The Power in a Moment

AnMei Dasbach-Prisk

Yesterday, my class and I went to visit Botshabelo, an organization aimed at bettering the lives of children affected or infected by HIV. We spent the whole day there touring the community and bonding with the kids. At the beginning of the day the woman who started the program, Marion, had a heart to heart talk with us about how she started Botshabelo and how she found her inner calling, her inner light. Her story and advice touched me as well as many of my classmates.

Chené Swart

Today, Ward’s good friend Chené Swart came to talk with us and help us process everything we’ve experienced so far on this trip. I am very grateful that she came and aided us on our learning journey.

Chené is a practitioner in narrative therapy, and she did a workshop with us. She led us in small groups and asked us to reflect on a moment that had touched us in the past week. Her exact words were, “Take me to a moment in the last week that touched your heart.” I had a difficult time choosing one moment because there have been many; from Thulani Mabaso’s powerful narrative, to Mamphela Ramphele’s intelligence, to Pregs Govender’s presence and passion, and the kids’ openness at Botshabelo. I’ve definitely cried a lot on this trip but with tears of joy, as many of the people I have met here have stirred up things deep inside me that I didn’t even consciously know were there.

Once we were in small groups, Chené gave us guiding questions about how to reflect on the moment that had touched us. Who would not be surprised that you will take us to this moment? How would you design a T-shirt that expresses how you feel about this moment? Some of these questions were difficult for me to answer but I enjoyed listening to my peers’ responses. I thought it was really interesting to hear about the moments that touched them, as they gave me a new perspective and made me realize that while we are all on this journey together, we are all having our own unique experiences. Within those unique experiences we can find similarities and relatedness.

I found her advice really helpful and I am going to implement the techniques she taught us about processing when reflecting about my day, or special moments in my life. Something that I took away from the workshop today with Chené is that moments are powerful and they have their own story. We shouldn’t discount individual moments, as there are so many components that make up a single moment. So much love, compassion, courage and meaning can be encapsulated in a single moment.

The Hopes and Dreams of Humanity

Botshabelo Childrens AIDS Village

JT Curland

As our bus rolled along the dusty roads that stretched out of town and into the savannah, I sat searching through the glass window for signs of the long awaited Botshabelo. The first sign came in the form a child walking along the side of the road, a seemingly common sight in the area we were traveling but as the bus slowed I began to examine him, wondering what to make of this new face who was obviously intrigued by the bus. As the bus pulled in, I made eye contact with the kid and he immediately smiled. I reciprocated the gesture, and in that moment, I knew that this experience was going to be meaningful in a big way.

We stepped out of the bus to a horde of eager and friendly faces. Immediately, we began to break down the boundaries between strangers, singing and playing and exchanging all sorts of information. The greetings were cut short as we were ushered into one of the nearby houses, to get what Marion Cloete, also known as “magogo” or grandmother, called introductions. This woman and her “introductions” turned out to be surprisingly wonderful, as she wasted no time diving into subjects that many do not mention, and being open in a way uncommon of strangers. She was wise and spoke to our inner fears and doubts, and touched all of us by addressing us and some of the complex feelings of youth directly. She was a truly inspiring person, and I will remember her character and words for the rest of my life. The rest of the day was equally wonderful as I learned to play a mix of dreidel and Beyblade with the local kids, held hands with a young boy and girl as we hiked around the property and partied with traditional song and dance with the whole community. We concluded the day by helping the kids try on and pick out the new clothes we had brought them, and hugging virtually everyone we could before we boarded the bus to leave. As I said good-bye to the young friend I had made, I gathered up the thoughts of acceptance, compassion, and openness I had collected throughout the day. I left Botshabelo filled with happiness, and having so much to think about. I think I will still be processing today’s events for a long time.

