Extraordinary Ordinary People

Indigo Kelly

Stepping off the bus I was instantly greeted by an endless flood of smiles. Kids ran from all different directions to greet us. Each one grabbed a different hand as they adopted us into their family at Botshabelo.

Botshabelo is a community that was founded by Marion and Con Cloete. It was established to help children affected by or infected with HIV/Aids. Many of the children living there are very sick and/or are orphans. The community has grown over the years and now the Cloete family is responsible for over 250 children.

The first thing we did after we arrived at Botshabelo was visit the cemetery that is home to many of the children’s, parents, siblings, and other family members. The girl that had first greeted me at the bus walked me around the cemetery, we passed graves of children and adults. We arrived at a grave where a young woman was putting her son on the grave and letting him play. She told me that this was where her mother and her grandmother were buried and that she was letting them know about her son and letting him meet them. I was taken aback by the nonchalant attitude around death that the children seemed to possess, and the grace they carried themselves with. These children were so joyous to be alive and to have a community, that everything else was just not as important. The girl took my hand and we walked back to the main house where we could pick her out a brand-new outfit. She picked out new jeans, a shirt, underwear, socks, and a jacket. The shine in her eyes was something that will never leave my mind. Kid after kid that I helped carried the same shine and excitement as they could pick out brand new clothes and shoes. The littlest things made the biggest difference in all these children’s lives.

The rest of the day was filled with playing, singing, and dancing, and when it was time to leave I felt heartbroken. I looked at the faces of these smiling kids and I knew that I needed to come back. Even the smallest things we can do can change these kids’ lives in a positive way; there is no excuse to not do them. If you met these kids, there is no way you wouldn’t want to help.

Sienna Clifton

I have never been more grateful to meet and listen to someone talk than Marion. She, along with her husband and two daughters created Botshabelo, where they house close to 250 kids, educating them both through school and about the good and hard parts of life. The moment we sat down with the kids our age, and begin to listen to Marion speak, I was taken aback. Every word she said she spoke with passion. I knew she truly cared. The one statement that she continued to repeat, and caused to me to think a lot, was to be an extraordinary, ordinary person. At first I found this to be slightly confusing but the more she spoke about who she was, and her life journey, it became clear. Her message was for me to be myself, to use my talents. And, for some reason, the way she made me feel gave me the confidence that I lacked. For that, I am truly in awe of her.

Our last two hours at Botshabelo we had a talent show and the kids there performed and we sang. This was such a fun experience. At the end of our time together we all started to dance to the music that all the kids there knew. Different parts of the song had dance moves that went to them, and there was a part in the song where we would all clap. A young girl, who was very quiet, stood near the edge of our dancing and every time we would clap I would turn to her and clap. I wanted to scoop this sweet girl up into my arms, but I didn’t want to intimidate her. At one point during the dancing, I was standing by myself and I felt a hand on my leg. It was the girl, Leah. As I turned and looked down at her she put her arms up and I swooped her up in my arms. I held onto her for the rest of our time there, right until I stepped onto the bus. She was the sweetest little girl. Although she didn’t talk much, right as we were leaving she turned, made eye contact, and said come back. And I promised her I would.

Before stepping on the bus, I went to thank Marion for all that she had done with her life and tell her how much of an impact she had had on me. She gave me a hug looked at me said, “You are beautiful, please do something amazing with your life.” I nodded. She went on to say that Leah never lets anyone hold her.

I will never forget Leah. She taught me that sometimes silence is better than speaking because when you do chose to speak those words will have a major impact. I am honored to have met Marion and her amazing daughters. I consider her a hero and I hope to return to her soon.

