I can’t believe that I’m back in Port Elizabeth and nearing the end of my South African adventure. A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Cape Town, one of SA’s most iconic and historic cities. Since I now have a chance to write about it, here are a few highlights from the trip!
A coastal introduction. Cape Town has been a harbor and refuge for traders, travelers, and refugees alike for hundreds of years. While still fully functional as a home for travel and freight vessels, the Victoria and Albert Waterfront (named after the English queen and her son) is a playground for children and adults alike. Modern restaurants boasting flavors from all around the world are nestled among markets filled with traditional African wares and art. It’s not hard to stumble across a band playing in the street a truly rainbow blend of influences from around the world. Hopping on a sailboat our first evening gave us a warm welcome to this vibrant city.
A taste of the city. I have never felt more at home in Africa than when I was surrounded by the sights and smells of the V&A Food Market. Dozens of vendors with artisanal and gourmet foods from around the world set up shop here every day, and deciding which to put on your plate can be quite difficult. I sampled a smattering of foods from around the world, most notably the Kubu Kebab (ostrich, crocodile, warthog, and zebra) and ended up with a jar of local fynbos honey to take home with me! We Nashvillians love our food, and it seems that CapeTonians feel the same. A new point of view. Table Mountain and neighboring Lion’s Head are the backbone of Cape Town and have remained its silent guardians for thousands of years. Table Mountain, named so for its huge flat ridge is home to a variety of wildlife and a state-of-the art cable car service. It was a quick trip up, but unfortunately the entire mountain was blanketed in a stubborn cloud. Not to be discouraged, we made the quick-yet-challenging 45 minute hike up Lion’s Head for a truly breathtaking view. Sea, city, and mountain stretching out for as far as the eye could see. A picnic lunch at the top made it a perfect afternoon.
A lesson in liberty. No trip to Cape Town would be complete without a visit to Robben Island, home to many prisoners and exiles, most notably Nelson Mandela for eighteen out of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment during apartheid. Although I was prepared to face some uncomfortable facts about apartheid, I was still amazed at how much I didn’t know—for example, because I’m half Caribbean, I would have been classified as “colored” and denied rights such as the freedom of movement, labor rights, and expression. I also had no idea that our tour of the island would be led by a former prisoner of Robben Island—a man who was jailed for five years at just the age of eighteen. Hearing his story and more importantly the grace in which he addressed his struggles and his former captors was nothing short of inspiring. It was the hearts of men and women like these that were able to soften and break the chains of apartheid, and it’s those kinds of hearts we need to ensure that equality is the goal we continue to work to, personally and politically.
A little something different. Cape Town is filled with variety, so much of which I was able to experience in a short time. Walking through the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens let us experience a kingdom of flora unique to this part of the world (while still giving a home to some familiar plants like lavender and jasmine). At the World of Birds Sanctuary, we saw everything from eagles to emus with a few guest animals like tortoises and monkeys. In the Bo Kapp neighborhood, our walking tour led us past rows and rows of colorful houses that distinguish this traditionally Muslim area with an artistic flair. And brushing past colorful beaded jewelry and fabrics at Greenmarket Square could have kept my eyes busy for hours. I feel like I could have spent weeks in this city and not seen everything there was to it. There are always surprises around every corner, which is always welcome by me!
I am missing Cape Town already but am so happy to be back at Emzomncane teaching my favorite children and coaching with a fabulous new group of UTS volunteers. Stay posted for more updates over these last few weeks!
When Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, people wanted some way to commemorate his birthday. Many suggested grand parades or festivals. Mandela disagreed. The way he wanted to be remembered is by what he was remembered for—his years of service in fighting for freedom and justice. He humbly asked his fellow South Africans to honor him on this day by spending 67 minutes, commensurate with the years he spent serving South Africa, by helping another in need.
Since then, Mandela Day has been a day where people all over South Africa take a moment to pause and honor his legacy by serving their fellow man. As an American who has spent the past eight weeks learning about the complex and resilient forces that have shaped this country, I couldn’t think of a more beautiful way to honor such a fearless leader.