Milana Beck

Today we visited Botshabelo Children’s Aids Village. It was such a heartfelt experience, one like I have never had before. As soon as we arrived in our bus, all the kids rushed out with smiles on their faces, waving at us happily and ready to meet us. We played with the kids for a little bit, and shortly after went to meet the people that created Botshabelo. We listened to the story of how this place was founded, as well as how the kids came there. Many of us were in tears as we listened to what they had to say about what many of the kids had to go through in their life, at such a young age.

After, we were given a tour of the whole place, with the kids accompanying us. I was touched by just how sweet and lovable all the kids were. They immediately ran up to me and wanted to hold hands with me. I really took this place to heart because even though these kids live tough lives, they are still able to keep a smile on their faces, and keep their loving personalities.

Nearing the end of our visit, we got to watch a performance of singing and dancing from the older kids, and even some of the younger ones. We also had our turn to sing and dance with them which was special. The last part of our visit was unpacking the bags of clothes we brought, and helping the kids pick out the clothes that they wanted. I had donated many of my clothes to Botshabelo and I was very happy to see some of the kids wearing some of my old ones.

I was sad when we had to say goodbye because I had formed a connection with many of the kids there. It was heartwarming to give each one of the kids a big hug before leaving. I will cherish the memory of visiting Botshabelo the rest of my life.

Marion Cloete (Magogo)
Connor Murphy

The beginning would be a good place to start if I knew how it started. The legacy that it took for me to get where I am is far beyond my comprehension. The string of coincidences that led to my being at Magogo’s doorstep are beyond me, yet there I stood. We got off the bus at 10AM and were promptly sent into a small house, the reception office for Botshabelo. At this point, dear reader, you may be wondering who Magogo is and I can tell you that Magogo is a white woman in her golden years, a little plump by her own admission, and has a smile that could melt the coldest heart. However, that description does her no justice. Magogo, which at this point I should tell you means grandmother, is a teacher not because of the profession but because being around her makes you learn. Magogo is a counselor not because of the degree or practice but because her honesty draws out yours, and before you know it she gets your whole life story. Magogo is a woman who has lived life. All humans walk down the same road of life and for most, and I might say for all, it begins in a cave, a dark and damp cave, no hobbit hole to be sure. As we journey through the cave, we begin to see a light. That light is as Magogo put it, us, who we really are, and an acceptance of who you are. Many people, most people, get stuck in the dark of that cave, wallow in its pools, so confused and hurt that they end up turning around. Magogo is someone who has left the cave but she did not just leave it; she helps others out. Or, maybe not so much helps, she will yell at you until you pick yourself up and walk on out.

After Magogo came Holandŭ. Holandŭ amazed me not with life experience or honesty but with his internal strength, drive, and determination. I saw in Holandŭ the same light of determination I saw in Thulani. A power that can only come from a strength to forgive and the drive to keep moving, despite all that he had been through.

Holandŭ has never met his mother. When I asked him about it he said he thought she was dead but he was not sure. Imagine never having known your mother, your own mother. He has only met his dad once in his entire life. Hearing this really made me realize how much I take for granted. So, because I don’t say this enough, and because I can’t text you from here: mom and dad, I love you. When I think about it, you have done more for me than I think either of us really knows.

Despite all he had gone through, Holandŭ still had hope; he still had dreams. He dreams of being a chicken farmer and from there he hopes to expand into sheep and cows. He is going to own two houses, one on Botshabelo property and one in a big city like Johannesburg or Cape Town. Notice that I said, “he is.” I said this because I genuinely and truly believe he will. I believe this because I saw his drive and his work ethic, and I know that he will do great things.

As we were leaving Botshabelo, I brushed up against a kid, he was maybe 3 or 4, and riding on someone’s back. After my elbow brushed his back, I thought that this may very well be the last time we ever interact. That one little touch, that one moment that he did not even notice or recognize as an event, would be my one contact with his life. My next thought was a refusal of this reality, a determination, an oath or a pledge, a promise that I would return. I would come back and see Holandŭ’s chicken farms, and give a little more back for all that my friends and I got, and my God did we get a lot. In the words of our teacher Ward, “Remember this, remember this.” So, as one last reminder to future me, REMEMBER THIS.

