeling like I had so much time to experience South Africa, and while I have done a lot, there is still so much that is left unexplored. There is still so much of this country that I have yet to see, cultures that I know nothing about, and ways of life that I still have no understanding of. In a way this realization, that one can spend 3 months in a country and still know so little, has put a few things into perspective for the future. I plan to, in my lifetime, travel as much of the globe as possible. I want to have been on every continent, backpack through Europe and South America, and see the Great Wall of China. While I want to travel to all these places and explore them, I’ve come to the conclusion that just because you’ve been to a place, doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand that place. Just because I’ve been to Cape Town, South Africa, doesn’t mean that I know how all people in South Africa act, think, or feel. It doesn’t mean that the vibe of Jo-Burg is the same as that of Cape Town (definitely isn’t by the way). The world is so big and it is impossible to say that you’ve been everywhere, seen everything, and know everyone. So while I do think it is important for us to become exposed to as much as we can in this lifetime, it is important to keep in mind that our grasp of understanding only goes as far as we reach.

On another note, it is a wonderful thing to know that the opportunities for learning, growing, and changing are endless. I know for a fact, just from being in Cape Town, that I have changed. I can pick out specific instances where my actions and thoughts have differed from how I would have acted or thought before I came on this trip. In a way its almost scary, and I’m somewhat anxious about how the “new” Nicole will be accepted back into life at home. Even more worrisome, is that I might not have the desire to fit in anymore. Not that it’s a worry to be different, but a worry that the life that I lived before, the sayings, jokes, and just plain ignorance that were such a part of my daily life, will no longer be acceptable to me. I constantly wonder how my friends will react if I try to inform them of things I have learned. Even more importantly, I wonder how my own family will react, and if they will understand? I know that no matter what happens, whether I choose to act on it or not, I have changed. Now that I have been opened up to this whole new world where racism, sexism, rape culture, and many more social issues are so often discussed, how can I go back to being my naïve and uninformed self? How can these issues that are so prevalent in society, and affect EVERY single person in the world, be put on the backburner? The answer is that they can’t. The only thing I have left 

Logan on the people who have enriched his life

As the last few days approach I am beginning to realize just how much I am going to miss Cape Town. Yes it is a beautiful city with breathtaking landscape and a long list of fun activities to do, but the real reason I do not want to leave is the people who made this the best experience in my life. For some I will continue to see in the fall, others I may never see again, but every person that I interacted with while in Cape Town really made this trip special and unforgettable. So I wanted to use this blog entry to say thank you to those people.

After talking to other study abroad students who are in Cape Town, I realized how lucky I am to be on this program. I would think people come to South Africa for a different study abroad than the typical go to Europe for a semester, yet I feel like that is the exact kind of semester they are having instead of a unique one. I think a lot of the reason we are so fortunate is because of our professors. While I have not talked about class that much in blogs (not usually the most interesting topic to write about) it has been a very important part of our trip. But our relationship with our professors has been more than just that in the classroom. The fact that we call them by their first name and take an active role in our trip here with orientation and excursion has made them more like mentors and friends than a professor student relationship.

I also want to thank the people who work at my internship. Contrary to my belief before I left for this trip I was not that much of a help to Black Sash. In fact I probably used up resources and time of the paid employees. But because of them I was able to take away a lot from this trip. First of all it gave me interaction with Capetonians. Second of all I really enjoyed the relationships I developed. Similar to with the professors it was a very informal relationship with less focus on hierarchies and more focus on teamwork and accomplishments. It was an experience unlike anything I have done before when completing goals.

The friends I made from South Africa might be something I miss the most since I won’t be seeing them in the fall. Most of the people I met were on the human rights weekend or were introduced to them through other UConn students. These friends were some of the biggest inspirations and really helped me gain a different perspective on life. They welcomed me as family while I visited their wonderful country. They showed me around areas I would have never been able to see. Most importantly I was inspired by their hope and love in the face of adversity.
Finally I want to recognize my friends that were on this program. This includes our RAs because by now I consider them my friends as well. I am so fortunate to be able to share this experience with all of you. We all were going through changes and I don’t think I would have made it if I didn’t have you guys there for my support. Some of you challenged me and my behavior the entire semester and I am sure this was not easy so I thank you. Others of you I was able to share things that I have not told people that I knew for years. Every single one of you made me happy and a better person. I cannot explain in words how much you guys helped me the past three months. I am so glad that I will continue to be able to see you guys in the fall and be able to relate and connect with someone on campus. I love all of you.

Like I said earlier, Cape Town in itself is something I am going to miss. But the people that have been a part of my life the past 3 months is the real reason I am dreading this plane flight. 

Terri witnesses ongoing legacy of apartheid

Now that our time here in Cape Town is coming to an end I have been thinking a lot about what is to come for the rest of my time at Uconn and then for the rest of my life.  I think over and over again about the things I have learned and how to change them from thoughts to actions.  I have seen the growth of every person on this program because of the conversations we have.  I know we will all do a great job next year during out workshops while teaching other Uconn students some of the things we have learned here.

