IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care (Spring Option 1) (HCB) pdm.setProgramPropertiesFromBreadcrumb(programTitlePlusBody); pdm.init(); South Africa 2013 Letter Home - SIT Study Abroad

IHP Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy

South Africa 2013 Letter Home

Upon arriving in South Africa, we went to a retreat center called Oatlands in Simon’s Town for a few days of relaxation and orientation before leaving for ten days in the township of Zwelethemba. Our country orientation and guest lectures at Oatlands were absolutely phenomenal. These sessions offered deep insight and context for the weeks ahead. Having a basic knowledge of the current situation in post-apartheid South Africa was an invaluable tool to launch us into the communities in which we would be living. It was difficult, but necessary, to acknowledge the division and fresh pain that still penetrates the heart of this nation. We prepared ourselves to keep these major challenges in perspective while also recognizing the healing taking place. To launch us into our ten days in the township, we had a crash course in “Xhosa”, the local language in Zwelethemba. It’s one of those languages with tongue clicking, so learning these new sounds was challenging and fun. The young man giving us our Xhosa lesson shared stories from his personal experiences living alongside people in local townships, empathizing and relating with people. He shared the idea of “ubuntu”. This word means, “a person is a person because of or through other people”. This idea infers the importance of fostering community, building connections with people, thinking of others before oneself. The idea of ubuntu inspired all of us as we went forward into the weeks in the township, and ultimately became a defining characteristic of our time there.

Our group of thirty-three traveled two hours outside of Cape Town to Zwelethemba where we would be stationed for the next ten days. When we would tell local South Africans our plans to reside in a township, they were in total disbelief. “I hope you have security guards” one man told us in passing. None of us knew what to expect as we journeyed through the jagged mountains to our long anticipated stay in Zwelethemba. An image that remains bold in my mind are the herds of children that followed us that first day as we toured the neighborhood. After just a few minutes of walking, not a single member of our group had an empty hand as each of us were linked to at least two children. This company continued on our daily walks to and from school and was undoubtedly a highlight of our Zwelethemba experience. Despite the conditions, the children made the most of their simple surroundings. Their laughter, playfulness, and resilience left our group with hope. We will never forget the memories exchanged with these youngsters.

After our stay in Zwelethemba, our group moved into a second homestay in the Bo-Kaap, a Colored neighborhood in the heart of Cape Town. Unlike in the United States, “Colored” refers to people who are a race other than black or white, such as the Muslim families in the Bo Kaap. We were welcomed into their homes and in only two short weeks, our hearts were filled with love and happiness. This racial legacy of apartheid in the separation of neighborhoods is the first image of color that comes to mind when I think of South Africa. Color resonates again with visuals – in the Bo Kaap, every house is painted a different, bright color, one after the other with the ten Mosques of the neighborhood wedged in-between. Something about the bright colors added so much joy to the community and to everyone who walks through those hilly streets. At the top of the neighborhood is a gorgeous view of the city including Table Mountain in the distance, and the color from the nearby homes with the bright lights of the city beyond is breathtaking. Inside of the colorful homes of the Bo Kaap are the people and families, the most colorful people I have ever met. They are warm, lively and full of advice, with a different story to tell. Beyond personalities, the food is also colorful – full of flavor, spice, and love in every bite. Each time I walk down Wale Street, the main street in Bo Kaap, I look at the houses and think about the color in South Africa – the diversity, vibrancy, and variance in backgrounds and ideas that together built an incredible country.

Throughout our journey we have seen so many different perspectives of the world; we have learned to open our minds and absorb everything we experience. In South Africa, many of us climbed Table Mountain, Lion’s head, or both and saw the view from the top. As well as providing us with an opportunity to get some exercise and spend time with each other outdoors, these hikes also gave us time to reflect and see the world from yet another viewpoint. From the top of these mountains we felt the breeze in our hair and looked out on a vast expanse of the South Africa landscape. This moment made me think about what it means to look at the big picture, what it means to look at the world and actually see it. Being at the top of the mountain made me feel so real and alive and powerful, yet incredibly humbled. As this trip comes to a close, we have all reflected on the many ways that we see this country, the world, and each other, and we all have new perspectives, gratitude, and appreciation.

Our time in South Africa has been so incredible and both the people and the physical environment have contributed to it.  We have had the opportunity to live in two completely different and beautiful communities: Zwelethemba and the Bo Kaap.  Both of these communities are surrounded by incredible mountains that provide an incredible backdrop to all of our experiences.  On our free weekend in Zwelethemba, people took advantage of the natural resources and explored an outdoor festival, biked through the nearby wine country, and hiked through the botanical gardens.  In Cape Town, Table Mountain and Lions Head were places where these outdoor adventures were continued and almost every member of the group made it to the top of at least one of these!  Cape Town also had the incredible beaches that stretched forever but the ocean was a little bit too chilly to go swimming.  Being in a city with mountain on one side and the ocean on the other was incredible and provided so many new and different experiences from our time in Argentina and India.

High Africa
The last three days of the program were spent at a camp-like retreat called High Africa where we did high and low ropes courses and group bonding activities. The best part of these three days was our final talent show in which almost everyone participated and got over their fears of performing in front of a group. Everyone did an incredible job.  It was a fantastic way to finish off our experience but it made us all realize just how much we will miss each other.  It was amazing and an unforgettable experience!

Written by IHP students: Alice Matthai, Danielle Blake, Hannah Kopinski, Allie Felt, Jessie Ditmore, Anna Spickard, Caroline Lippold, Elynn Kann and Sara Lezin

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Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy Itinerary

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