I’m going home.
It wasn’t real until our flight took off and I could see the sunset over the beautiful South African landscape.
Now I’m on our final flight to LAX not knowing how to communicate what I’ve seen. How I’ve grown. How the people around me have evolved spiritually.
My words aren’t going to do this semester justice, but I might as well try to get it all down.
I guess I’ll start at my service site experience. In Pietermaritzburg, I served with an organization called YFC (Youth for Christ). This group has two different outreach types; homeless children outreach and community outreach. I personally had involvement in both. Every Tuesday morning we would go to a downtown spot called Restop, where YFC had a storage unit as their headquarters. They were focusing on the parking lot area where several of the children lived. I can’t explain completely what my group saw. We saw 12-year old’s living in absolute garbage; street conditions significantly worse that what I’ve seen in San Francisco. These kids could speak English, but it was difficult for us to just talk to them. We had no experience in the local culture or sports, so we had no conversation topics. We couldn’t really ask about home because a big reason these kids are on the streets is because of how home has treated them.
We watched literal children ‘smoke glue’ right in front of us. We watched teenagers smoke substances equivalent to bath salts out in the open.
And what does the public do about this? These kids are outcasted and ignored. On many occasions, we would meet a kid who would want to go to rehab. But kids who don’t have ID’s can’t go to rehab.
We were brought along for home visits; where we would take a child and revisit home. Our lead social worker’s English name was ‘Blessing’ (his isiZulu name was unpronounceable for us). Blessing was awesome. He would translate and keep us updated on certain situations and would teach us about respect and how to treat the families we met. Blessing was once a street kid but had an adult, such as himself now, that chose to mentor him. He was inspired and lifted himself out of poverty.
One home visit in particular was for a child named Jarvis. Jarvis wanted to go to rehab, but he needed a birth certificate from his mother to be able to go. We went to the mother’s house and her situation was dreadful. She had no idea how old she was; her face was covered in scars and overwhelmed by sadness. She currently lived with her abusive boyfriend and needed help. The home she was living in was fairly large for the community, but red writing and masks that were on the outside walls sent chills up my spine.
Jarvis couldn’t get his birth certificate. His mom didn’t even have an ID for herself. His father was nowhere to be found.
I almost became numb to what I was seeing. The stories I was hearing.
In Cape Town, my group visited an elite soccer academy named Ubuntu Football near a town called Oceanview. This soccer academy was run by two missionaries who were absolutely awesome. The group recruits elite soccer talents in the area and invites them to their school. This school is just like every other school, except it teaches leaderships and other amazing life skills. The kids were awesome. We were put in charge of an SAT prep group; four or five of the kids were preparing to go play soccer in the United States.
These kids knew a ton about American pop culture. It’s crazy to me how access to social media can change everything about a kid. Our conversations went from racing to shoes to rap music.
Our last site was at a place called Soteria; a type of preschool located in the heart of Oceanview.
Before I describe the preschool and it’s story, I have to describe Oceanview.
Oceanview is a community that was developed for colored people to be relocated to. During the apartheid years, colored people for forced out of their communities and into Oceanview. As of today. Oceanview is plagued with violence. There are three major gangs in the community, and it’s known as one of the most violent developed communities in Cape Town. Shootings and murders happen often. Kids and community members are known for getting caught in crossfire, killing them as well.
Soteria is a preschool placed directly in the center of it all. Yohon, the native South African who started Soteria, has worked in Oceanview for a number of years. He decided to start this preschool when his 5-year old son was killed.
Every January, he goes to every gangster in the community and asks if they have a child between the ages of 4-6. He takes these kids and put them in his preschool everyday to keep them safe. Over the last five years, over 400 kids have gone through his program.
We were assigned to work in a classroom at the school. These classrooms were shipping containers stacked and shaped to develop a campus. Seeing the kids in these classes were heartbreaking. These are 4 and 5-year-old kids who are literally traumatized and completely numb to death. Some had scars all over their bodies. Some wouldn’t speak at all. Almost of the kids had possessive problems; we weren’t allowed to pick up one child because another child would become angry and attack the kid we were picking up. There is a wild story that Yohon told our other group; that a man was shot 11 times and killed right outside the campus. All the kids, being numb to it all, went out and started playing with the dead man.
But through it all. These were kids. We played soccer. We used hula-hoops. I told them silly stories and we sang songs like ‘Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star’ and ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ It’s easy to see these kids as projects, but they are just children.