Aimee Kerr

I stood in the middle of the Botshabelo outdoor area and waved to every new face that looked my way. I said hello to a lot of the kids but I hadn’t made any connections yet. I looked around and spotted the most adorable little boy chasing a soccer ball across the dirt all alone. I walked over and said hello. He looked up at me with a confused expression on his face and then continued to play with the soccer ball. I was a little disappointed, but quickly brushed it off. We were then told we would be going on a walk to the cemetery where a lot of the children had loved ones buried. When we started to walk, I was led by three boys. An 11-year-old boy named Given, a 7-year-old boy, and the same little boy who had previously ignored me. I later found out that he was 6 years old. We walked in a line with Given holding my left hand, the other boy holding my right hand, with the younger boy holding his hand. Half way through the walk, I asked the 6- year-old if he wanted to ride on my shoulders. He smiled the most adorable smile I have ever seen and nodded. From then on we were together for most of our visit until we had to leave. He didn’t speak a word of English but with the help of Given, our translator, I understood every time he pointed out a new cow or when he wanted to get back on my shoulders. The thing that made me like him the most was his smile. He held so much genuine happiness on his face when he laughed that it made me smile. We laughed and played so much together throughout the day that when it was time for us to leave, he was falling asleep in my arms. I felt sad to have to put him down and give him a hug for the last time. We stuck together for the last few minutes as everyone said their goodbyes. When it was finally time to get on the bus, I heard one of the older ladies laugh when she saw him staying with me and then told one of the older kids to take the poor little tired boy, since he looked about ready to pass out at this point. I will miss my little friend very much and I hope I get to see him again one day.

Gracie Howley

We arrived at Botshabelo around 10:00 am and immediately unloaded the donation bags from the bus. We mingled with the kids, dogs, and puppies then walked with them to the graveyard. I walked with two little girls; Leah and Dipuo. We would run ahead of the slowpokes, “baaa” back at the sheep, and make our arms into tunnels for people who walked past us. I taught Leah how to play the game slide and we kept laughing because we would do it wrong. Dipuo didn’t talk as much but we exchanged many smiles and laughs with each other.

Marion Cloete gave us a real life TED Talk. Some of the most memorable points were: feed your passion, ask if your dream is yours or one your parents imposed upon you, that each of us knows what we came into this world to do, we must simply discover it; strive to be an ordinary extraordinary person, discrimination happens everyday at many different levels, join organizations, and sign petitions you care about.

Carl Ward

A “boat-rocker” is someone who’s never afraid to say what they think, no matter how much drama they might stir up. This term came from the mouth of Marion during one of the most inspiring life-pep-talks I’ve ever heard. She told us that the only way to make a change in the world is to be a boat-rocker, and to be what she calls an “extraordinary ordinary person.” She emphasized genuineness and self-expression. Her eyes shifted back and forth, examining each person listening to her, holding a gaze that could cut through souls. She could see everyone’s story from that gaze, and she wanted us to not be afraid to tell it.

Everyone has a passion, something that you– and only you– dream about. This isn’t the vision that your parents, or your teachers, or your peers have for you. This is who you are, and it’s who you must be. You can’t change the world if you let others change you. Be yourself, and from following an ordinary passion, you will do extraordinary things.

I’ve always wanted to change the world. I’ve never really figured out how, but hearing from Marion that being genuine and following my dreams is the only way to do so was nothing short of great news. After her speech was over, I thanked her and told her how much she had inspired me. She stared at me intently, and told me that I was going to do great things. “You have the look,” she said, “I can tell.” Whether she believed those words is something I can’t be sure of, but maybe all she wanted was for me to believe in myself. I didn’t tell her about my passion for music because all I need to know is that I can, and will, follow that passion for as long as I possibly can. Hopefully, I’ll never forget to thank my friends and family that continue to support me, and hopefully I’ll rock some boats along the way.

Video: Archbishop Desmond Tutu

A short video of our interaction with Archbishop Desmond Tutu last week!

Filmed and edited by Devin Kumar.