While writing Marita’s final response paper I added an experience from my activist project and felt that I would love to share it with more people than just Marita and what better way to do that than to add it to my blog:

My activist project was a lot of fun.  It was the one time I was able to have a more personal relationship with the black community while at Maitland Cottage.  I also love medicine and learning about different conditions so I thoroughly enjoyed going in every Friday.  There were a lot of things I was able to learn from a medical level to a communal level. There was one specific thing that happened during my activist project that played with my emotions and has repeated in my head multiple times.  I had to ask a grandmother of one of the children to sign consent for her granddaughter to get medical attention.  First of all this grandmother had a very hard time understanding my English but the sad part was watching her actually sign the form.  All she wrote was “Flynn”, all in manuscript, she did not hold the pen correctly, and it took her an exceptionally long time to sign her name.  If I had not seen it written with my own eyes I would have thought a six year old who had just learned how to write her last name had wrote it.  At that moment all I could think about was Apartheid and the struggle the black community had to go through to get proper education.  I do not think this woman has a learning disability, I think the oppression she went through while growing up has prevented her to learn how to do something that we consider to be so simple, signing our names.  The Sharpville Massacre was all I could think about for the rest of the day.  I couldn’t help but think what this woman must have gone through as a child in school.  While at the age that most of us are having a good time at school, making friends, and learning from a teacher we speak the same language as and understand; children during Apartheid were struggling to get a proper education.  This was just another way the Apartheid government was able to oppress the black community.  If they couldn’t learn, they couldn’t be educated enough to get jobs and therefore make money.  Without proper education they were not educated enough to understand politics and know that their human rights were being torn away from them.  Many people think that since apartheid has ended so has the oppression and abuse but I have seen with my own eyes the consequences of the actions made by the Apartheid government.  Although little things have happened, it will take a lot more effort for equality to be reached.  I hope that day will come soon so the suffering of so many will come to an end.

24 April 2011

Lianna's last week

Time in Cape Town is coming to a close, and I still can’t wrap my head around how we’ve managed to spend over 3 months here.  While I can see the change that our time here has sparked in myself and others, I still am unable to comprehend how the time seems to be passing so quickly.  We have learned so much, and changed as people, and I’m pretty sure none of us want to go home.

This last week we’re planning on doing our favorite things one last time – one last trip to Chai-yo, one last hike up Lions Head, one more Darty, and one last trip to the Old Biscuit Mill.  But this week also entails some of the things that we’ve been putting off- Easter Baazar for a meal, getting a tattoo for some, and shark cage diving for a select few of us! Our funds are low, but we’re all trying to make these last couple days in Cape Town just as great as, or even better than the rest, which is a challenge in itself.  And while there are still things on my list of things to do that I did not get to accomplish, I know that I’ll make it back here one day, to enjoy Cape Town once again with friends or family.  Once you’ve been here, I feel like it’s hard to say you wouldn’t come back. 

Tom's mixed feelings on going home

So I guess I should write the obligatory “oh crap we’re running out of time in Cape Town” posts. My thoughts on leaving are mixed to say the least. On the one hand I am immensely excited to go home. I miss a lot of family and friends and frankly I miss a lot about the U.S. I thought that at this point in time I would be ready to leave. I thought I would be at the point that I enjoyed my stay in Cape Town and that I was ready to come home. While I am excited to go home I am certainly not at the point that I thought I would be. I am not ready to go. This has become a legitimate home for me and my program mates have become family. I feel the anxiety about going back to the states the same way I felt coming to South Africa. As I’ve said time and time again I cannot imagine living without my housemates right now. We have come so far as a group to the point where I can say that I will consider everyone in this program family for the rest of my life. I wish my thoughts were more complete. Right now I am so scattered but I guess this is a brief sketch.

Joe on friendships and inspiration

There is only a few days left in Cape Town and we are all running around trying to figure out what we still want to do. Luckily we have the last week off and we have some time to reflect upon our experience here. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the relationships that I have built with so many different people here and I am so grateful for each and every one of them. First, me and my housemates have created a larger family feeling that I would not trade for everything. I have been using the terms “brotha” and “sista” since living in Cape Town but I truly believe that these people are my brothers and sisters. We have all grown together and we will continue to push each other when we are home. They are my support network and every time I would come home from my internship, it would be so great to have such amazing people to come home to. We all have different personalities but as a group, we are perfect for each other. We balance one another out and keep each other sane.

I have also been lucky enough to have made friends with people from Cape Town such as Bongi and Mkhululi, a student at Thandokhulu High School. They both have taught me about the sense the spirit of ubuntu. Ubuntu literally means “I am because we are” The spirit of ubuntu relies on the fact that we are all inter-connected and dependent one another. They have been open to me and shared information with me that I will carry on with me for the rest of my life. I feel comfortable asking them anything about Cape Town culture or the Xhosa culture. We have shared our home and our hearts to them and they have done the same for us. I am happy to know that I have made connections here that will stay with me for the rest of my life and that I can always count on trusting these men when I return to Cape Town. They are both so inspirational in their spirit for learning and helping others. I know that if I continue to strive to be like them every day, I can help to make the world a better place.