Braeden Will

There’s nothing quite like Botshabelo. It’s a place that’s immersed in the true humanity of us all, and home to a treasure of people. From the moment we arrived, you could tell that there was something special about this place; something in the warm smiles of the young kids jumping, giggling, and running. They live every moment fully, and that was the magic that we felt as we were greeted by them. It was an instant connection, you don’t need words when you are greeted with open arms and hearts. The kids laughed, played, hugged, and smiled with us until we were ushered into a building.

I don’t quite have the words to describe the woman who greeted us. Magogo is the quintessential human being; she is someone who has lived in privilege and gave up everything to live on a hill, in poverty, and take care of the people at Botshabelo. She’s someone who has seen every walk of life, walked in every type of shoe, and came out profoundly wise. She reached into our hearts and souls, and told us everything we had ever needed to hear. Everything that we had known inside of us was said by this magical human, and when she was done the room was filled with crying faces. She managed to make us see the light inside ourselves, even if it was faint; she found it and said, look, this is inside you, this beautiful thing that you carry with you everywhere. You are enough.

With that as the preface for the day, we went back to the kids. I walked and played tag with two kids, Marcus and Bopello. They really were the sweetest kids. Marcus, especially, really touched my heart. He always had a smile on his face, and had explosive energy that carried his short little legs up and down and all around. But, he didn’t have shoes. As we walked over the thickets of spiny plants to the cemetery, he had to stop every couple of steps and pull thorns from his feet. That never deterred him from pulling me across Botshabelo. I found out later that he was sick with HIV, and that he would likely die long before he was even my age.

Botshabelo was a truly unique place. The people that reside there are the most heartfelt, authentic, and amazing people I will probably ever have the privilege to meet. It’s somewhere where no matter who you are, you are family. I think I left a part of myself there and carried with me something new that they had given me. Something small and faint but beautiful, and just waiting to see the daylight.

Take the Consciousness and Change the World

Interview with Pregs Govender

Pregs Govender
AnMei Dasbach-Prisk

Much like the storm outside, this trip has been a whirlwind of unique and special experiences. A lot has happened since the beginning of this learning journey that began a week ago at San Francisco International Airport.

Today, my class and I had the privilege of interviewing Pregaluxmi Govender, a feminist human rights activist and former ANC member. I was excited for this interview as we would be interviewing her over lunch, which I think is the best way to get to know someone (by sharing a meal). We traveled to Kalk Bay where she lives, and interviewed her in a beautiful restaurant right by the sea. The small town of Kalk Bay reminded me a lot of Rheinbrohl, the small village in Germany that my mother grew up. We were lucky enough to have a view of tall, rocky mountains out one window, and a view of a breathtaking body of water out the other window.

Lunch was just being served when Pregs Govender walked into the room with a big smile and shining eyes. I thought, “Wow this lady seems really nice and very wise.” And, it turns out she was. I could probably write a whole paper on how strong and influential she was to me but I’m going to stick to the events of the day.

She discussed with us how the social and economic systems around the world are structured in a way that creates inequality, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. She advised us on how we must be engaged citizens that are aware of how big corporations are monopolizing all sorts of industries around the world, leaving many unemployed or struggling financially. Pregs Govender explained to us how these corporations only see basic human rights as commodities to be bought and sold. That is why in so many countries, like the USA and South Africa, there is such a great socio-economic gap. She thinks that we must learn about our participation in these systems in order to understand and have empathy for those oppressed and exploited by them. I liked how she related issues going on in her country, like poverty, with our country. This showed us that all around the world we are experiencing similar problems, and that in order to solve them we should work together to find solutions.

The conversation that we had today with Pregs Govender was very eye opening and inspirational, and I definitely know now that in my life I would like to do something to reform and humanize these systems.

