Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nicole's farewell poem

No one wants to be cliche
But I feel I have no choice
So before I even realize
These words escape my voice

We have found ourselves
And lost ourselves
And found ourselves again
We have broken down
Been beaten down
And learned the value of a friend

Our eyes have opened wider
Forming a new lens
Of how the world should be
And what we want to mend

We have literally climbed mountains
To realize there are many more
This time however is different
We are stronger than before

We have formed bonds so important
That we will never be the same
Its not easy to say goodbye
and you are all to blame

A thank you is in order
Even though you can never be repaid
Instead of mourning our good-byes
Let's enjoy the rest of today

Becky's last day in Cape Town

Table mountain as the clouds begin to clear
How does one even begin to approach planning for their last full day in Cape Town? It has been a pretty emotional weekend and today was the hardest by far. I felt like I had to do something great to finish off my stay here in this amazing city. I had not yet been on top of table mountain (which is a shock I know), and I knew that would be my only regret if I left without seeing the city from the top of it. Weather hasn’t been a friend to us this weekend so when I woke up to find the mountain covered in clouds, it made me so sad to think that I had missed my chance so many times during the previous months. The mountain has been my rock, pun intended, and I can’t believe that I can’t look out my window everyday and see it. Table Mountain is almost like a big brother, always looking out for you wherever you go in Cape Town. You know you are in the Mother City when you see it and it has just become a comfort to see. I was really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to climb it today, but after a few hours the mountain started to clear up more and more until the clouds were gone. I like to think the mountain knew I was leaving and had to get the clouds off of it so I could say goodbye to Cape Town properly. Since I was limited on time I took the cable car up to the top. I felt a mix of emotions at the top of the mountain; looking at the city I have called my home for three and a half months. Not only did I realize how well I now know the city, but I also couldn’t help but smile at all the memories from every place I looked. There was nowhere in the city I could look and think I hadn’t done something memorable there.
It is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do to say goodbye to this wonderful place tomorrow. It is surreal knowing I will be back in the America in less than 48 hours so I don’t think leaving has hit me yet. I know when I can no longer see the mountain all of it will be gone and I can’t prepare for that moment right now. Looking at the city today from Table Mountain was a way for me to end this trip seeing the place I have come to treasure in my heart, from the top of the most special place in Cape Town. I will always have a place in my heart for Cape Town that will ache when I am away from this magnificent city. I’ll miss you Cape Town, thanks for the adventures.
Panoramic view from Table Mountain

Sam knows she'll be back one day

Wow. I actually have to leave Cape Town tomorrow. I was kind of hoping this day just wouldn’t actually come. But looking back at everything we have done and learned over the past three and a half months makes me happy and grateful that I had this opportunity. I have met some really awesome people including all the people I came here with and all those I have met since being here.  I can’t even begin to say how amazing everything has been. This program does an amazing job of making you feel connected to the community here and it makes leaving that much harder. The people here are also so friendly. Just today a group of us went to Mzoli’s, which is a big restaurant in Guguletu where people go with friends and all they serve is meat. It was so delicious and we went with a cab driver who we have become friends with, some of the teachers from Christel House, and some of our friends from the afterschool program in Nyanga. It was so fun to hang out and talk and dance and just have a really good time. And as if that weren’t enough, Brandi, Nicole, Kimmi, and I went with Joseph (from the afterschool program) and a few of his friends on a walk around New Crossroads, Old Crossroads, and Nyanga. They let us visit each one of their houses and were so welcoming. We got to really see a few townships and got to ask questions and experience how friendly people truly are. We even acted like little kids and played on a few playgrounds, kicked a soccer ball around with a group of local kids, drank traditional African beer that is used to give thanks to the ancestors, and even ate a smiley. If you are currently wondering what a smiley is, it’s a sheep head. Yes a sheep head. It is a popular dish and you clean the bones, eating everything, I tried the tongue, cheek and eye, none of it was as bad as it sounds and actually was pretty good. We walked through an informal settlement as well and the whole day was an absolutely perfect way to end this trip. I know I have said this for multiple days here, but I think today may have been the best day of my life. Saying goodbye to our friends there was really hard but I know I will see them again one day. Whenever I come back here, I am going there first. Everything in Cape Town is amazing and I know I will back here as soon as I can to both visit my kids at Christel House and all the people I have become friends with. I’m excited to see my family and friends and especially my dogs once I get home but I will definitely be missing life here. I am grateful to have all the people I came here with as well so we can all talk about how much we want to be back here once we are home. 
Sam with learners in her class