I am so lucky to have been exposed to all the opportunities I was granted here. I will make sure not to forget any of them and carry what I have learned home to the US.

23 April 2011

Kayla's not quite ready to leave

2011 UConn-Cape Town Co-educators
I still have not come to terms with the fact that we are leaving South Africa to go home a week from today. I honestly thought I would be ready to go home when this time came but I wish I could be here for at least a few more weeks. It is hard because I really want to see my family and friends but I do not want to leave the life I have built here. It has been the most amazing experience and I'm really sad that it is quickly coming to an end. Throughout this 3 and a half months here, the 23 of us students on this program have gotten closer and closer to each other. We all joke about the plane ride here to South Africa when we all just wanted to talk and get to know each other as much as possible. Now, I cant imagine not being friends with every one of them when I go home. We have all grown so much as individuals and have adapted so much of the culture here. We all use as much as the South African lingo as possible and participate in as many of their traditions that we can. We are also talking about how we are going to bring all of these things back to the US with us and spend a lot of time together when we get home. I really can’t say it enough about how much we have all grown together. I really noticed it a lot when we traveled to Plettenberg Bay. We stayed in a hostel where 18 of us stayed in one large room together in bunk beds. Both nights we were there, we stayed up talking and joking around for at least 2 hours before going to sleep. We never seem to get sick of each other and as long as we are together, we have fun doing just about anything. And although I was the only person from our group that did not bungee jump, I still went out on the bridge with them to support and be there for them. EVERYONE was cheering for the person that was jumping and was giving them positive reinforcements the entire time to help them through it. We were all so happy for each other and everyone helped each other to face their fears and take the risk. I also noticed it a lot when we were hiking at one of the places near Plettenberg. We had to climb over these huge rocks and it was definitely a struggle for a few of us. There was no hesitation for anyone in our group to step up and help us get over them. With the constant reassurance from them and trust that we have built between each other, it was easier than I thought to climb over these huge rocks that I would NOT have been able to do on my own.
On the rocks
I think that the trust is also a big thing in our group. We all have built so much trust and understanding of one another and can rely on each other for just about anything. I have to say that I was a little hesitant at first when I knew I would live in a house with 17 people but I think it will be something I am going to miss a lot when I leave. It’s going to take some time to get used to not waking up to all of the loud voices of the pool house people and always having people around at all times. Everyone is ALWAYS there for one another and it is going to be really hard to leave them and not spend as much time together like we are used to. I think I speak for many when I say that this has really become our home. Whenever we travel, we always say that we are excited to go back home, meaning back to Cape Town. Although I do miss my life back home, I will forever miss the life I built here. The experience and knowledge I gained on this trip could not be described in words but is unforgettable and something I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life. I think I could go on forever about everything I love from South Africa and my time spent here. But I will just end with saying that this experience has had a huge impact on my life and I could never forget the knowledge, experiences, and people that I’ve met here.  This country is absolutely beautiful and I already can’t wait to come back in my future! 
Kate, Nokuzola, and Kayla

22 April 2011

Dana wondering how to act on all she's learned

It’s finally getting down to the wire! Luckily I have an extra week in South Africa to spend with my family, but going home is still all too close for comfort. Although I’m sad, I would say that the emotion that I was rather surprised to feel is nervous. I put my finger on exactly why I feel nervous, but I think it has a bit to do with the fact that I don’t know what to expect when I return home. I’m scared that although I feel so passionate about changing the countless thing’s I’ve learned that are wrong with not only South Africa or the US, but the world, that I’ll remain idol. Here and now, it seems close to impossible to think that this would happen, but I have a small pit in my stomach when I try to speculate what it is I will do with everything I’ve gotten out of being here when I return home.

I know everyone is harboring the feeling of frustration with the uncertainty of exactly what it is we can do to combat things like racism, sexism, ageism, and other “isms,” but I’ve been noticeably more affected by this feeling within the past week. I think it is most likely because I am slowly approaching my return home, into the environment that I so easily lived for so long oblivious to the extent that these institutions have affected humanity. The saying is so true that what you don’t know won’t hurt you, and that it’s almost easier not knowing because then you don’t have to care. I’m nervous that because I know what it’s like to live in my town, surrounded by upper-middle class, white, educated people and enjoy the feeling of being free of analyzing exactly how my town got that way, that I will so easily fall back into the cycle of being inactive and oblivious. I’m nervous that because the inequalities of institutions such as racism are not as in my face as they are here, that I will slowly lose the passion and concern that are currently making me want to do anything I can to make it right. I’m just nervous that I won’t do anything.