Tabitha Hardin-Zollo

Looking out onto the blue Atlantic Ocean, sounds of waves crashing and seagulls chirping, fresh and salty air wafting in and out of the open windows, the hour drive hour felt like we were close to home. The shrubs lining the one lane highway, sand dunes bordering one side and waves on the other, was nostalgic of Highway 1 southbound to Marina. The town of Kalk Bay mirrors the architecture of Carmel with colorful houses, boutiques and small cafes. The only thing that reminds you that you are halfway around the world are the rocky mountains, towering in the distance. Entering the restaurant felt just like walking into a small restaurant on Cannery Row. After some readjusting and camera set up, everyone orders and we wait. Lost in the smell of garlic and the sound of chatter, we barely notice a figure enter the room. When everyone realizes that Pregs Govender has entered the small room, we all stand.

The second Preg Govender starts to talk, I realize I am in not in Marina, driving down Highway 1 to Carmel. She asks a simple question, “What similarities do you see between Cape Town and where you’re from?” Everyone answers, “The greenery, the architecture, the roads.” Then she asks, “Have you seen poverty like this before?” No, I haven’t. I have never seen poverty like this before. I have seen tent cities and run down mobile home parks, but nothing like this. Govender goes on to say that there is poverty everywhere, and in South Africa the difference between the highest earners and the people who earn less than 28 rand a day is visually so drastic that you can forget that America also has 49 million people living in poverty. Then she asks what creates poverty? My answer, a stacked system, where a person who doesn’t have equal educational opportunities will not get the job that will pay them money to move out of the rundown part of town. Govender’s answer, it is not just one thing that makes a person poor, it is a system that is working against them and lending no aid; in this system, human rights such as water, food, and shelter become commodities. She uses a heart wrenching analogy to explain this: a mother of five traffics one of her children. Is it all the mother’s fault? No, look at the system behind it. She needs money to feed her other kids, pay rent, get her kids to school, etc. Govender says no one is inherently evil, only circumstances can make a person act evil.

What can we, this generation, do to turn the system upside down? Govender’s answer is simple; we have the resources to become conscious of the world around us. We have the technology to make others aware of the cold hard facts. “Being conscious while you do, changes the content of what you do.”

Govender’s voice, her passion behind every word, how much she cares about the issues she is talking about, sincerely inspired me. She inspired me because she is absolutely right, the difference between the last generation of activists and this one is access to information. We can know the statics and data to back up any argument, just as she did during our talk. “Take the consciousness and change the world.”

Let Us Build

Interview with Dr. Mamphela Ramphele

Rowan Davenport-Smith

Agang means “let us build” and was the name Mamphela Ramphele chose for the political party she started in 2013. To her, Agang was a challenge to South Africans and meant to set the tone for a different type of politics. This amazing woman, whose eyes told as many stories as her words, called this idea of hers naive. It was unbelievable to see such an accomplished woman, who had lived such a full life, speak so humbly and so full of hope. She spoke as if she had only just gotten started, and that too gave me a sense of hope for the future.

Mamphela Ramphele is a medical doctor, activist, politician, and businesswoman. She was a co-founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, the founder of the Agang political party, and the first South African manager of the World Bank. In front of us sat this woman, who seemingly stood on the top of the world, taking questions from us. She had been through so many challenges and yet she described them to us as “disturbances.” Disturbances in the flow of the world, in the flow of her life, in the flow of the progress toward justice that she promoted. Disturbances will pass and the flow will continue, the world will go on.

We held our interview with Dr. Ramphele on the grounds of the LEAP School at which she has a grand-nephew attending. She spoke optimistically of our and future generations, but she also recognized that no one generation is responsible for the future. She often stated during our interview that we should make everybody’s dignity our business because we are all connected and if we cared then the world would be a better place.