From Hiking to Dancing

Morning Nature Hike

Will Murphy

In the morning, the first thing that we did was take a hike with one of Ward’s longtime friends. The area we were hiking in is one of seven distinct biomes found in the whole world. This biome is only found on a small strip of peninsula right on the Atlantic coast of South Africa. To put this into perspective, the most of Russia and Europe is only one biome. Needless to say, this hike was a unique experience. In addition, due to an extreme drought in South Africa, we could hike in an area that is normally underwater.

On our way to the top of the hill, overlooking the reservoir, we came upon a valley that has a unique past. It is called, “Lost Horse Valley” by the locals. Apparently, with great frequency, during the full moon horses escape from their paddocks and congregate there. The locals believed for a long time that there was a lost herd of wild horses that no one could find. When they consulted local ranchers, after one such event, they discovered that the horses broke out and returned the same night. No one knows why this happens and it is still going on according to the locals.

When we got to the top and saw the sorry state of the reservoir, we understood how dire the drought situation really is. At what used to be the bottom of the reservoir, there is pure white sand that looks and acts like snow. There are hills that clearly used to be islands, that now one can just walk to. This baffled me. Where there wasn’t sand there was a layer of primordial ooze that was almost too slick to walk on. What water was left was a dark orange or brown. I walked all around and discovered the remains of a building. Time had taken a hand to it, but I was fascinated by what its history might have been.

I have loved hiking from a very young age. This trip showed me that I could explore outside of my own country. There is much more adventure out in the world than I had previously thought. I got talking to our guide and found that even though they have many protected camping and hiking areas, almost no locals use them. I learned that there were many hikes that can be done all over Cape Town. This has captivated my imagination. All I can think of is how I will return and live my dream adventure during some college summer. I am looking at everything around me as a future opportunity, and planning for my trip. I want to come back here so badly, and I have not even left yet.

Norman Henshilwood High School

Ruby Bracher

I’ve never really considered myself to be much of a singer or dancer, and after the mind-blowing performance our class witnessed at the LEAP School, I felt a pit of dread forming in my stomach as we stepped into the Norman Henshilwood High School auditorium.

To my relief, our performance went as planned and we were well received by our audience of around thirty students. I felt myself relax, ready to enjoy their singing and dancing. Little did I know, even though we had stepped down from the stage, we were not yet safe from the “performing arts.”

After we performed, a band made up of Norman Henshilwood High School students started performing popular contemporary South African songs and Jordan began to dance with a few of their students. This inspired the Norman Henshilwood High School students to try to get all of us to start moving. Between enjoying the song playing and watching a funk circle form around Jordan, I did not have time to consider whether I agreed with them or not. Swaying slightly to the music, with my hands shoved in my pockets, I saw that some of the Norman Henshilwood High School students were beginning to drag Mount Madonna kids onto the floor to dance. I didn’t realize that I had been selected until my hands were yanked from my jacket and I found myself spun onto the floor. Unable to find a way out of this predicament, I gave in and shuffled my feet alongside a student’s fancy footwork. As the music continued, I felt myself becoming more and more comfortable with my arrhythmic, clumsy attempt at “dancing”—I felt myself starting to have fun.

Later that day, I apologized to the student who had danced with me because he had unwittingly chosen the least coordinated person in my entire class. He explained to me that dancing in its earliest stage is more about moving along to the music and having a good time, and that if you keep dancing, no matter how bad it is, it has the potential to develop into something good. Or if not, at least you’re enjoying and expressing yourself. I was shocked at how nice he was.

The confidence these students had to fully invest themselves in their performances and express themselves creatively inspired me, and their ability to not judge or mock me and my terrible dancing was a very pleasant surprise. These kids, who chose to stay after school to interact with us, were passionate about what they did. They wanted to share an experience with us, not out-perform us, although they totally did. Even though I started the day somewhat apprehensive about singing and dancing, I had a fantastic time at Norman Henshilwood High School. Saying goodbye to the students was bittersweet; we all exchanged memories and Instagram handles, but we also knew we couldn’t take them with us (though that didn’t stop us from trying; we tried to hide one of the girls in our van).

