A group of Wilmington Friends students on their first-ever service and learning trip to South Africa this summer immersed themselves in the study of Nelson Mandela, explored the beauty of the Madikwe wild game preserve, and spent time caring for abandoned and abused babies and toddlers living in and around Tshwane.
The two-week trip was an unforgettable experience for 17 juniors and seniors, many of whom had never before traveled out of the country. Students returned with new perspectives, appreciations and inspiration to take up new areas of service back home in Wilmington.
Seniors Ariel Shweiki and Liam Hudgings summarized their trip for us.
Cape Town is a city with deep history and many cultures — many persecuted for their beliefs. At !Kwha ttu we learned about the San people. This tribe was discriminated against during apartheid and has since been rebuilding on a protected heritage site.
We learned about the ways they produce medicine from plants, hunt and build shelter. And we listened to their native language and were taught the “clicks” that the San people speak with. While none of us mastered the “clicks” we all enjoyed learning about another culture and hearing their stories.
We learned of the forced physical labor and harsh treatment that Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners received on our visit to the prison on Robben Island.
Despite all of the horrible things that occurred there, the buildings were made of beautiful stone and the views of Table Mountain and Cape Town were unbelievable.
Our tour guide was a prisoner on the island himself, and he shared personal stories with us such about how mail was often cut up to keep certain information from the mainland away from the prisoners. Yet, despite the restriction on information, the prisoners managed to keep up fairly well with external affairs and have powerful political discussions that even helped form some of Mandela’s ideas.
A cable car ride up to the top of Table Mountain revealed how flat it was and how large it was compared to the city of Cape Town. The cable car rotated so on the way up we could see all around, but the views from the car were nothing like what we saw once we reached the top. Trails were scattered across the top of the mountain for tourists to explore.
The view from the top was truly unique and beautiful. We could see stadiums, beaches, and the entire city of Cape Town. After descending from the mountain we spent the day on a pier in the city, visiting local vendors, listening to musicians in the streets, and spending time taking in all of the scenery.
From the southernmost point in Africa, we flew north to Pretoria, the political capital of South Africa. We visited the union buildings where Nelson Mandela delivered his inaugural speech, and we visited Soweto, where we learned about informal settlements (known as “townships”) that were still in use despite apartheid ending over twenty years ago.
During apartheid, black South Africans had been forced to move closer to cities to find work. Yet it was illegal for them to live within city limits, and this resulted in them building shantytowns just outside of major cities.
These townships are still not legally on the grid, and many of their inhabitants live in squalor. We had the privilege to enter one of the homes in Soweto and see first hand how those affected by apartheid live today. We later reflected as a group that seeing Soweto made real the lasting effects of apartheid. This experience gave us new perspectives because we saw how lucky we are to have everything that typically we take for granted in our everyday lives such as beds, clean water, bathrooms, and electricity.
We visited a school called Kliptown Youth Project, an after school program that works to ensure kids that grow up in the informal settlements stay in school, have fun in their free time, and go on to find jobs to better their lives. They provide learning and care outside of school as well as specific courses in job skills such as driving.
We spent the next few mornings in Pretoria doing service at New Beginnings, a home for abandoned children, and Luvuyo, a program that takes in kids of all ages through social workers to educate and provide for them.
Liam Hudgings, WFS senior: New Beginnings operates as a stepping stone for infants up to six years old and almost every child is adopted within that time. Our group participated in a mixed bag of tasks in order to help out — meal preparation, cleaning, and organization.
But the main focus of our service was spending time with the kids. In this time with the kids, we were struck by their behavior. While we expected the children to be wild and difficult, we found quite the opposite to be true. The kids were always respectful of each other and us. They were extremely welcoming and eager to have our attention, jumping all over us to show what they were working on.
Over the few days we were with them, our group became extremely attached to the children. When the time came to say goodbye, we were all on the verge of tears. It was difficult to leave behind these children who were so deserving of affection and who worked so hard trying to have it.
Ariel Shweiki, WFS Senior — Many of the kids at Luvoyo board, some live at home and still others have never met their family. The overall goal of Luvuyo is to help kids grow up in a safe environment and get an education so they can better their lives and create new opportunities for themselves.
The tasks we completed daily varied. One day we played with the toddlers, keeping them out of trouble while the adults cleaned bedrooms. They were hard to play with at first because they were shy and didn’t understand English. However, after about an hour they started warming up to us and wanting us to play with them.
Another day we worked in the kitchen, making meals for all of the children. We worked with another student to cut vegetables for their meals, spread peanut butter and jelly on bread to make sandwiches, and pour juice for all of the children.
And we worked on art projects such as collaging, painting, and drawing. One little girl wrote a card with her name on it and drew a picture of herself, which she handed to me on the last day and said, “Don’t forget me and please come back!”
After emotional goodbyes on our last day of service, we spent time reflecting on the work we had done. Each of us knew that we had made an impact on the kids we worked with and were so thankful to have had such a special connection to each of them.
The beautiful Madikwe game preserve
We departed on a 5-hour car ride up to Madikwe at the border of South Africa and Botswana. Madikwe is the reserve we stayed on during our safaris. There were several lodges within the reserve. The reserve is a protected area of over 260 square miles where animals roam. The animals are not fed by the reserve staff; they are all existing together and each has their role in the circle of life.
We saw lions eating wildebeest, two elephants that died after fighting, and zebras and a white rhino drinking side by side at the water hole. Early mornings and evenings in freezing weather we piled into trucks and went out looking for wild animals, and we were not disappointed. In addition to lions, wildebeests, elephants, zebras, and a white rhino we saw giraffes, hyenas, springboks, buffalo, monkeys, and more.
It was truly amazing to be less than 30 feet away from a free-roaming giraffe, or less than 20 feet from two male lions sleeping together. The safaris at Madikwe were one of the most memorable parts of the trip and something all of us hope to have the opportunity to do again in the future.
This trip to South Africa was unforgettable. We would go back in a heartbeat if we had the chance and this experience truly has changed us as people. Access to this truly unique trip is not guaranteed to everyone, and we were honored to be a part of it.