What’s amazing is the faith that Yohon has. He doesn’t fundraise or beg for donors; his prayers are always answered with and unexpected phone call or wealthy person showing up at the school to provide the campus with their daily meal or much needed supplies.
I feel like my words can’t do this place justice.
We even spent the day with a family that lives in Oceanview. Even though we only spent a day with Ann and Freddy Abrams, we were family. They took us in, showed us their church and their lifestyle. We even met with them a week later for a traditional South African braai. The food was amazing.
I attended a church in Pietermaritzburg called North Hills. The church was comprised of mainly large middle-class families and community members, but the openness of the church was amazing. The second time we there, a lady named Kim asked us to take communion with her family. As we were taking communion, she told us that we were family no matter where we came from, simply because we share the same Father. The church taught me how authentic and relational American churches need to push for. I saw how the church is supposed to love.
The staff at Pietermaritzburg were amazing. They were always open and honest with us; answering our questions no matter how stupid they were. If we had a question about Zulu culture, Nommy answered. If we had a question of Jesus, Reg answered. If we had a question about community development, Cynthia answered. If we had a technological question, Greg would answer.
But not only were they amazing resources, they were our friends. Our parents for three months. Our family.
I’ve seen God move in ways I couldn’t predict. I can’t put it all into coherent sentences, so here is a bullet point list to get my thoughts out:
As I continue to process the last three months, more and more things are going to pop up as I remember the immense semester we just had. I haven’t even written about the amazing adventures we had; bungee jumping, shark diving, zip lining, or safari. Maybe that’s for the future.
I already know my next adventure. I’m heading to Cuba for two weeks in May on a short-term mission’s team. Sorry mom.
Sawubona! It’s been a month here in South Africa! Yes, it feels like my trip is almost over; we still have about 8 weeks left. We have been living on-campus in Pietermaritzburg for the last four weeks and it has been absolutely awesome.
This last week has been astonishing in so many different ways. Our cohort is beginning to grow together and build deep relationships. The culture here is feeding into us; relationships hold more value than the tasks we can accomplish.
I have been attending a church called North Hills the past few weeks and the impact it’s had on me is mind-boggling. I have begun to develop connections and relationships within the church and I have come to realize how much value is put on family. At the most recent service I attended, my new friend Maddie and I were asked to join a family while they took communion. A lady named Kim, a leader in the church, looked at both of us and declared “We are your family and this is your home. We are from very different places, but we still share the same Dad.” This moment couldn’t have been more pivotal. Previously, throughout the week and even the car ride to church, I found myself in conversations about home and about love and how everything seems to be a bit shaken right now. God’s timing on this trip has be astronomical.
But throughout these last four weeks, I have begun to develop an understanding of the value of human connection. I have started to grasp the reality that some people here have absolutely nothing, absolutely zero material possessions, but are happy as can be simply because of the people they have around them. Their situation or circumstance is only a slight inconvenience; the love they put out to their neighbors is the most valuable thing that is so evident here.
I am serving with a non-government organization called YFC (Youth for Christ). The organization partakes in a ton of social work, waging from homeless children to at-risk youth in townships. I serve in a unofficial township called ‘Swapo,’ under a lady named Cynthia. Cynthia is absolutely awesome. Her dream is to come to the United States and teach, but unforutnialy is too old for the work-eligibility program she desired to be a part of.
Every day, we work with children as they pour into the single room building to say a prayer, receive a small life-lesson, and get a meal. Most kids leave once they’ve got their meal, but some of the older kids have stayed back the last few weeks to rehearse their song and dance for ‘Heritage Day.’ Friends have asked me for photos of the kids, but because of the high rate of child trafficking, I have been asked not to post any photos of the children’s faces.
The last two weekends, I’ve had the opportunity to join my cohort in zip-lining and shark cage diving.
Zip-lining was amazing. It took two or three attempts to get comfortable managing the line, but our lead guide explained each line and how to manage it with confidence. I never felt unsafe, but rather more focusing on controlling the orientation of my body. Once I was settled and comfortable, I began to notice the amazing forest we were in. The thick trees were dense, yet strong enough to hold dozens of bolts and anchor systems to create the zipline system. The colors were amazing. Rich greens, bright blues, and dark browns all combined to create an artistic landscape. The sounds of the area were also intriguing. In the midst of the loud hum of the zip line, the overwhelming sound of birds chirping filled the air. Every now and the then, there would be absolute silence only to interrupted by a fellow zip-liner or our tour guide explain the next line.