Kimmi on her final day

For two days now we have been trying to go to one of the black townships called Nyanga. We have waited for buses to come time and time again but nothing. Every time the bus never came and we weren’t able to go I felt relieved. I wanted to go visit and walk around a black township before I left with the informal settings because I knew it would be different then the coloured township we stayed in at the homestay, Ocean View. I was so comfortable in Ocean View and love it there but something about Nyanga really scared me. Maybe it was because I didn’t know the guys who were giving us a tour or all of the crime that occurred in townships. I’m not really sure but it was making me very anxious even thinking about walking around. I knew that if I did this it would be conquering one of my biggest fears.
When we waited for the bus for an hour today and it never came again that’s when I thought okay guess we aren’t going anymore. We headed back home and went to Mzoli’s, which is a restaurant/butchery type place in a black township called Guguletu. We got there at 10 in the morning in order to get a table since Sundays are known to be one of the busiest days of the week. We got a big table and ordered lamb, T-bone steaks, sausage and bread. The guys that were supposed to take us around Nyanga came and we got to meet them and talk. The food was amazing but also the atmosphere and sense of community I felt while being there. There were multiple tables set up in the back that was very opened and people were socializing and dancing. I met up with my teacher, Loren and I was able to spend time with her and talk to her for a bit before I go home tomorrow! Brandi and I were dancing in the middle of the circle and cheered on and clapped by people that we just met. I loved it there.
We ended up going to Nyanga right after Mzoli’s. I think this was better and I was a lot more comfortable because I met the guys and talked to them for a bit before we met. We walked from Mzoli’s to Nyanga. At Nyanga we walked through informal settings, passed schools and got to know the guys. When I was walking through Nyanga I felt extremely safe and forgot about my fear of getting robbed or something bad happening. We went to each of their houses and every family was so opened and welcoming. Here that is one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how much you have people keep on giving. These people in the townships have nothing but they are still willing to welcome us into their homes to see it and are so friendly. That’s one thing I love here that everyone does!
In Nyanga we were able to play soccer and Australian football with the kids. We played on the playground with some of the local kids as well. On the way we drank some traditional African Beer and ate smiley. The African Beer was held in a tin can and then we all passed it around. While drinking it you have to bend down so that you are lower than it to raise it to the ancestors. Smiley is another tradition that they sell on the streets. Smiley is a sheep’s head that people eat. So we got half of one and I ate the jaw and eye. It wasn’t very good and I felt like we were on fear factor. It all added to the experience. We were walking around and got to know these guys and the whole time I felt so safe.

We got back for our last dinner where we all chipped in to make some breakfast food for dinner. We all reflected about what we got out of this trip. This day was the perfect ending to a great trip! I’m really going to miss everyone and this country. I’m glad that it ended on a good note and I know for sure that one day I have to come back. I am taking so much from this trip and am so happy that I did this today and conquered my fear. I have come to see that townships really are not as scary as I thought they were. I thought today I was going to be very uncomfortable and out of place. I ended up noticing that everyone was looking at us a bit strange seeing a white person in a black township. But instead of attacking us or being mean about it they ended us welcoming us in with open arms and kind words. I have realized that there is nothing to be afraid of. Today the guy I was talking to Mzu told me not to worry about it robbing or thieves until it happened. He told me to take every moment and basically live in the present. That I mustn’t worry about things that could happen. If they do happen then deal with them at that moment but don’t worry about things that could happen. I like this and am going to try my best to think like this for everything in my life. I have conquered some of my fears while here and have learned a lot about South Africa and the U.S.  Each and everyone that I have met while here who were from South Africa and U.S has influenced me and helped me grow as a person. I am so fortunate and lucky to have such a great experience here. There have been ups and downs but I’m so happy that I have had the opportunity. Now I will be saving up to come back because there is no way I am leaving everyone here and seeing everything and not coming back! Cape Town definitely changes you and helps you grow in a way that I can’t describe.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Maria on some of the amazing things she's done