It may seem like an easy solution to just say that I won’t let that happen, but if I’ve learned anything here, it’s that the passion behind the work is what leads to the successes of active people. I’m nervous that I’ll lose the passion I have today.

Another root of my anxiousness is that I do not know what to expect when speaking with friends and family. I realize that most will not be as psyched to hear about my experience here as I would like them to be, simply because they didn’t live it themselves and cannot fully grasp the impact that some of the things I’ve experienced have had on me. My only hope is that I can get across enough of the ideas that I’ve learned without sounding as if I know everything there is to know about the world and the people in it.

Therefore, as anxious as I am about what will come of my amazing experiences here in South Africa, I am excited to see what I will do with them. Without tooting my own horn, I think as long as I act on them, I can do a whole lot. And for that, I can’t wait!

Emily's unforgettable experiences

I don’t want to write this blog. I really don’t. Writing this blog means its over. It means we are all going home. It means 10 Loch Road is no longer my home and I no longer live with all the wonderful people I’ve spent the last 3 and a half months of my life with. It means we no longer walk to 7/11 for candy runs or take a minibus blasting techno to a beautiful beach or get lost climbing a beautiful mountain and run out of water. I don’t want to write this blog because it means my time in South Africa is over and our time as a group abroad is over. My favorite part of this trip is how close I have become with this wonderful group of people and the fact that we have done this, together.

We aren’t going back to school right away so I probably won’t see some of these people until next semester and that makes me sad. Really sad. I don’t know what it will feel like to wake up to a quiet house in Vermont instead of a bustling one in Cape Town. Will I be able to fall asleep at night without the background noise of shouting, clanking dishes, bickering, slamming doors and above all laughing? I have grown so close to my fellow UConn students on this trip, closer than I ever could have imagined. They are my family and my friends. Of course I miss home but I don’t quite know how I will adjust to losing this family. Although we may return to South Africa at some point in our lives we will never be in this space again, all of us together at Loch road debating who’s better, Kemba or Maya or arguing over whether or not an Eminem song is oppressive or empowering and endlessly, endlessly trying to figure out how we can make the world a better place.

 I know I am going to cherish this last week and a half. I don’t know where the past three months have gone but they have been wonderful ones. I’m going to sound like a cornball now but frankly I don’t care, I have grown as a person on this trip and changed. I have learned so much from my internship, our classes, my professors, this community and my peers. And best of all I have watched others grow, learn and change around me. I know that I will never forget this experience here in this amazing country with these awesome people. The other day when I climbed Lions Head again and for the final time, I sat at the top and looked out across the water and I thought about the first time we had climbed this mountain so long ago. It is amazing how quickly time can pass you by when you are enjoying life to the fullest.

When I jumped off a bridge the other day (oh yes!) I had such a moment of clarity. It was so silent as I fell through the air at 70mph with nothing but a cord to catch me and when I bounced back up I let out a shriek of excitement and felt so proud of myself. Jumping (or in my case, being pushed) off of the bridge amid cheers from my housemates was an amazing feeling. I could feel the support of everyone and knew they were genuinely happy for me. Being only the second jumper to go I was absolutely terrified for what lay ahead, but my housemates gave me the courage to just do it. When I came on this trip I said I would never bungee jump and certainly not shark cage dive. And I have done one and will soon do the other next week. I am proud of myself for facing my fears and pushing to experience life, it was definitely worth it. I was so proud of everyone that day for jumping; it was almost as exciting to watch everyone else jump, as it was to jump myself. When Katherine jumped, as the first jumper, our group let out a roar as if we had won the National Championship again and I almost cried with happiness at the love our group shares for one another.

I am proud of our entire group for all that we have done and accomplished on our study abroad adventure and I am so incredibly sad to see it coming to a close. But to end on a positive, I’m sure groups always say this and don’t follow through, but I know ours will. I can’t wait to see everyone this summer and reunite next semester. I know that I have made some lifelong friends on this trip, doing the things we have done and seeing the things that we have seen there is no way to ignore the unbreakable bond that has formed between us all. Whether it was jumping off of a bridge, squashing into a minibus with techno blasting, singing along to Vanessa Carlton in the kitchen, dancing from one club to the next in a conga line, leaping into the pool the first day, learning about Xenophobia and Black Consciousness, attending a church service in the township or watching the men win the National Championship at 530 in the morning, the things I have done with these people will never be forgotten. 