After the interview we stood there breathless, speechless, and with shivers down our spines. As our first formal interview, this was not what I expected. I felt as if I should immediately run out of the building, screaming at the sky, and trying to make a difference. It was as if in just over an hour she made me realize how little I had contributed to this life, and how much potential I had to change the world.

Turning a blind eye to work that needs to be done is the same as betraying yourself, betraying humanity.

Rachel Burgess

After filling my room with smoke when a faulty flat iron caused a short, and then locking both myself and AnMei out of our room, I would not consider yesterday to be one of my best days. So today, I hoped things would go slightly better; I was not let down.

We had the honor of interviewing Dr. Mamphela Ramphele and it was, at the very least, awe-inspiring. Dr. Ramphele is a medical doctor, politician, business woman, and a former activist in the anti-apartheid movement. In addition, she co-created the South African Black Consciousness Movement with figures such as Barney Pityana, whom we will interview later in our trip, as well as Steve Biko, her former partner.

The day began with waking up early to fine tune our interview questions. At this point, I was decidedly relaxed as the two questions I had initially prepared were cut in the previous night’s editing session. That calmness only lasted until it ended up I would be introducing our school as well as delivering the first question. Now the stress was high. We were all feeling the pressure to bring our best, especially in our first official interview. Yet, despite this, we all were quite excited as we made our way back to the LEAP school to start our interview.

By the time we made it to the school and began to settle in, Mamphela arrived. We were not entirely ready and rushed to stand, while still simultaneously trying to find our seats. My first thought upon seeing Dr. Ramphele was that she carried herself in such a way that was undoubtedly warm and inviting, yet also fierce and strong.

Initially, I was nervous to start the interview, as were many of us. We were all unsure going into it, however as she spoke it became clear that we had nothing to worry about. Mamphela Ramphele was smart and thoughtful. She listened to our questions and responded on an even deeper level. One thing that really stood out to me was her connection with family, primarily the women in her life and how they helped lead her to become the woman she is today. At one point, while discussing the woman in her life, she said that, “Having larger than life female role models left no room for oppression from males.” For me, and I am sure many others in the room, this was very truthful and something which I could relate to. I’ve had many strong female role models in my life, and seen the first-hand results of such role models. As the interview ended, I could not help but feel a slight sadness as I hoped that she would keep talking and sharing her wisdom with all of us. Unfortunately, she had to go, leaving us all in wonder and astonishment.

Mount Madonna students with Ramphela Mamphele

The Gift of Education

Langa Township
Given Reyhani

Today we ventured to LEAP school, a Science and Maths high school in the township of Langa. Right when we arrived, we were greeted by a group of students and we spent time getting to know each other. After a while talking, we sat down and they started to perform for us. They started with a traditional South African gumboot dance, and then went into singing. As I watched them sing and dance, I noticed how talented they were and how seriously they take music. I also noticed how seriously they take their academics and how they really push themselves to do well.

After they sang, which they were very good at, it was our turn. Although they had beaten us in this field, we still did great. Eventually, they came up and joined us and we sang together. I feel like the singing really brought us together as they sang our songs and we sang some of their songs. We got to connect with them on a different level through singing, which is one of the biggest ways of connection throughout the world.

After performing together, we sat down in groups of three and we were asked to discuss the question, “If there was something that we could change about school what would it be?” In my group, we discussed the mandatory uniform that the LEAP students must wear. We talked about how wearing a uniform restricts you from expressing yourself, and that if you want to wear something you should be able to wear it because how you dress shows a little of who you are. This struck me because back home we don’t have a dress code and I never really thought about how we dress being a way to express ourselves.

Paola Jacobs

I felt a flood of emotions during my time at LEAP school today. Walking in, I was immediately greeted by Cetitu, a student who set my mood of the day with her joy and happiness. Her inviting energy made me feel accepted and the openness allowed for the both of us to get to know about each other’s lives easily. Throughout the day, I was surrounded by more and more kids my age, and noticed how well my classmates and I connected with everyone. We all live such different lives but I feel like that fact didn’t have a negative effect on the friendships and connections that I formed today. The differences just made the experience that much stronger.