As the trip is winding down, I'm thinking about what I'm going to say about my trip when I get home.  I'll just start with "It was great!" and see where it goes from there.  Maybe to make it all easier, I'll just refer them to this list that I've made.  I make lists of everything to try to organize my messy brain, and looking back on this experience, I feel like I've done so much that summing it up, even  seems overwhelming.  Here is a list of some of the cool things I have done in Cape Town.

I got to:
  • Work as a real English teacher in a High School
  • Tutor and play games with kids from Ocean View
  • Be a big sister to my new friend Siyanda from Khayelitsha
  • Hike Table Mountain
  • See the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island
  • Bungee jump (twice, once forwards, once backwards) off of the highest bungee bridge in the world (216m, almost 709 feet)
  • Cage dive with 16-foot great white sharks
  • Play and swim with penguins
  • Successfully pick up surfing and get "adopted" by the workers at the surf shop (they stopped charging me...)
  • Attend a hip-hop battle, both breakdancing and pop & lock
  • Jump off of a 35-foot cliff and clear a rock ledge in order to land safely in the water
  • See the location of the Sharpeville massacre
  • Develop an affinity for the band GOLDFISH!
  • Run a half-marathon in the pouring rain
  • Learn about discrimination and the history of apartheid
  • Perform two of my own poems for the very first time at an open mic night
  • Attend University of Cape Town (one of the most beautiful campuses in the world)
  • Participate in the University of Cape Town swim team
  • Go to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (AND get on South African television while sitting on one of my classmate's shoulders singing and dancing to "Lady with the Tattooed Hands" by Atmosphere)
  • Go to a Cape Town Ajax soccer game
  • Learn how to greet people in Xhosa (and successfully do the clicking syllable)
  • Stand where Hector Pieterson was shot in the Soweto uprising of 1976
  • Go to the jazz club Swingers, and do karaoke at the Blue Chip
  • Have my first legal drink
  • Get elected president of UConn Swim Club for the 2012 to 2013 school year (from South Africa!)
  • Eat Ethiopian food for the first time
  • Eat ox stomach
  • See concerts at Kirstenbosch Gardens, which must be one of the coolest, most gorgeous venues in the world
  • Spend the weekend in the township called Ocean View and fall in love with my host family and the entire community
  • Wear ridiculous clothes and a bright blue wig to an Avicii concert where almost everyone else seemed to be dressed normally...
  • Pet a cheetah
  • Pet an elephant
  • Hug a different elephant
  • Feed many elephants
  • Kiss one of those elephants right on the face
  • See a herd of zebras cross the road with a beautiful sunrise in the background
  • See ostriches, baboons, impalas, water buffalo, a lion, a hippo, kudus, a rhinoceros, and giraffes
  • Turn 21 years old and receive my South African "key" from Marita (and delicious homemade birthday cake!)
  • Become friends with surfers, body boarders, kite surfers, breakdancers, bar bouncers, small-time TV stars, NPO leaders, teachers, and amazing kids
  • Go on my first wine tasting adventure, complete with crazy driving tour of the vineyards
  • Paraglide off of a mountain
  • Stay in a hostile for the first time
  • Eat awesome sushi
  • Become absorbed in all 3 books in the Hunger Games trilogy (and go see the movie)
  • Feed a seal a fish
  • Hike up Lion's Head to see the sun set into orange sky over the ocean on one side, and the HUGE full moon rise into vivid purple sky over the city that was gradually lighting up on the other side
  • Learn what it's like to live in a house with 17 people in it
  • Have "family" dinners (and meetings, and arguments, and learning experiences, and bonding experiences)
  • See an absurd amount of shooting stars in un-light-polluted sky while floating in the water on top of a mountain
  • Become proficient in South African public transportation and crazy mini-bus taxis
  • Learn about human rights with young people from all over Africa
  • Get to know about 20 amazing people from UConn
  • Get to know countless amazing people from South Africa
  • Re-discover a hunger for knowledge, learning, and compassion
  • Open my eyes
  • Find myself
  • Learn who I am
  • Learn who I want to be