Katherine on relationships--here and there

As our time here in Cape Town dwindles down, I find myself thinking more and more about the many different friendships I have. One of the biggest things I’ve learned since being here is just how much I appreciate my best friend back home. Whenever I’m abroad, I have a terrible habit of not keeping in touch with people back home. However, since meeting my best friend freshman year of college, this is the first time I have been abroad. Never have I made such an effort to keep someone so included and up-to-date on what is going on with my life. Partially I think this has to do with the fact that a lot of what I’m dealing with here she takes great interest in back home. She very much advocates for women’s rights, and before Cape Town that was a topic she and I could never agree on. I always saw feminism as a group of annoying women that always have a bone to pick. But being here I’ve learned that there is much more to feminism that holding grudges against the oppressor. And now I think that my relationship with my best friend is going to be that much stronger now that we have another common ground on which to agree. Additionally, there were times during this semester that I found myself getting frustrated with the people around me, or just unable to share certain feelings I was having with my housemates. I couldn’t wait to get onto Skype and talk them out with my best friend. It was times like these that I really appreciated the bond we have and the fact that despite us being half way around the world from one another, we could still connect with what each other was going through. If I take nothing else away from this trip, it’s that I realize how grateful and lucky I am to have a friend like her waiting for me back home.

In contrast to that, I also find myself worrying about how some of my relationships with people back home will be once I return. While this program was only three months long, it has certainly changed me in a drastic way. And I worry that although I’ve changed, I know that people back home haven’t. I don’t know what kind of toll that will take on my relationships with certain people. It’s hard to connect to someone when I no longer want to engage in the things that used to bond us together. Yet at the same time no one ever wants to say goodbye to an old friend. While I can’t say for sure how my relationships with certain people will change once I get back home, just by the fact that I’m already thinking about it is an uneasy feeling for me.

On the flip side, I’m also sad to leave behind the people I have met here on this trip. I’ve made some great relationships with people here, and it’s an unsettling feeling knowing that in a week’s time I will be leaving and don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. For instance, by internship coordinator, Stan, has become what I’ve termed as my “South African father.” He has certainly gone above and beyond his role as my boss, and he is someone that I will miss dearly. And I don’t even want to venture into thinking about life without Ben.

I also think that one of the saddest parts of this experience ending will be waking up back in the States and not being surrounded by 15 other people. Living in a house with so many people certainly made me nervous when I first started this trip. Now, living without them makes me nervous. The times we’ve shared here in this house are some of my fondest memories, and I couldn’t imagine spending them with anyone else. I know that we will all remain close back at Uconn, but it’s sad knowing that this living arrangement will never occur again.

Overall, this trip has made me come to realize just how important my relationships with other people are. I’m grateful for every single friendship I’ve made here, as well as this programs ability to strengthen my relationship with people thousands of miles away from me back home. 

Meaghan wondering where do we go from here?

This past weekend we stayed in Plettenberg Bay and finally got around to jumping off the world’s highest bungee bridge! I’m a little bit surprised to be alive, but mostly can’t believe it all happened, and am shocked at how quickly it went by. Jumping off of that bridge was probably the scariest thing I have ever done, and it amazes me how much less scared I was than I anticipated being. I am so glad that I actually went through with jumping and hope I can do it again some day. I don’t think explaining it through typing will exactly do the experience justice, so I look forward to talking about it with family and friends when I get home. 

On a more serious note, lately it has become increasingly difficult for me to sit down and write these blog posts due to the complexity of processing all of the thoughts and feelings I have running through my head. To take all of the ideas, emotions, and opinions that I have and mold them into a smooth paragraph or two is much more difficult than simply spitting back information about the activities we have been doing or what fun plans we have for the weekend.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about how much I enjoyed the film from class last night and the thoughts and conversation it generated. I know the anxiety I feel about returning home is something I have discussed before, and it was nice to hear that my friends are experiencing the same emotions. One point that was made in our post-film discussion dealt with not knowing where to go from here, and how we can take our knowledge back from South Africa and apply it to a UConn campus. We have all reached the point where we can openly discuss our position of privilege, and the difficulty that comes with accepting this and how to work with it. As it was pointed out last night though, this isn’t the hard part. Sitting amongst a group of white people who can relate and discussing the positives and negatives of privilege is not the solution to the problem. Open dialogue and cultural celebrations are not going to obtain the same results that action would. However, I genuinely believe that a vast number of people are unaware of the privilege they hold and to what extent the privilege exists in their lives. I can say that personally I was completely unaware of how greatly being white influences nearly every aspect of my life. In this respect, I think it is necessary to go out and spend time informing people of the situation that exists uncontested. My fear is that if the focus solely shifts to moving forward, only the small percentage of people aware will continue on, and the population of those unknowing will continue to grow. I think there needs to be some sort of balance between people going out and co-educating, and people moving forward with social justice. It sounds a lot easier than it would be to assemble, but it is the only way to promote a continuous stream of people who know and care. I see the whole situation in sort of a time crunch, racing against the clock to inform people as quickly as possible before too much time passes and no work is done. Once again I’m not really sure of the point I am trying to make with all of this, but I can see the need for reform in the way things are being handled. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. I am interested to see why it is that those who have been well-informed all along, those who have been oppressed and discriminated, aren’t receiving the power they deserve.