This past week I had the honor of celebrating Mandela Day at Missionvale Care Center, where I spent a week working. The center was founded in 1988 by Sister Ethel Normoyle, who started out teacher with children in the township and visiting homes door-to-door to provide basic healthcare. Since then, the center has grown into a haven for people from all over—a place where they are fed, clothed, healed, taught, and loved. Sister Ethel has been honored worldwide, including a visit from Queen Elizabeth, a Tipperary Peace Award (the same award had been presented to Nelson Mandela), and being awarded South Africa’s Citizen of the Year. When I met sister Ethel, I was immediately drawn to her energetic demeanor and kind eyes. For the past 27 years, her patient love and care has shaped the community around her for good.
During my week at Missionvale, I was able to dive head-first into the variety of programs that are offered to the people of Missionvale, free of charge. I helped make food care packages that are distributed to those around the township unable to come to the center themselves as well as serve bread and soup to hundreds of people who rely on it daily for sustenance. I assisted another volunteer in sorting through donations for the school library, and perfected my present wrapping skills in the Father Christmas workshop, where presents are made and wrapped year-round to be distributed to thousands of children at Christmas. I learned how to sew a tote bag in the Skills Development Unit, where women are able to learn sewing and sell those goods to make a living, and I even saw TOMS in action being distributed to children in need. I even got the chance to assist the medical staff in visiting homes in the township to check in on patients. It was a lot for one person in a week, but when I think of the dozens of staff who come here each day ready to serve with passion and energy, I’m truly humbled. One of my favorite volunteers was fairly bursting with joy at the opportunity to put together food packages for her “special friends” (community members with special needs who cannot care for themselves).
If I wanted to experience what love looks like in South Africa, I saw it here. And on Friday, when hundreds of volunteers came to give their 67 minutes, they got to see it too. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor—there were no distinctions here. There was just humanity—individuals working together for the common good, all to honor the legacy of a man who had the vision to see the South Africa like this, and the courage to make it reality.
I was asked to sing at the assembly following the day of service, which was an incredible honor. As I began to sing, people started to join me, and soon the whole room was filled with the clapping of hands and one resounding voice:
Lean on me, when you’re not strong,
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.
For it won’t be long, ’til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.
We all need each other in this world. It doesn’t matter if you’ve taken a trip across the ocean or are just calling a friend to see if they’re okay—we all have the power to positively impact the lives of others, to celebrate strength in humanity, to live and love as Mandela lived.
Happy Mandela Day. Don’t just give your 67 minutes—give your life.
I can’t believe that five weeks ago, these people were just strangers to me. During my time in South Africa, I’ve not only had the chance to fall in love with a new nation and people, I’ve also been able to make an impact with these incredible folks from all around the world. And they’ve been so kind as to let me in on a few reflections from their coaching experiences!
Why did you decide to volunteer with United Through Sport?
I decided to volunteer at UTS because I fully believe in their goals and wanted them to help reach them at 100%. By placing children in the townships in the center of the attention, United Through Sport is taking care of the future of South Africa. —Julian S.
I’ve always wanted to do sport-related volunteering, and United Through Sport really stood out to me. After seeing a video and some photos of the kids that UTS was working with, it sounded incredible and described everything I wanted to do as a volunteer. —Jess T.
This weekend was one for the books. When visiting Africa, it’s a must to get a chance to venture into the wild. While I’ve seen so much in both Port Elizabeth and the townships that has taken me out of my comfort zone, I really wanted to go on an excursion into the thousands of acres of untouched wilderness that make Africa so beautiful. Shamwari was all that and more.
It was an early start for us on Saturday morning, and the sun was just starting to rise as we entered the 25,000 hectare reserve. The mountains surrounding us were shrouded in fog and I had to take a moment to feel how small I was in the vastness. We met with our safari guide and hopped into the open-air Land Rover for a day of exploring.
There was no time wasted as we drove right over the terrain and into a herd of Cape Buffalo, the first of Africa’s Big Five. The Big Five are named so because they are the most dangerous animals to hunt. As one lumbered towards our truck, I could see why. The helmet of horns crowning this two-ton beast can ricochet bullets off of bone, and once they charge, they don’t stop. Fortunately, we just crossed paths and were off to see some more wildlife!
On our way to the Animal Rehabilitation Center, we saw dozens more animals—oreck, warthogs, springbok, and more. We stopped at mid-day at the Animal Rehabilitation Center which is managed by Shamwari and focuses on giving animals on the reserve that have been abandoned or injured a shot at recovery. I got to feed a nialla named Lilly and meet a zebra named Zeus!