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ryan reflects on time in CPT

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about leaving Cape Town to head back to my routine life in the states. Hearing everyone’s sad feelings about leaving and happy ones of returning to friends and family really made me reflect on my own. Right now with 7 days left until the end of our program, I feel devastated that the time of three and a half months flew by like it was nothing and that many of us are so eager to get home. What’s most saddening is that I know the post-trip depression for me is going to be much worse than any feelings I have or had of missing home, and once I’m there, I’ll be wishing that it was January 12th again when we all met at JFK airport and departed for an experience of a life time together. I can specifically recall feelings of uncertainty among us the day we arrived of not knowing what to expect, how living with one another is going to work out, and how our internships are going to be. Now I can say that we are all very accustomed to life here and that this program has surpassed every expectation we had from stories told to us.
Ryan with his peer educators

Although my time in South Africa is not up yet as I wait for the rest of my family to arrive on May 11th so that we can explore the country together until the 27th, I still feel a sense of pre-departure depression because staying here will be much different after bidding farewell to the majority of the group on Monday. The bond formed between us is similar to a bond between siblings. We are all unique and come from different backgrounds and disciplines in which many would not have met unless coming to Cape Town. While conflicts were bound to happen between us, we are constantly reminded through our studies and why we are here to respect and accept each other for who they are and our differences. A quote that Marita uses in class seemed to sum up an important lesson that I have learned through communal living “it’s not our differences that separate us but our failure to accept and appreciate them”. It is this sense of unity that will make it so difficult for me to say goodbye on April 30th and me to continue as I watch my peer-educators leave for home.
MK, Ryan & Dan at top of Devil's Peak
What will also be difficult is saying goodbye to all of the people met and friendships formed here. From saying farewell to the Tafelsig Clinic staff I work with, to Vernon Rose who has coordinated our amazing internships, this will be one of the hardest parts due to the fact that I do not know when I will be able to return and meet again. I got a taste of this last Wednesday when I had to say goodbye to Sister Shervon at Lentegeur Clinic who has helped me out a lot with my activist project by taking me on home visits. I plan on savoring every last minute of this week anticipating the final banquet dinner on Wednesday evening to say thank you to all of our internship hosts and supervisors, final classes, and the Cape Town Ajax vs. Orlando Pirates game on Friday to conclude our program. Yesterday, Dan, MK, and I hiked up Devil’s Peak to strike it off as last on our list of things to do. At the top, we realized that there was nothing left to do but to reflect. We took a few videos at the peak speaking briefly about what the program meant to us and came to a conclusion that we made the best our time here and that being in Cape Town has easily been the best experience of our lives.

It’s been an incredible experience that I know none of us will forget but for me has really become a part of my future life. Cape Town is somewhere that I can truly see myself living in someday. I have already begun looking into returning to the University of Cape Town to study for a post-graduate degree and will return home with the goal of coming back as soon as possible. 
Amariliz & Ryan with supervisors from Tafelsig Clinic

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Becky will miss Thandlkhulu

Becky & Mr. Buti
For the past three months I have had one of the most amazing opportunities that had an incredible impact on me. The first thing that attracted me to this program was the fact that during the time we were abroad we would be placed at an internship in our content area. I have spent my time here at a high school in Mowbray called Thandokhulu three days a week teaching, observing, and helping students. I was always apprehensive about my choice to become a math teacher because I have always struggled with my studies at UCONN, but I can now say I am confident in that choice. Every time I taught a class and the students understood what I was trying to teach it was so rewarding. I cannot say enough good things about this study abroad program, but the experience and memories it has given me in teaching math is something I will never forget.