21 April 2011

Tom's frustrations preparation for road ahead

Internships ended this week and I have begun the process of reflection.  I’ve worked at Treatment Action Campaign in Khayelitsha this semester and it has been an interesting experience to say the least.  I know the experience has been a positive one – I have learned more than I could even know during my time at TAC.  I know for a fact that the organization and the people in it have had a profound effect on me and I cannot wait to see the changes in a different context.  It has not always gone smoothly and it certainly hasn’t always been fun.  Actually, working at TAC has been the most frustrating experience of my life.  The atmosphere in the office was so far outside of my comfort zone its ridiculous.  English is barely spoken, techno music is blaring outside and there is just a general disregard for American ideals of appropriate office conduct.  There have been many days of the past handful of months that I have wondered, pondered, and talked about whether I was getting out of my internship what I needed to get out of it.  I felt like I wasn’t getting enough meaningful work to do.  Hell, I felt like I wasn’t getting enough work to do period.  I have become immensely frustrated with how things are done at TAC.

After venting many frustrations to many people who are probably sick of hearing about them I have realized that I have in fact gotten out of my internshp what I’ve needed to.  How do I know this?  Because after the ups and downs the entire semester I was legitimately upset as I left on Wednesday.  I knew at that moment that the TAC office has prepared me for the tough road ahead; that I will never be challenged quite like that again.  As I said I have learned more than I could know.  For that…thank you TAC.

20 April 2011

Nicole: challenges proportional to knowledge & experience gained

I can’t believe that I just finished my last day of internship at Tafelsig Clinic. This really means that the end of the trip is fast approaching and I’m having mixed feelings about it. While it wasn’t the easiest of situations to be in, I really did enjoy working with the staff there, and I learned so much from them. I truly feel that the amount of challenges that I faced are proportional to the amount of knowledge and experience that I gained while working at Tafelsig. One of the first challenges I faced was that of language barrier. Mostly everyone that works at Tafelsig, and the patients themselves are Coloured. Most of them, as a result, speak Afrikaans as their first language. It was definitely intimidating at first to be thrown into a place where I could barely understand people with their accents when they were speaking English, let alone when they were speaking a language that I knew nothing of.

Another challenge that I faced was finding a place that was suitable for me to be working, and doing something that I felt was useful.  I came into this program with a certification in Phlebotomy, so I had hoped that I would be able to do something along those lines at the clinic. My expectations were more than met. While the challenges were many, I also had many opportunities to learn from Tafelsig Clinic. Because of the amount of people that come in daily, (over 500 per day fyi), I was able to be exposed to a lot of things that normally I would not see until graduate school in the U.S. With all the stuff that I was doing, mostly in the Emergency/Treatment room, I really felt that I was helping relieve the stress of the staff members,, just by doing the small monotonous things, so the nurses could focus on the more severe Emergency cases. It was so nice to hear the woman that I spend most of my time with say that she didn’t know what she was going to do without me now that I’m leaving. She had also said that she hated Thursdays and Fridays, because those were the two days that I was unable to come in and help her. Hearing this from her made me feel as though I actually made a difference during my time here, and even if it just in some small way that I was able to help, its good enough for me. Another part of the job that was rewarding was when I was able to do something for a patient and they truly appreciated what I did for them. Something as simple as grabbing a blanket for someone who had been waiting a long time for an ambulance to come, or grabbing a cup for someone to sip on some water while they were waiting to be seen by the doctor.

I have learned so much from the nurses that I worked with and in turn I hope that I was of some assistance to them.  I learned a lot about myself, and what I am capable of doing, and I also learned a lot that is related to the health care field. Through endless discussions with the people that I worked with I was able to learn about their pasts and how they lived during the years of Apartheid, which is so interesting to learn about from someone who actually experienced it. During my last day I talked with one of the staff members, a lady named Iris who I had become closer with during my time at Tafelsig. She told me that she was truly going to miss me, and that she had really enjoyed our conversations and learning about my life and sharing her life story with me. It was so wonderful to hear such nice things from someone that I had come to respect so deeply. I remember when I first arrived at the clinic she would only speak Afrikaans, probably because she wasn’t as comfortable with her English. But our relationship grew to the point where even if I was sitting at the table during tea and lunch with a big group of people all speaking Afrikaans, she would make a point to speak English so that I could have some idea of what the conversation was about. Iris isn’t the only person at Tafelsig that I got to know on a more personal level, but there is just not enough time or space to write about all of them. Overall my experience was amazing, and I will forever remember my time at Tafelsig, the people I met, and the things I learned.