After the school tour, we performed songs for the students and visitors at LEAP and they sang some songs for us. Their performances were amazing and they made me realize that community and culture are important. They opened their hearts to us, and the way they sang gave me chills. We sang them our songs and they were supportive of us; they clapped and smiled for us. I felt nothing but love for them. I felt a powerful community as we were all singing together. I felt so much appreciation and I enjoyed getting to know the kids through such a creative space. It made my visit to the LEAP school impactful.

After our time at the school, we all walked through the Langa township, talking and getting to know each other even more. It was interesting for me to walk through a town completely different from what I see in California. It really opened me up. It was like a big family. I saw a community where people helped people for the benefit of their own community. I saw children running around smiling, enjoying themselves. We were welcomed into their community and it seemed like they enjoyed our presence. We eventually stopped at a barbeque restaurant and shared lunch with our new friends. Sharing food and stories with them was so much fun, it felt like all I did was laugh today. It didn’t matter that we were from different countries. I find it amazing that people from two parts of the world can hang out without having a barrier or culture shock. I loved that there were so many unexpected similarities between all of us.

Maverick Bettencourt

“I value my school and my education a lot.” My new friend, Aluta, said this today during our time together at LEAP school. I would like for you to think about that for a second, and reflect on the average student in the United States and how they think of school. When we visited the Leap School of Science and Maths, I was in awe of how the students felt about school. I go through school not giving it my full attention, not valuing the very expensive, special, and amazing school that I attend. I go to Mount Madonna High School because my parents and I decided it was the right place to learn and grow.

The kids at Leap School had to take a test just to get into their school. They value each class. Each student takes very advanced and difficult classes. Classes like these would be taught in college in the United States. A good education is very hard to commit to in South Africa because of the lack of financial means. The average family only makes $6 a day, so higher education is not a viable option for many households. Leap School pays for clothes and food, in addition to education. These three items are hard to come by for many South Africans and this limits the success of students. I know that I have taken them for granted.

When we arrived at Leap School we were paired with a student to give us a tour of the school. I was the last through the door and there was one student standing alone. No one was paired with him. I went straight up to the student and introduced myself. His name is Aluta and he is the nicest person I have ever met. He was kind of shy.  I kept most of the conversation going but shy in South Africa is a bit different than the United States. In South Africa, most people seem outgoing in one way or another but compared to the rest of the students, he was a bit shyer. I spent the whole day with Aluta. I asked him about his school and his family life.

Aluta has no mom or dad. He lives with his grandparents. His mom passed away when he was very young age and his dad is out of the picture. Aluta values the opportunity of the school more than anything in the world. We were given a talking point during the day to share with each other, “What would you change about school?”  He said, “Nothing. School is so perfect and the chance just be at school is good enough for me.” He wants to be a doctor when he finishes school and move the United States of America. I have faith that he can but the problem is that his family does not have enough money to send their kids to college. Aluta showed me how much I take for granted, and that I should be more appreciative of the fact that my parents sent me to my amazing school that offers so many opportunities. I see that I should try my hardest.

Singing at LEAP School

A Nourishing Meal for the Soul

Khayelitsha Township
Jahnakai Willis

The Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition project is an organization that addresses maternal and child health. The program helps support pregnant mothers to improve their birth outcomes, educates women on how to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child, and teaches women about nutrition so that they can keep their children healthy. Today, our class visited the headquarters and starting point of this project in Cape Town.