I was lucky enough to follow around an incredible teacher by the name of Mr. Buti, who was head of the math department at the school. Not only does he teach five different classes of about forty students per class, but he is also in charge of the schools athletics and choir. I have never met a teacher who does so much for his school and still manages to be an attentive and caring teacher. By the end of my time shadowing him I had been able to walk into his grade 10 or 9 classes and just teach from browsing the book for a minute. He not only taught me so much about being an excellent teacher, but he also gave me a confidence I have never had before. Some new interns had started in the last few weeks of my time at Thandokhulu and Mr. Buti made sure that I watched these students and give them feedback. I would have never thought I would be relied on to critique other South African interns who were the same age as me, but it was really nice to know that he could rely on me to be a good judge on their teaching methods.

I will miss working at Thandokhulu more than I can say at this point because I just finished my last day today. Working at this school had ignited a passion in me that I know I will take with me back to the United States. I want to give American youth an equal opportunity to learn and make sure they have a teacher who loves the subject they teach. I know that this experience will lead me to some school with inadequate funding because I don’t want to ignore the fact that some teens in America are getting a lower quality education. I am so glad I chose to come to Cape Town because I know I will hold this internship very close 

Maria passionate about helping people help themselves

I had two different activist projects that essentially addressed the same problem that I was interested in.  I am passionate about helping people believe in themselves.  I truly believe in the saying, "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right" when it comes to certain things.  Of course there are many instances in which it depends on what place you were given in the world and what opportunities are available to you.  However, I think that something I want to enhance here is a sense of self-worth, confidence, ability, and determination.  I think that starting with children and young people and showing them that I truly believe in them could lead to them believing in themselves, and consequentially lead to them achieving things with their gifts and talents that they may have never thought was possible.  I decided to set out to do this through two unique programs.
Upon deciding that we wanted to instill confidence in young people, and after a few meetings and extensive discussion and development at home, we came up with the idea of a "big sister" program.  We thought that this could be a great way to get to know the kids in the book club on a very personal level and show them that we care about them, instill confidence, be good role models, and also give them as much fun and good times as we could.

The program was so wonderful because the whole point was basically to make friends, not just to be role models.  To say that we were only role models and they only follow us would not be accurate and would not do the connections we made justice.  We always presented ourselves well and gave good guidance when it was needed, but we learned just as much from them as they learned from us, which is why I like to call us friends.  Friends talk to each other, share secrets, laugh together, spend time together, help each other with their homework, give each other advice, and make each other feel like they are never really alone.  All of the activities we did together were just vehicles for the cultivation of these friendships.  We made each other smile, we poked fun at each other, and we encouraged and appreciated each other's skills and talents.  We built deep connections from one "brother" or "sister" to another, but we also developed a community from every single person who was involved in the program, integrating our group from UConn with the book club.  Everyone came together to plan events or just to sit and chat with each other, and team building happened without us even noticing it.  We have a unique and fun group dynamic that is made up of every individual participant.  The specific activities were not as important as what was going on between the lines.

My other project was spontaneously born out of my home-stay in Ocean View, and I was instantly eager to take part in something that would enable me to interact with the young people I met and loved, and also return to Ocean View every week  -  "my home away from home away from home."  This was another great opportunity for me to interact with young people and try to help further develop confidence.  Like my other program as a "big sister," I wanted to get to know the kids of the community and show them that I believe in them, but with this project there was another aspect as well.  Giving students extra help after school could not only give them confidence in classes and in life, but could help them achieve better academically.