Ashley asking important questions and a crucial answer

We only have two more weeks here in Cape Town and I’m trying to find a way to put all my emotions, experiences and lessons into one place and try to reflect on them.  It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.  Over the past few days I’ve actually been feeling really sad with the thought of leaving a place where I have learned so much.  Not only have I learned about this beautiful country and town but it’s somehow allowed me to learn about myself.  Since the first day at my internship I’ve been trying to figure out what role or affect would I have on such an amazing organization.  These are people who have devoted their lives and are committed to a career helping children who are living and going through awful situations.  What strikes me most is that fact that these employees are struggling within their households and with their own responsibilities.  How is it that a twenty year old American girl can just step into this setting and expect to change any one’s life.  Again, this was an issue I was trying to figure out and would just sit and think to myself on a daily basis trying to find the answer.  I am so grateful that this answer has been revealed to me two weeks before my departure.  Being at Olive Leaf I’ve noticed that I have been brought here to learn.  Learn about this culture, the way people work with each other and how they handle the poverty and suffering around them.  I have learned that I cannot simply put myself in a situation where I don’t know the common language or the way the system works and expect to change it.  At first I was extremely excited to be working with the kids within the organization but as time went by I spent more days in the office and learned more from the staff than I ever would have learned on the field.  They have gone through so many amazing experiences and life lessons while living in the township, these stories have changed my life.  I am so glad that I am able and have come to accept that I didn’t come to South Africa to change or make Africa a better place but to take everything I have learned from the staff at Olive Leaf and use it back home.  I have been exposed to conversations that I have never wanted to be part of back home, now I see the importance of them.  I never would have noticed this in any other place or setting.  It’s so difficult for me to put into words how grateful I am for the people I have met here.  Their openness, honesty, courage and motivation to want to help one other is so encouraging.  They know that they are living in awful conditions and that there is so much wealth in the world that they may never be part of but that doesn’t stop them.  My strongest motivation has been seeing the young staff member’s commitment to guiding the youth in their communities.  They acknowledge that these kids need older students in their lives willing to sacrifice their time to guide them in the right direction and it’s so amazing to see that happening.  Tuesday will be my last day at the organization and it’s so hard for me to picture not seeing these people any more, but again I’m so glad that I can say that I’m ready to go home and share with everyone what I’ve learned from this organization and what I can do with this knowledge I’ve gained.

Taylor on the weekend details

So this weekend was full of fun and exciting things... We went bungy jumping on Saturday from the Highest Bungy Jumping bridge in the world! We freefell for 5 seconds, it was probably one of the most amazing things I have ever done.  It actually feels like you are flying.  We stayed in a hostel overlooking the bay as well, which had an amazing view.  After bungy jumping we went to a place called monkey land where we saw a bunch of different types of monkeys, some even came right up to us, one grabbed my finger and the proceeded to scream its head off.  Another was hoping towards us and slapping the ground trying to scare us away.  After that we went to the elephant sanctuary where we walked hand in trunk with the elephants and got to feed and pet them.  For such big animals, they walk silently, the guide said this is because they walk on their tip toes.  Saturday was quite the day. Sunday we drove home and on the way stopped in Wilderness National Park where we rented canoes and paddled through a windy river surrounded by mountains to a nearby waterfall where we had lunch and spent a few hours.  It was a very relaxing and exciting weekend.

Susie facing fears, finding peace

I am not the biggest fan of heights. I would not consider myself horribly phobic, but I definitely feel some uneasiness when I am on a higher ground than normal. There is a bridge near the UConn campus that my friends and I jump off of when it is warm out; it is only about a fifteen feet drop but I usually stand nervously at the top for at least ten minutes before I can jump in. This past weekend, we took a long bus ride to Plettenberg Bay, South Africa where a lot of us were able to face our fears. While standing on the platform of Bloukrans Bridge, the world’s highest commercial bungee jump, there was the most positive and upbeat energy before we all took the plunge. Some of my friends were dancing and psyching themselves up with the amazing bungee crew while others struggled with their fears through tears and reassurance. I like to think I was a part of both groups; I knew I was not going to get hurt, but I was still facing something I had never experienced before. When it was my turn to jump, I must admit that I had a moment of hysterically crying. I am not sure what brought on my emotions but after a few seconds I simply kept thinking to myself that there is no point in being afraid: I was going to jump and hopefully it would all work out.

As cliché as it probably sounds, we need to take risks. I am not talking about facing danger or acting completely irrationally, but about challenging oneself to really grow as a person. As my time in South Africa is quickly coming to an end, I have been trying to see if I have actually changed as a person. I think about myself as a nervous student last semester who struggled with the decision on whether or not to study abroad at all, and I see that angst as a challenge I overcame. I see the seventeen amazing people I am living with and how a lot of us have learned to cooperate in somewhat smaller corners as a test we all passed with flying colors. I observed when many of us came home from a long day at our internships, completely drained from feeling so helpless in a world where so many things seem to be cruel, only to wake up to repeat it again. I may sound like I am diving way too deeply into some metaphor for merely jumping off a bridge, but I feel like it may have meant a lot more to many of us. Seconds after the jump, I experienced a complete silence; I could not hear the blaring music or cheers from the bridge, the ocean waves crashing nearby, or the crew member coming to help pull me back up the bridge. It was a peaceful sensation that many other people said they felt after the bungee jump; we had all taken a chance and nobody hit the ground.