Mount Madonna School and Norman Henshilwood High School students!

Langa Township

Lucas Caudill

After our morning visit to LEAP School, we departed for a tour of the surrounding township, Langa. Langa’s appearance was like that of Khayelitsha: people living shoulder-to-shoulder in small houses made of corrugated metal, concrete, wood, old shipping containers and any other resources available for such a purpose. Our guide from LEAP School told us that many of these houses lacked running water, which led to sanitation issues. Furthermore, their proximity to one another means there is always the possibility that a single fire outbreak could rapidly spread, destroying countless homes, a threat that is further exacerbated by the scarcity of water.

One of our first stops on the tour was a former hostel. During apartheid, buildings such as this housed migrant laborers from the so-called “homelands,” who were forced to live away from their families while working in the townships. Today, these buildings are still used for housing and, despite the abolition of apartheid over two decades ago, they continue to afford their residents little in the way of comfort. The one we visited was a two-story brick building which was divided into several sections, each of which could be accessed by a separate door on the outside of the building. The tour brought us into one of these sections, which consisted of around six rooms with a single bathroom at the far end of the building which the residents shared. As our large group filled the room, I started to become aware of the unusual nature of our visit. This was not some exhibit at a museum, it was somebody’s home. I could see residents in their room through a door left ajar. People were making their way in and out of the building, avoiding the gaze of this group of strangers. I began to feel a creeping sense of guilt. It seemed as though we were intruding on their lives, and I could imagine how they saw us, a group of rich Americans, here to gawk at their poverty.

I thought of how angry I would be had our circumstances been reversed. I kept these thoughts in mind as we continued the tour, which brought us into one of the rooms in this section of the building. The room was relatively small by most standards, and couldn’t have been much larger than 8 feet by 12 feet, roughly the size of a modest American bedroom. But this was not a bedroom. There were two beds piled with folded clothes on either side of the room, between them a mere 2-3 feet of space. Next to these beds was a small television set. Beside the door, at the foot of one of the beds, was a small refrigerator, on top of which sat an electric stove. These two appliances made up the room’s kitchen. Our group filed in, almost completely filling what little space was available. On the bed opposite the door sat an old woman. Seeing her made me feel worse. What did she think of our presence? Once again, I felt like I was trespassing. The guide asked her how many people lived in the room. She replied that ten-people lived there. I began to imagine how ten people could live together in such a confined space. The members of our group in the room, numbering somewhere around 17, had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one another. I couldn’t see that ten people would be much more comfortable. I then thought about the other five rooms in this section. If they each held the same number of occupants as this one, that meant that around sixty people lived here, all sharing a single bathroom. The guide then asked the woman how long she has lived in this building, to which she replied forty years, more than two times the time that I’ve even been alive.

To live in these conditions for so long is something I’m not sure I’m even capable of comprehending. This information was not lost on me, however. The message was clear: this life is all the woman has ever known. It’s all anyone in the township has ever known. This is a sobering thought. Cliché though it sounds, in our country we often take the things that we have for granted. Though it was difficult see the things we saw in Langa, our visit there taught me a very valuable lesson. For the first time in my life I could see the privileges that life arbitrarily granted me simply because I was born in California rather than Langa or Khayelitsha or Soweto or Tembisa. As we go about our own daily lives, it is important to remember that for countless people around the world, “daily life” is a struggle for survival amidst circumstances which we in America cannot even begin to understand. Therefore, although I may have looked the part, I feel as though I wasn’t just some tourist gawking at poverty in Langa. I believe that what we saw in Langa was an example of all the good that has yet to be done. As Ward put it, there is an immense amount of inequality in the world, and it is everyone’s obligation to try to make a difference in any way possible, that we may push the world to a better future.

