Emily Kaufman - General Care Projects in South Africa
If I could roll my experiences of five weeks in South Africa into a giant ball it wouldn’t roll; the jagged edges of Table Mountain might stick out, with some shark teeth sticking out, panoramas of gorgeous sunsets and staggering heights would wrap around it, it would smell like pap and unmistakable low tide, the ball might sit on the back of an ostrich, bubbles would float around it, there would be singing in Xhosa and Afrikaans, the sound of a vuvuzela would cry out and there would be lots of laughter.
In the mornings the big blue van would pull up toDiamond Drive, and I headed to Masikuhle Educare where fifty smiling little faces shouted “TEACHER!” and I became the human jungle gym. Unfortunately I could not always support the pack of small children clinging to my appendages and ended up toppling over to the delight of the smiling little faces, but nonetheless I was a human jungle gym.
In the afternoons it was over to Muizenberg where twelve eager ocean bound students wiggled into wetsuits and took to the waves with our guidance as the other volunteers and I shouted “paddle, paddle, paddle, UP!” and they sailed away on surfboards towards the shoreline. There were those who preferred ‘Emilyback Ocean Excursions’ which included piggy back rides complete with spins and drop off into the peaks of breaking waves. This happened every day in Africa and just thinking about it makes me miss the kids so much!
I was also able to participate in a feeding scheme in Khayelitsha, the third largest township in South Africa with 1.7 million people living there, where we passed out food to over 700 people! Everyone was smiling, music was playing and there was enough food so people could keep coming up for more. Kids with their fresh oranges skirted our little trailer and people opened containers to take food to family members at home.
On another occasion I was also able to run a bracelet making workshop to women in Vryground, the township where I worked. The women turned the colorful string into beautiful bracelets and there was one very enthusiastic guy who proudly displayed his collection at the end of the workshop. At first the technique seemed complicated but then you could see everyone have that ‘aha!’ moment and production of the bracelets streamlined. By the end everyone had several pieces to call their own and many took them to sell at their shops!
Experiencing South Africa
On the weekends, with a little money saved up from my summer job, other volunteers (who quickly became great friends) and I would go out on distinctly South African adventures. This included jumping out of airplanes (skydive Cape Town!), climbing Table Mountain, seeing the penguins at Boulder’s Beach, hiking out to Cape Point (the southern most tip of the African Continent), visiting inspirational Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela spent 18 out of his 27 years of imprisonment under apartheid), and shark cage diving.
What a phenomenal trip to say the very least! This was my dream trip in every aspect; in 1994, when I was born, the Lion King came out and apartheid ended in South Africa, so from the very start this was always the place in my mind even if these connections weren’t realized until much later.
Upon receiving the largest award ever from a grant my school gives out annually called the Haney Fellowship, my dream that at times seemed fantastical was going to be a reality. The trip didn’t end when I arrived home though! Earlier this fall I went to a lecture at the University of Connecticut where Eddie Daniels, a truly remarkable man who spent 15 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island in the company of Nelson Mandela, and was given the privilege to attend lunch with Mr. Daniels and members of UNESCO afterwards. We discussed human rights issues today with a man who had incredible perspective.
This trip was an amazing opportunity and it has only empowered me to take advantage of every opportunity; to share knowledge, travel, embrace different cultures, and realize how lucky I am to be able to do any and all of these things. Mandela once said “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” I look forward to climbing those hills; I’ve already covered Table Mountain.