18 April 2011

Siobhan learning she can do more than she believed possible

This weekend we went to Plettenberg Bay, home of the famous bungy jump, the very bungy jump that I swore I would never jump off of. I hate the idea of bungy jumping. Hanging upside down over a rocky ravine where at any second I could fall to my death? No, thank you. However, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my roommates would have none of that. They kindly informed me that I would be jumping whether I wanted to or not, because I would regret it so much if I didn’t. I’m proud to say that they convinced me and that somehow I found the courage to throw myself off of a bridge 216 meters above the ground. I was the last to go of our group an watching 18 of my brave roommates go before me made me realize that I wouldn’t want to share this experience with anyone else. From Katherine making the first jump (of the day!), simply shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe it was happening, to the few who burst into tears at the view (you know who you are) to Joe who looked like he was going to die of whiplash f\because of his less than graceful jump, watching them made me realize that I can do it. And it did, jumping off much like a child who can’t swim jumps off a diving board, knees bent, falling forward with hands pressed over the eyes. Refined, just like me. Oh, and the song that was playing as I plunged to what I was convinced was a certain death? “I got a feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas: “I got a feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night”. Yes, yes it is.

Right now I am sitting at my computer trying to finish a presentation for work. It is a tradition at Africa Unite for the interns to make a presentation when they are leaving talking about what they learned during their time here. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve done more work here and held more responsibility than I ever had before. I’ve learned how to take minutes in meetings even when I have no idea what people are saying, organized a weekend long workshop nearly single-handedly, participated in mediation meetings to try to prevent xenophobia, volunteered in at a daycare center in Nyanga with the most amazing children in the world, and been unbelievably inspired by the people who work at Africa Unite. I’m not sure how I’m going to say all that I need to say in this presentation because there is so much that happened. All I know is that one of the main reasons this internship taught me so much is because it was in South Africa. I love doing things at a different pace, a different style, and most importantly, in a way that is filled with respect. Every project that I worked on was done in a way so that all parties were satisfied. Africa Unite does not work by riding in on their high horse, waving a magic wand, “fixing” people. Africa Unite works from a grassroots level, empowering people in the community to do what they deem is necessary to better themselves. As a total control freak, that was something that definitely took some getting used to, but I love how Africa Unite has taught me to listen to people and encourage them to solve things on their own, being more of a support system. Wish me luck on condensing that random stream on consciousness into a power point presentation!   

Lianna wanting to apply realizations gained here

I can’t help but noticed that a lot of the posting’s lately have been about different people visiting townships.  I feel that we’re finally getting comfortable enough here, and settling in enough to head into these areas, and that we all are really eager share our experiences, in addition to learn more about the culture here.  It’s a strange experience getting to the townships.  This past weekend I went into both Crossroads and Khayelitsha, each time people didn’t believe us.  We had people asking “Are you sure you want to go there?” and worrying that we were in the wrong place.  It took a bit of convincing, but finally we were able to get across that yes, we knew what we were doing.  After getting to them, and finding the people we aimed to see and the places we intended to go, we were introduced to different people, and particularly in Khayelitsha, people thanked us for coming.  While it was nice being hugged and thanked for going there, it just seemed so odd to me that all I was being thanked for was visiting some friends, the fact that people asked to take photos with us was flattering but at the same time uncomfortable, you can’t help but think it shouldn’t be this way, we shouldn’t be praised for trying to learn about a culture and a population of people, especially when everyone seems to know a lot about our culture.  The woman we visited in Khayelitsha told us that the photo her husband took with us was brought to his work, where everyone was jealous and mad that they weren’t informed that we were coming.  Being treated as if we were celebrities is a really strange feeling, and I wish it weren’t such a big deal for white people to be seen hanging out in a township.

Through work we head into schools in the township, and while a lot of teachers have no idea who I am, they assume that I am here to help and kindly point me to the bathroom or classroom that I’m having trouble finding, no questions asked.  Another thing that I found odd is one of my coworkers admitted that when they see a white person in the townships, they just assume that person is a foreigner, and that white South Africans do not come to the townships.  While this isn’t 100% true – a lot of my coworkers are white South Africans working in the townships, a guy I work with my age admits that his friends express concern for his safety, and even question his reasons for volunteering in Philippe. We’ve been talking in class about using your privilege to improve inequalities, and this would make it seem that that isn’t really the case here in South Africa.  And while it’s easy to point fingers and to blame South Africans for not helping themselves, you could say the same thing about people in the US.  So many of us have never gone into Hartford to help out, or even Willimantic, which is right down the road from Uconn. Also, a lot of the time, when people do volunteer, they tend to go far away- not to say that that isn’t helping, I’m just trying to point out that our home still needs a lot of work too.  It is just sad that sometimes we are so oblivious to the sad, terrible things that go on in our backyard, and through this program, I think that a lot of us are learning that we can’t ignore the problems, no matter where they are.  And while it may only be 23 Uconn students who are coming to this realization, hopefully when we return we can work in our community, and make some type of difference, even if it is small.