Zach Wagner

My first reaction when I learned that we would be going into a township was one of anxiety because I did not know what to expect. I had observed, from a distance, the abject poverty experienced by the inhabitants of the townships the day before on our visit to Philani. Every time we had been in or near a township previously in the trip, we were inside a gated compound. But as has been so common on this trip so far, my expectations were absolutely shattered. We were first taken in vans to the heart of the township, and showed a shop. It was explained to us that many of the shops are built in shipping containers so they can be more easily moved if business is not successful in one area. This struck me as interesting because it added to my notion of just how volatile and hand to mouth these people’s lives are. We then walked down the path past a butcher shop, a small shack with a fire pit and a bag of sheep heads, and then proceeded to see one of the hostels set up by the government. In these hostels, there are often three families to a room, and no privacy whatsoever. We walked into one of the rooms and spoke to a woman who had been living in that room for 40 years. She told us that ten people lived in this room that was no more than 3×2 meters. Being able to actually go into these homes and meet the people living in them allowed me to experience what their lives are like. Lastly, we walked to the informal housing, the shantytown section of the township consisting of non-government tin shacks, and visited one to see what they were like inside. We also visited a brewery of traditional African beer and learned about the beer’s significance to the culture, as well as the process by which it is made. After today’s experience, I feel like I have a far deeper understanding of township life than I did before. It is one thing to read about it, and a completely different experience to be immersed in the township itself. This experience has definitely made me reflect upon what a privilege it is to have privacy, and to be sheltered from the elements. However, the township’s people are far from letting suffering consume them. Everyone I have met, from the little kids at Philani, to the kids our age at the LEAP School, have an aura that cannot be ignored. They are loving, cheerful people, and face their respective situations with dignity, courage and joy. I cannot wait to further connect with these wonderful people as we continue our learning journey.

Walking through Langa Township

Love and Courage

LEAP Science and Maths School

Phoebe Grant

When we first arrived at the LEAP School for Science and Maths we nervously paced around, awkwardly bumping into each other in the school office while waiting to learn more about the school and the students that went there. Before we knew it, there were several enthusiastic high school students waiting outside the door to give us a tour of the school. I’m sure they were just as anxious as we were, although our barrier of nervousness was broken when two smiling boys came up and offered to show us around the campus. They passionately told us about each classroom we passed. Soon a new girl named Zoey joined our group. She was one of the bubbliest girls I have ever met, and was incredibly welcoming. When she spoke about school her excitement and love was genuine, and she seemed grateful to be a student there. Our tour ended with the LEAP School students asking us questions about our school. Later, I realized that I had responded with the worst possible answer. I said we were kind of a “performing arts school.” At this point, our three tour guides left us and went to perform with the rest of their classmates. The moment the students opened their mouths all our jaws dropped. We were in absolute awe, I listened closely to each note and aspect of the song. It was complex and magical, and they had fantastic choreography to go along with the music. “I could never do that,” I thought. Right at that moment, the kids started pulling us out, one by one, from our small penguin huddle. My heart sunk into my stomach; I knew I was going to get picked soon. Sure enough, Zoey picked me to be the second one to join them in the dance and song. I could feel my face getting as bright red as a tomato. Despite my embarrassment, it was fun dancing with them even though my claps and stomps were off beat.

There beautiful song was soon over, and I was happy to not have to be embarrassed about my dancing anymore. This was all before realizing that we hadn’t even performed yet. We all got up and faced our fears and sang the songs that we had been practicing for months. Surprisingly enough, during our performance all I felt was pure love from every student at the school. My nervousness vanished because of their comforting claps and cheers. They made me so happy. They were full of love, and excitement for the music and songs. I think I under estimated how powerful music and songs were until this experience. As nerve racking and embarrassing as these performances were, I know I’ll never forget their songs and voices. I know for a fact that I will always remember these amazing people.