Many people believe that the key to a good future is a good education, and I was proud and eager to offer my skills as a teacher and my time to helping these children earn higher marks in school as well as a better understanding of the topics they are studying.  I unfortunately missed one of the sessions when I thought my nose might be broken (lucky me it wasn't!), but we still managed to fit in many hours of tutoring children of all ages, an on all different school subjects.  On the students' holiday from school, we still got to go to Ocean View to "hang out" with them even though they didn't have any homework to do.  We had a great day of playing games, learning everyone's names, dancing, talking, getting to know each other better, and having fun together.  On our last day with these kids on Friday, April 20th, we plan on doing some tutoring, playing some last games together, presenting them with their certificates of completion for the program, and saying our goodbyes.  We are also planning on performing the dance we made up so the kids can have a good laugh at us as we try to show off how much we've been practicing the moves that they have been teaching us.

My projects were relevant to issues covered in our class.  With race, specifically, both projects related to valuing and celebrating the differences between people.  Personally, I had to be honest with myself and face my own inadvertent racism in order to begin to attempt to eliminate it.  I was also lucky enough to get to know a lot of people on a deep level whose lives are very different from my own, and at the same time very much the same.  Getting to know these people on such a personal level didn't make me ignore or "forget" about race, but it did really drive home once and again the concept that race is merely a social construct.

I was also forced again to come face to face with all of my privileges and how I didn't earn them.  There are parts of life and just my average day that are easier because I am white, young, American, a student, physically able, mentally sound, and much more.  While I have been here, partly through my activist project, I have met people of all different ages, races, and social backgrounds.  I saw challenges that my new friends had to face every day - from discrimination, to hunger, to money problems, to struggling with identity, confidence, and self-image.

The issues addressed by my two projects are similar to the issues that are present in the United States with the inequalities and correlation between race and social class.  Most inner city school children that struggle with bad home life, financial problems, and lack of basic security are black and go through the same things as the oppressed racial groups here in South Africa.  The South African kids involved in my two programs are in comparable situations to urban youth who are oppressed both directly and indirectly because of their race.  Deep rooted racism in society is constantly telling certain groups of people that they are inferior, and those messages also reach children and can ebb away at their confidence, in school, with their families, and in society in general.  This just intensifies the inequalities that already exist and continues to perpetuate the cycle of inequality.

Although I can't continue to be directly affiliated with this cause back in the United States, I will always be affiliated with it because of the way that I will live my life and think about people and the world.  If I end up striving to become a teacher, I will be sure to encourage students and help them cultivate the confidence needed to believe in themselves, set high goals, and achieve those goals.  I haven't ruled out participating in Teach for America, my National Honors Fraternity's official philanthropy which hires teachers to work at underprivileged schools and gradually decrease the divide between rich and poor schools by working toward improving education.  Even if I do not become a school teacher, I will still be a coach and swim lesson teacher for a while longer where I can work closely with young people.  I hope to use my new perspective and goals regarding self-examination and honesty to be a positive role model and teacher for anyone I encounter in my life.

Nellie's Photo Blog

‘They’ say a photo is worth a thousand words, so get ready for this 18,000 word blog post!

When we went to the District Six Museum I was most fascinated by the practice of communal oral histories and how they are collected and shared. After the opening of the museum they had these giant pieces of cloth where anyone who visited could write their memories of their time in District Six. After eight years of collection they were completed and local women then worked to embroider over the fading pen inscriptions to keep them forever preserved. As a new embroiderer I was enamored by it, especially by the plaque below it including the quote, “The inscribed cloth was transformed into a bright and enduring banner and has become one of the Museum’s permanent signposts of memory.”

Meika enthusiastically displays the product of the first of many Waffle Weekends. It has become a beloved and delicious tradition that I hope will continue into the fall. 

The hike up Lion’s Head for the full moon was a surreal experience. The view coming up was obscenely beautiful, as the model shot of me can display, but the view from the top quickly dwarfed the memory in our minds. As the moon rose over the darkening city and the lights flicked on bit by bit, illuminating streets like snakes, you didn’t want to blink and miss a millisecond of it. 

A scene from Soweto

Getting a lesson in hula-hooping from the children of the Boys & Girls Club in Soweto. The little girl in the orange shirt could go pro.

