Some of my greatest memories come from the three weeks that I spent in South Africa. I was offered this wonderful opportunity my freshman year in high school. There were about 20 kids, freshmen to juniors, who were chosen to go during the first weeks of summer. The trip took a great deal of planning and fundraising before we even left for South Africa. We had a shoe and clothing drive, book drive, numerous bake sales and car washes, auctions, and many other fundraisers to raise money.
We planned on focusing on two different causes. First, we were going to visit a secondary school called Saint Brendan’s School. After a week and a half there, spent tutoring and doing manual labor, we decided to go to Kliptown, a township of Soweto. There, we would stay at a nearby hotel, and help around the town and in a youth center. Finally, we also planned on doing a safari for a day between travelling from St. Brandan’s to Kliptown, and spending a couple of days in Johannesburg before we left.
Finally arriving at Saint Brendan’s after so much planning and traveling was an amazing feeling. The first morning, there was an assembly, where the roughly 600 students welcomed us. Over the next week and a half, we spent time tutoring the kids (classes are taught in English there, so it was easy to communicate), re-painting a wall, doing yard work, organizing the library, and many other tasks. We all built strong bonds with the students there, and many of us kept in contact with kids long after we left. This was an uplifting experience, and even though there has to be a lot of progress in the area surrounding the school, I left St. Brendan’s with hope. It was so much easier to handle than what I was about to see in Kliptown.
I had seen pictures like these before I got to South Africa. The teachers had warned us that it wasn’t going to be like anything we had seen before. They were right. The tin houses in these pictures (although coming from memories when I was 14) seemed to go on forever. While in Kliptown, we spent some time around the area, and even got to see a community theater performance, but we spent most of the time in the youth center. We donated almost all of the money we had raised to this place, and gave the shoes out while we were there. We also saw some of the worst living conditions in the world.
After Kliptown, the two highlights of the trip were a tour through Nelson Mandela’s house, and Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned.
When looking for a South African think tank, I was able to find the South African Institute of Internal Affairs. I was drawn to this one because it won the award for best think tank in Sub-Saharan Africa from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. This removed any questions of legitimacy that I might have. When browsing their website, I noticed that they tried to work on a bunch of different causes. I think that the positives of helping many causes outweighs the negative of not having a focused approach. I encourage you to take a look at their research tab, and especially this article.