Emily Villareal

Upon walking into the LEAP School for Science and Maths, we were surrounded by high school students eager to show us their campus and friends. They pointed out each classroom, and the initial shyness soon went away as we compared classes and interests. They described one class as an opportunity to share their feelings and issues in a group environment much like our Values class. The school also projected a strong sense of community: many of the teachers training there were alumni, there were resources for after school studying, and even graduated students received career counseling if they wanted. The two girls asked us if we had choir or music class and we explained how it wasn’t really a formal club and we weren’t that great; they said the same about their choir group, and I was kind of relieved. But that relief only lasted until the first verse of their song. Their music was on such a different level. Each section sounded like one voice, the sheer volume of it was amazing. Their singing wasn’t just good though; you could see the smiles on each face, as they sang and danced together. When I sing, I generally focus on hitting the right notes in the right order so it sounds at least okay, but the LEAP School choir reminded that I should try to enjoy it too.

Singing with LEAP School students

Meeting with Pregs Govender

Will Murphy

Today one of our many eye opening experiences was speaking to Pregs Govender. She has been a prominent activist in South Africa for many decades with an emphasis on women’s issues. Her autobiography is entitled, “Love and Courage: A Story of Insubordination.” In our conversation, we focused on the topics of love, courage, insubordination, and how they relate to each other. It was truly inspiring to see her take part in the conversation. She has such an enthusiasm for instilling those core values in young people. Her way of thinking helped to alter mine. I have begun to think about different life paths than the get rich quick scheme that our society has convinced us is the norm. The question came up of how the values we were discussing related to our class. What immediately came to everyone’s mind was our own “Truth and Reconciliation” council that we had a few months ago. During our conversation we connected the themes together to deduce that; it takes courage to love, and love has to be present to have the courage to openly speak your whole truth to your peers. You have to know that you won’t receive judgment. Unfortunately, I did not experience this turning point for our class as I was sick. Despite this I have seen the profound positive effect that it had on our class. I know if I was there I would have been afforded the same unconditional love and support. On our trip the benefits have been obvious as everyone knows the challenges we all face and want to provide our help. Our class has never been so united.

Gracie Howley

By good fortune, after we visited the LEAP school, we met up with Pregs Govender in a coffee shop. The following occurred during our interview:

She told us about a girl who created a hashtag #allmenaretrash, referring to violent actions against girls in South Africa. Pregs Govender told us that men were outraged. The girl responded that if men got as angry about the issues that made women complain that “all men are trash” in the first place, we could make real progress. I know this impacted most of my classmates, male and female, however it caused me to open my heart to Pregs Govender, because it mattered to me. I felt independent. I felt empowered by Pregs Govender, a woman once in parliament who was nobly and completely insubordinate against all that stood between her and her progress. I loved her mannerisms and her words. She is a powerful role model. I was thinking as we listened to her, “I want to get somewhere so that someday I will be the one being interviewed and inspiring young kids like Pregs Govender inspired and empowered me.”

Towards the end of our interaction, she told us that she wakes up every morning and watches the sunrise solely for the purpose of her own happiness. This struck me because I don’t think I ever do things only to make myself happy. She emphasized that it can’t be just smiling happy, as she said that that is most times fake. She said she was talking about the happiness deep in your soul that you can feel even in the worst of times. Taking the time to give yourself that deep happiness everyday is the most empowering practice I can think of. I told her how much the idea of her watching the sunset for herself meant for me, and that I want to do it too. She told me, “When you watch it in your country, we will be connected.” I will remember this interview for the rest of my life.

The Power of Infectious Laughter

Jordan Willis

Early mornings in South Africa offer a stillness unlike home. This morning there was no wind, and only a few observable animals. Murky clouds drifted apart to expose a pale sun. The morning’s stillness brought with it a feeling of ambition and excitement. Today was one of those “big ticket days” on the itinerary. Deep breaths felt necessary.

The feeling of nervous excitement was carried into our crammed vans and sped right to the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation Center, in the heart of Cape Town. At this point, our excitement had peaked. The time had come to enter the building.

We set up the room quickly and sat straight up in our chairs, waiting. The more I sat there the more nervous I became. My palms were sweaty, I trembled. I had no idea what to expect when meeting someone so internationally influential. Nobody dared to crack even a single joke. And then, the door opened.