A question raised in a public art installation at the Constitutional Court near Johannesburg. 

Another beautiful day starts at Christel House

Kimmi and Rebecca eating a quick breakfast in the teacher’s lounge. I may never get over how crazy it is that I am now allowed in there without a hall-pass, growing up has it’s perks. 

At work in the Art room, during their winter school I got the chance to practice some of the painting techniques we had been teaching the students.

Some of the younger Firefighters watching one of the older teams’ matches during the soccer tournament in Maitland. It was very cool to be able to watch the younger generation revering in the older players, they truly are role models to all in their community. 

Getting my purse stolen, gosh those security briefings were right… ;)

Casually jumping off the largest commercial bungee bridge in the world. My bucket list is getting pretty empty after this trip.

The building we take our classes in may or 
may not have been sent from the future.

And inversely the walk to Upper Campus at UCT
looks like a page ripped out of a history textbook.

A scene from the Malay community known as Bo Kaap,
it looks like a box of crayons nestled under Table Mountain.

Theresa, Dan, Alex, Meika and I meeting Desmond Tutu. We went to his 7:15 AM Eucharist at St. George’s Cathedral yesterday morning and had the opportunity to chat and take a photo with him. I got blessed by him, and later got to sit near him as he casually sipped on a smoothie in the Crypt. A truly out of this world experience.

Nellie on the principles of praxis

Through working with Firefighters Football Club I had the amazing opportunity to experience first-hand the process of an organization developing into a full-fledged NGO. I learned about a lot of the legal hoops that need to be leapt through and how much time and effort goes into making every minute decision. I learnt that you never really have a final draft, there is always something new to include in your document or diagram and I think it’s a good thing, an organization should strive to constantly be evolving which means all of it’s documents should be ‘living’. I truly got to utilize the principles of praxis, Vernon would teach something on Thursday, and on Friday I’d put it to use ‘in the field’, I got to go back the next week and ask any follow up questions, and I truly believe that the end products are of pretty high caliber.

I did a host of different things, I was the interim PR/Marketing Manager which entailed sending a lot of emails and developing the social media pages. The largest chunk of my time was spent in meetings and planning for meetings, which I imagine is the life of a person who works in an NGO. The task that I am most proud of however has been my website design. Although, this has been my first taste of web-design and I was fully confident in my abilities and through many hours of eye-ball numbing work, I am proud to say that I made good on my promises. I think that the new website will help FFC tremendously with gaining international credibility and increasing foreign investor’s confidence in our organization

As I talked about earlier, the work I did had a strong correlation to what Vernon taught us. I made an organogram, updated a strategic plan, discussed and made solutions for critical challenges, and more. His class was an invaluable tool for me to learn about how NGO’s function and laid the groundwork for the developmental plan we created for the Firefighters. Obviously as the organization is based out of a township there are many race, class, and gender issues to address. I was adamant in my meetings with Casey that the Board of Directors should not only consist of foreigners with connections, but actually have people from the community at the highest level possible. I also discussed the need for gender representation in the organization’s leadership, and as you know, I’m pleased to say that 2/3 of the Board is women. It was interesting to observe and analyze my reaction to what the Semester at Sea student’s interaction with FFC versus what we have been doing. I thought heavily of the effects of privilege, the concept of dignity, and the difference between service, volunteering, and the role of tourism and foreign investment/influence in South African development.

The issue of helping students get a fair chance at life is obviously similar to in the US, but it’s on a whole other level here. Education inequality and a lack of available and affordable after school activities that help keep kids in school and out of gangs can be seen in most metropolitan environments. The idea of holistic education is something I’m passionate about utilizing in the U.S.; and having programs like FFC where students get support in academics, a family environment, and character building is critical to raising a generation of empowered future leaders.