I was very inspired after spending time at the center with the mentor mothers and the children. I believe that my peer Rowan summed up my experience when she said, “It’s so much more enjoyable doing work for others that you want to do, than doing work for yourself that you’re made to do.” I think that statement explained a lot about what the program’s mentor mothers (women who guide and support the local mothers to raise a healthy family) brought to their work. Near the end of our adventure, the mothers decided to sing for us and of course Maverick was the first one in our class to jump up and start moving to the rhythm. Inspired by this, our class threw ourselves into the whirlwind of sound. Every single person started dancing, singing, cheering, clapping or was in a combined state of smiling and crying. You could tell that every single mentor mother enjoyed their job and cared about the work that they did. They showed us how much love they bring to Philani and how that love empowers and helps other women and their families live a healthy and supported life. I think when people love their work and are 100% committed to it like these women are, it has ten times the impact it does on the people benefiting from their support and wisdom.

Another highlight from our time at Philani was being with the children at school. My favorite part of visiting the kids was during their snack. A small group from our class went into their classroom to hand out snacks and all the kids raised their hands up after they ate and started yelling, “Jojo! Jojo!” at us. Even though we didn’t know what it meant, our group said it back to them and this went on for what felt like ten minutes. We later found out that they were screaming a phrase from some burger advertisement that they had seen, but the part that was touching was that even with a language barrier, the children and we shared a connection because happiness and laughter are universal things. Being in state of love, appreciation, and sheer joy, it was easy to ignore the fact that our group and the kids didn’t speak the same language or couldn’t hold a conversation; the happiness was too important.

Every single kid had so much energy and interest in meeting new people that I found myself in awe and as happy as I could be. Being around these children made me remember how much innocence, joy, and curiosity goes into childhood. I was inspired by seeing these kids living their best lives, with such simplicity. Being with them truly made me realize how so many people think they need so much just to live but we really don’t need all that much. Overall, the Philani visit has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve ever been involved with. I believe that I’ll never forget my time there and what I learned just by being around wonderful and empowering people.

Noah Tervalon

Music, to the American is simply an activity; to the South African it is a way of engagement. While we were visiting Philani, a group of mentor mothers came out of their training session to sing to us. As soon as they came out, we could feel their energy. We looked around at each other and quickly realized that the songs we had prepared were going to be blown away by whatever it was they were about to perform for us. When they walked over to perform, there was no making sure they were in a specific line, no ensuring they had the right pitch, no warming up. They jumped right in and grabbed our attention with a grasp that we could not be pulled away from, even if we had tried.

The moment they opened their mouths a wave of raw emotion that was new to me flew out. When Americans sing, the music sounds wonderful and is a fantastic food for the ears, but the music that these women made was an entire nourishing meal for the soul. It was as if the women were singing to share a part of their story and their lives with us instead of singing so that we could hear their voices and appreciate the sound. For a good portion of the time they were singing they weren’t even singing to us, they were singing to each other. They used music to connect to each other on a deeper level and we were invited to join them, which was beautiful.

After their first couple of songs a fantastic moment happened. We had been watching them sing and dance from a short distance away, and then Maverick bridged the gap and joined them in dancing. Everyone in our class seemed to hold their breath, but the women went right on singing and dancing even accepting Maverick into their ranks with smiles and laughter. Soon, a few more people started dancing over to the women and before long our entire class had begun dancing, smiling, and laughing along with the mothers. This experience lasted around 5 minutes but it felt like hours. I remember having a massive smile glued to my face during the entire time.

This entire experience, with the mothers singing to us and us joining them in dance, really brought me into this trip. As soon as it was over I realized that I had just experienced such a deep sense of emotion conveyed through song that music would be changed forever for me. After having experienced this, I realized that music was not simply an activity for them as it is for us, it is a way of giving yourself to another so they can understand you by sharing with them your raw emotions.

Tessa Ortiz

After unloading and sorting the clothing donations that we brought, we were met with much excitement from the coordinators and mentor mothers. They told us that many children normally would only be wrapped in blankets. Now, they could go outside and play in the winter weather. After hearing from several of the women that worked at Philani, we were sorted into groups to work. My group went to start rolling balls of fabric that would be used on the loom. Once that job was mostly completed, we hung out with the kids from the preschool. I remember looking around the play structure and then I saw a little girl just looking at me with her arms raised, so I picked her up and we walked around as she played with my hair.