Ward turned to us, “He’s here!!!” he mouthed. My heart was pounding. In walked this seemingly small old man who commanded breathtaking respect. Everyone on staff stopped what they were doing and some even bowed to him. His smile was contagious, and he smiled a lot!

We all stood and shook his hand. He passed around the circle until he came to Wagner, who stood stock-still. “Who helped you into that thing?” He jokingly asked, referring to Wagner’s suit. “Men’s Warehouse,” Wagner instantly replied, nervously. Everyone cracked up. Suddenly, my feelings of nervousness dissipated. The mood in the room became one of natural happiness.

Next, it was time for our songs. There must be something special about singing when nervous because when we broke into the first note of our song, it sounded beautiful. The office workers began to gather, and by the end of our pieces, some of them were in tears.

We continued our meeting with Archbishop Tutu by discussing how learning about his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had inspired a class discussion in which we had resolved some of our own differences. It was great to revisit our experience, and he seemed flattered by this.

Meeting Archbishop Tutu was a great experience. It was obvious why he garners so much respect. He conducts himself in a dignified and humorous way, which made us feel comfortable in his presence. It was a truly heartwarming experience.

Elias Moreno

I started out the day confidently, wearing a suit and feeling sharp. This all changed when Ward dropped the bomb that rather than read the statement that I had prepared for our meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu the night before, I would instead be, “Speaking from the heart.” Well, not only was my heart speaking, it was screaming. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest louder and louder, as we got closer to meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I nervously practiced what I would say to him with Ward, and kept drawing a blank. Every time I tried to speak I would repeat the first line I wrote. All the things that I wanted to say such as how I found his ability to embody joy and humor, even in extremely trying circumstances, inspirational couldn’t cross the threshold of my lips. Eventually Ward helped me get to the essence of what I was truly trying to tell Archbishop Tutu. I found that speaking from the heart sounded much better than reading from a script. I put on a fake smile of confidence, and we all entered the building where our interview would take place.

The serene peacefulness of the quiet and clean building clashed with my own feelings of inner turmoil. Soon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived and I instantly felt less nervous and could feel the whole room get brighter. He immediately began cracking jokes as he went around and shook our hands. We sang two songs for him and then I begin my opening remarks. Looking at his sympathetic eyes and authentic ear to ear smile instantly made me feel more confident, and gave me the ability to truly speak from the heart. I told him how inspirational his message of finding joy in even the most difficult circumstances has been to me. I expressed to him that I would try, in all aspects of my life, to see the joy and hope in every situation and that I would encourage others to do the same.

Sienna Clifton

Happiness is the one word I would use to describe our experience meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, today. As soon as we heard his infectious laughter from down the hallway, I knew what an amazing opportunity this was. Once he and his wife sat down, our class started to sing, and our smiles never left our faces. It’s hard to completely put into words how I felt. I had an overwhelming sense of joy and pure bliss being there, in front of such an inspirational person, with my class. One profound, yet very simple, statement that he made was that he was considered a great captain because he had a great team. This sentiment made me truly realize the importance of acknowledging others’ gifts, as well as being able to be proud of one’s own. I was struck by Archbishop Desmund Tutu’s humility about the part he played in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which helped South Africa heal and move on from the horrific tragedies that had taken place during the apartheid era. As he told us about what happened, he continued to speak about others and their importance. He kept reiterating that they were the real heroes. Hearing someone speak with pride and true happiness about the achievements of others said so much about Archbishop Tutu’s character, and made me feel happy in that moment.

Archbishop Tutu was genuine when he spoke. I will never forget the way I felt being in the room and listening to him speak his truth freely and openly to a bunch of strangers from half way around the world. As cliché as it may sound, Archbishop Tutu’s smile and unforgettable laugh has left a lifelong imprint on my heart.

Mount Madonna School students with Archbishop Desmond Tutu