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by Jennifer Ching, staff writer
A crowd of children playing, a landscape of harsh contrast, and a curious giraffe blocking the roadway. These were just a few of the encounters of 11 students (graduate and undergraduate) and three social work faculty members during a one-month study abroad trip to South Africa. From the end of May until late June, they balanced working with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with sightseeing and learning about the country.

“ The trip was amazing and very educational,” said Judith A. Crite, an MSW student originally from Michigan. “The country is rich with beauty and history. I learned so much about the history of South Africa and got to experience a very small piece of some of their ongoing struggles,” she added.
The trip was organized by Dr. Lorraine Marais, an associate professor of social work at HPU, who is originally from South Africa.

“ I wanted to expose students to a multicultural experience,” said Marais, “and help them not only develop more knowledge about other cultures, but give them necessary skills to work with cultures different from their own. That’s why I tried to create a variety of different experiences to expose them to different situations in South Africa.”

The group arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, and stayed for four days in Kruger National Park, “one of the largest game reserves in the world,” according to Marais.

“ Staying in Kruger Park was an exciting experience since I got to see those animals in their natural habitat,” said Samantha Soufrine, a senior majoring in applied sociology.

Marais chuckled as she described a huge giraffe walking in the middle of the road that kept stopping and staring at them, seemingly wondering what kind of animal the tour bus was.

While in Johannesburg, they also visited a shelter for homeless children and a home for children who were orphaned and had HIV/AIDS. For Duda Breseeg, a MSGL student from Sweden, visiting the home for children with AIDS was the highlight of the trip: “The children came up to us, curious at first but then wanting to be picked up and to play with us. I played soccer with one little boy while the other students were running around chasing or being chased by the kids.”

“ They were children as any other child I have seen,” Breseeg continued, “and it was hard to imagine what they go through each day. They take many different medicine(s) including different shots. A child should not go through such things at such a young age.”

Before leaving their respective homes, the students donated six homemade quilts they had sewn before the trip; the children then gave the students homemade paintings in exchange for the quilts, a small lesson in empowerment and giving, according to Marais.

“ Before we left, several people said [that] they don’t want to be only visitors,” said Marais. “They want to also make a contribution of some kind. So they started to collect donations, not necessarily organized effort, [but] where they could. Each of us could take two suitcases, so one was for our personal stuff and one was for donations. People collected a lot of stuff: clothing, art supplies, and so forth,” she explained.

After the week in Johannesburg, the group spent the rest of the time in Cape Town, “visiting and working with NGOs and human service organizations,” said Marais, “depending on what the students’ interest was. It was a variety of different agencies that we worked [at].” Some students were even able to fulfill some of their practicum hours during the trip.

On the weekend they went sightseeing in Cape Town visiting historical locations, including Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was formerly imprisoned.

“ I did not really understand what apartheid had done with the country,” explained Breseeg. “The apartheid system had undermined and discriminated [against] all nonwhite people, people who fought against this disappeared or ended up in prison. Nelson Mandela was one of them; he…spent 27 years of his life in prison. When Mandela was released, instead of being angry, he simply forgave the oppressors and unified the country with his peaceful philosophy.

“ We saw a country that still was broken and [trying] to fix itself. South Africa has achieved a lot since it became a democracy in 1994,” he added.

“ We learned a great deal, but I know there’s still more to learn,” said Aya Sato, a senior majoring in social work. “In South Africa, I was immersed in diversity. In Cape Town, one minute we were driving by an ocean of whales or penguins, then the next minute we are on top of the mountains, driving through thick fog and cold air. Economically, it was also diverse, as we saw the imbalance between the rich and the poor.”

Dr. Mary Sheridan, program chair of HPU’s social work program, agreed, describing the contrast between “a huge shopping mall in the suburbs of Cape Town with many brands you can find in the U.S.,” and then “people living in shacks [made] of metal and tarps.” She continued, saying that, on one hand, it felt overwhelming, “but as you interact with individuals, you find that you can do things that make a difference in someone’s life.”

She added that the trip will “be something that all of us will remember all our lives.”
If given the opportunity to go on a trip like this one, Crite says that it “is an opportunity you will not want to pass up. You have a real opportunity to give of yourself and your knowledge and time. You will see and be a part of community development and social change. You will be forever changed by the experience.”

 

Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.

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