We headed out again in search of the remainder of the Big Five. Our guide was able to track some elephants a few miles away, so we headed over to what was my favorite encounter of the day. The herd of elephants we encountered was a group of females and two adorable baby elephants! I could hardly breathe when one of the females walked LITERALLY a foot away from our truck, and I could have spent hours watching them eat with their long and surprisingly nimble trunks. They are definitely one of my favorite animals and seeing them up close was incredible.
Our next goal was to see the King of Africa and the Big Five: the lion. We past a few fresh prints on the wet mud and spent a few hours driving around some open plain. We ended up driving past the three lions we saw a few times, because they could hardly be spotted as they were taking a mid-day nap. After watching them for a while, the male got up and did the most cat-like stretch in the sun. Totally cuddle-worthy, but I decided against getting out of our truck and in with the lions.
Rhino, another member of the Big Five, are incredibly valuable and as a result have lost about half their population due to poaching. The conservationists at Shamwari make sure to take every precaution to prevent poachers from killing rhinos or permanently injuring them by improperly removing their horns. We were really lucky to see a mother rhino and her baby on our drive and I’m really hoping that people will realize that having that opportunity is priceless.
After stopping for lunch, we headed to the Big Cat Rehabilitation Center, where we saw our final member of the Big Five: leopard. Even though we didn’t see them in the wild, these three triplets were taken from Romania where they were used in circuses and had spent their entire life in a cage. Being able to roam free in their natural habitat is the mission of this place, and seeing all the big cats there was nothing short of amazing.
We headed back for dinner and enjoyed a great night at the volunteer quarters. I swear the stars have never looked more beautiful. After a good night’s rest we headed back to Port Elizabeth, ready to begin another week.
I could not have asked for a better safari experience! Seeing all of the Big Five in one day and experiencing Africa’s beautiful landscape was definitely something I’ll never forget.
This is our final week of teaching and coaching before school break. Next week we are hosting a holiday camp for all the different townships, and I may have some very special guests featured on my next blog...
A three-day weekend calls for adventuring, and what better place to do so than South Africa? Last weekend we headed an hour west to Jeffery’s Bay, home of the Billabong Surfing Championships. After a road trip and a few wrong turns, we made it to Island Vibes, our hostel and home for the next few days.
From the moment we talked to the smiling Charmain at the front desk, I knew I would love Island Vibes. The laid-back, surf bum feel was absolute heaven to me. I had never stayed in a hostel before, but it ended up being AMAZING! It was kind of like living in a big house, except your house-mates just happened to be incredible surfers from all around the world. As I leaned over the balcony watch the waves crashing on the shore and breathed in the salt-tinged air, I was filled with bliss (how’s that for Island Vibes?) Continue reading
When I was first thinking about what I wanted to bring to the communities of South Africa as a result of my Lumos Project, my mind was immediately drawn to the creative. To me, art is one of the best lenses in which to view the rest of the world. Art is both history book and atlas, teacher and storyteller. With it, we open doors to new and different worlds.
When I arrived at United Through Sport, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to pursue that goal. Obviously, UTS is sport-focused, which has taught me so many things, both about sports themselves and about the value of teaching sports as a way to communicate life skills and values. However, in my teaching role and work with the Junior School of Excellence, I was able to talk to the staff at UTS and plan an Art Day at the JSE of Isaac Boii. Continue reading
“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” —Marcel Proust
I came to Africa knowing that my perspective on many things—social change, world issues, and my part in this story—would inevitably shift when met with the reality of living here. The first part of a changed perspective is seeing things as they are, not as you imagined them to be. This week, I found myself encountering a few realities that have helped me to see life here with new eyes. I’ll share a few of those stories with you now. Continue reading
I tighten the straps of my backpack and take a deep breath. My eyes dart back and forth amid the sea of faces as the cacophony of a hundred different voices fill my ears. It’s all I can do to pay attention to where I am headed on this sunny day in September, my very first day of school. I am five years old and ready to begin the biggest adventure of my life.
Fifteen years later, I was again filled with the same familiar mix of emotions as I stepped onto the grounds of Ensomnawe Primary School last week. Riding the wave of nerves and energy, this time I stepped into the classroom, not as a student, but a teacher. Although I had tutored throughout my life, this was the first time that I had really been given the responsibility of helping someone to see the world differently, the same way that my teachers have done through grade school and college. Knowing that I had the power to shape someone’s life through my work at this school was both exhilarating and terrifying. Continue reading