Without a doubt I will continue to work with FFC. When I left Guatemala I knew my work wasn’t done with SEC, and I stayed on as an intern in the fall, communicating via email and Google doc to review documents, plan future endeavors and I did a good deal of design work for them from the comfort of my dorm room. Although the solar-technology branch that I was working with changed management and I don’t work with them anymore, it showed me that through online communication I can easily stay in touch and continue to contribute to the organization’s development. I intend to maintain the same relationship with FFC when I head back, staying up to date on affairs, continuing to critique/edit documents, design work, and maintaining the website. I want to make sure that we utilize my connection with UConn’s Soccer team to see if they can assist us with our plans of creating a program that enables the Senior Team athletes to go to University on athletic bursaries. 

Rebecca reflecting on how much she has learned

Today was the second to last day of my internship.  My teacher is actually going away with about half the students to a leadership camp, so it was the last day I was able to see all my students, and be in the classroom with my teacher.  I’m actually writing this blog as we all wait for the bus to come get us and bring us home.  I can’t believe that I was here for a whole three and half months! I feel like the time I spent here, at Christel House, went by way too fast.  I have made such strong connections with my students.  They’ve made me laugh and cry.  One student today said, “You’ve become part of the family: part of the Christel House Family.”  I was so touched by that one simple phrase that was said as casually as you can imagine: As if it was an unquestionable fact.   I could only smile, I was so speechless. I haven’t felt like an outsider since my first week.

My first week was actually difficult for me.  I’m the type of person who thrives on routine, order, and control.  When I walked into Christel House, I didn’t know what classroom I would be placed in, what I was supposed to do, or where to go.  Even not knowing where to eat my lunch really bothered me.  I felt so uncomfortable and out of place, simply because I felt really lost.  The next two days went in a similar manner.  Then things took a huge turn the next week.  I was in the same classroom for multiple days, I was getting a hang of the schedule, and I connected with the students.  Ever since then, I couldn’t imagine being placed at any other internship (thanks Vernon and Marita!). 

Throughout the entire day I’ve been trying not to break down in tears. I actually had to leave the classroom at one point because I just felt so overwhelmed by my feelings.   I knew that I would be upset, but this is different.  I resigned myself to the fact that I would leaving in the middle of the school year a long time ago, but now I’m having trouble with the fact that for a lot of the students, I may never talk to them again.  I won’t have to answer a hundred questions about my life, nor will I get to ask them thousands of questions about theirs.  Each one of them was a huge part of my Cape Town experience, and I learned as much from them as they may have learned from me.  I hope whoever reads this doesn’t feel bad for me because I’m leaving, but instead is happy that I feel so strongly about these students.  Christel House, and UCONN to Cape Town put me in a situation where there were no expectations for me.  I was able to make this experience what I wanted, and it was.  I got to observe, and assist an amazing teacher all semester.   Being an assistant in class allowed me the opportunity to get to really know the students. 

Christel house’s principal today told me that he enjoyed how I was always sitting and interacting with the students.  It was hard at first to put myself out there and start conversations with the learners, but soon it became second nature.  I would eat my lunch either really quickly or outside, so I could talk to them, and spent interval (tea time, or break) with the students also.  I won’t lie most of the students are closer in age to me, which was always interesting haha.  Some of the students shared stories with me that left me speechless because I couldn’t believe that people their age had experienced certain things, and even off hand comments would sometimes freeze me in my tracks.  They have been through more than most adults at home have, and they still have smiles on their faces (I mean they don’t smile all the time, they are at school haha). Yet most of the time I’m struck by how similar we all are.  In high school we all have crushes, problems, tests, arguments with teachers, etc.

I sit here as a person with her lap top, iPod in ears, a cell phone in my bag, now appreciating how lucky I am to have these things. I also sit here with clothes on my back, more clothes at home, food to eat, books to read, a hot shower waiting, electricity, a family of 17 students down the road, a loving family made of my mom, dad, Alexa, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, a safe home, a place where I can walk around all the time and never feel endangered..  Some of these things I’ve always known I was lucky to have, but being in Cape Town has shown me the mass amounts of people who don’t have those things.  I can’t believe how much I have learned, and I will always remember Christel House.