Shark diving was, well, shark diving. We did what’s called a baited shark snorkel. That’s where the lead divers anchored a ‘bait’ jug filled with food and sharks would come and hang out. These sharks were friendly; they are comfortable swimming with humans. There would be 8-10 sharks at a given time. They would swim up and bump you, not caring at all what you were doing. Every time a shark would come by me, a shot of adrenaline would shoot through my body; my mind was trained to be terrified of the creatures. According to the people around me, I might have yelped a few times. A lot of people got sea-sick, but I was so exhilterated that I was swimming with sharks my mind couldn’t fathom throwing up.
In the coming weeks, I have the opportunity to travel with my biology class, diving into the environment and wildlife of South Africa. I’ll even visit a game reserve and go on safari with my cohort. Then our travel week, where we travel to Cape Town and the nearby areas. We even get to go adventuring inside caves.
I cannot wait to see what I bring back home with me. The conversations I’ve had and the connections I have made have been mind-opening. I so excited to see what the rest of the semester has for myself and my cohort.
Yelling children, uber-athletic teens, dirty streets, language variety, self-reliant 4-year old’s.
My first day at my service site in South Africa was a blur. 5 of my fellow classmates and myself boarded a van to go work for YFC for the day. YFC stand for ‘Youth for Christ,’ and they work with homeless children and teens living on the street as well as at-risk children in poor communities.
While in studying here in South Africa, the nursing students work in clinics three times during the week while general ed students work at service sites every Tuesday.
Our first stop of the day was at a YFC mission center house. There we were introduced to the staff and learned about all the different areas YFC works in. After that, we loaded back into our van and travelled downtown to work at a YFC mission center. We walked a bit of the street, meeting homeless children, teens, and adults. We invited some of them to come to the mission center and we played games. If there’s a ball involved, these kids are in love. They had even made a ball out of sandwich bags and we played a version of dodgeball with it. Even if we couldn’t think of a game, the group would make something up. As long as they had a ball, they were happy.
After a bit, we moved the group to the soccer field down the road. On the way, we had a close call involving one of our kids and a car. The group was crossing the street when a car came blazing through the stoplight. The group stopped, but the kid kept running (as kids do). The car hit the child on the right front fender and stopped; then sped off. The kid was fine, more scared than actually hurt.
We got to the park and played soccer with some cones we brought. The teenagers that were there were seasoned pros. Even the 9-year old’s could seamlessly move the ball through their feet, flashing moves like they were born playing soccer. It was the most physical activity I’ve had since coming to South Africa.
Once we finished up playing soccer and having our lunch, we then split our group of 6 up into two groups of three. We dropped the first group off at a small community YFC center for children. My group travelled to a different community to be a part of the same thing.
These communities are astounding. Dirt roads, mud and stick homes, water running down the road. 4-year old barefoot children walking home from school all by themselves.
We got to the YFC center; a single room shack with plastered walls. When we arrived, there were about 20 children there. These kids were wide-eyed as they saw us getting out of the van. Most of them couldn’t speak English, but you don’t have to speak the same language as a child to have fun. As the day went on, more and more kids kept showing up. In total, around 60 kids showed up to get a meal at this single room shack and to play games and hang out.
The children were mesmerized by our white skin. One kid grabbed my arm and examined my hand for a few minutes. The $10 Casio watch I had on was a hit. Kids would grab at it, clicking the buttons, making the time change.
The kids also loved tattoos. A black tattoo on white skin is extremely interesting to a 5-year old black child. Soon enough, the kids got comfortable with us and starting climbing us. We would pick them up, spin them around, play clapping games with them. Even though these kids lived in a very poor community, the true joy they give out is overwhelming. We didn’t speak their language, but we could still show them love.
It amazes me how different, yet similar children are here than in America. During my church’s summer camp back home, the third graders I led had loved their fidget spinners, their Fortnite, and their mom’s old phone. Material things bring them joy, alongside being around their friends.
In South Africa, these kids were mesmerized by the things we had. They loved our watches and tattoos, but that’s not what brought them joy. What brought them joy was the friends they were with. The leaders that could pick them up and spin them around. These kids were content with not having any fancy phones or watches. They just loved being around people.
I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to be here. The people, land, and culture is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what this semester has in store.
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I typically ramble when I write. Read everything as a speech and it will probably sound better.