A highlight of the day was when I met a mentor mother and her daughters and niece. As we worked rolling the fabric string into balls, we talked about school. The eldest was in twelfth grade, her sister was in third grade, and the niece was in ninth grade. The eldest talked about studying psychology in college. We talked a lot about our relationships with our moms. As we kept untangling the string, we laughed and joked in the small amount of sunlight. It felt like we were all connected by that string. I couldn’t have felt any more peaceful. I have made a new friend and she wants me to come back, and I have plans to make it happen. Another highlight of the day was when one of the administrators said, after explaining how she made it to South Africa as a refugee, that she learned that we are here to bring light to people when it is very dark. Bringing a small amount of help can lead to great opportunities.

Fiona Burgess

It is safe to say that the two days we’ve spent in South Africa have surpassed any expectations I previously held. I thought I was prepared. I had read the blog posts of the class that came before us as well as watched the videos of their trip, but all my preconceived notions were quickly wiped away.

Upon arrival at Philani, I learned of the many inspiring women who work within its mentor mother program. These women are mothers from low income areas that have surpassed their circumstances and raised healthy children themselves. Recruited by Philani, these mentor mothers go out into communities and support other mothers with children ages zero to five in being confident mothers who raise healthy children. What really struck me is that not only are they providing these women with resources but working towards the continued progression of the communities.

After spending the day helping at Philani, as well as interacting with the children, we were surprised with a concert from the mentor mothers we had learned about earlier. As they sung, we all watched and I was unable to stop the smile from spreading across my face. By the middle of their performance our class had joined them, and we were all dancing around the courtyard. For me, it was extremely empowering to be surrounded by these women who inspired me with their hard work. By the end of our time there, I realized how completely present I was, the usual thoughts of self-consciousness I carried were nonexistent. I had spent the day completely focused and interested by my surroundings. Today has left me both inspired and excited for the rest of our time here in South Africa.

Haley Kerr

“Good morning,” the kids at Philani chimed as we stood in their happy presence. It didn’t matter that these young kids and I didn’t speak the same language because the love still flowed through each and every one of us. Small, simple communications were all we needed to have fun together. When the kids wanted to go across the monkey bars in the playground they would simply say, “Missy! Missy!” and then we would proceed to help them across. To communicate our love, and joy that we were together, we would smile, wave, and say, “Morning!” repeatedly.

Personally, I got the pleasure of spending time with one specific little girl named Mary. She was very shy at first, but when we started singing and dancing with the whole group, she held onto my hand and didn’t let go. The group spread out and went to do other things, so I turned to Mary and proceeded to try and communicate with hand motions and facial expressions. After only two minutes of simply smiling at each other, Mary wrapped her arms around my legs and gave me a big hug. I squatted down so that I was the same height as her and she adjusted so that her arms were wrapped around my neck. I hugged her back and we continued to hold each other fondly. In that moment, feeling Mary’s arms wrapped tightly around me, I looked around at all my classmates playing with the other kids and felt pure joy. The sun was shining, everyone was having fun, and in their faces, I could see the enormous amount of love that they felt. At that moment, my heart was full and I realized how immensely grateful I am for the opportunity to be here in South Africa with such warm-hearted people.

After we said our bittersweet goodbyes to the kids, a group of about 30 women, who were in training to become mentor mothers, came outside and sang for us. Seeing the joy in their faces as they performed increased the love in my heart even more. Not only are they great performers, but they are also changing the world. These mentor mothers save the lives of so many children in South Africa by checking on them and their mothers to make sure that they are well-nourished and developing correctly. These inspiring women are the reason why Philani is so successful and why the children that we met today were so joyful. I can confidently say that today was one of the best and most inspiring days of my life. I will never forget the beautiful smiles of those kids and the immense love I felt singing, dancing, and playing with them.

At Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Project