The African phrase Ubuntu in its essence means “I am because you are,” or stated another way “I am a human being through you.” It is a statement of interdependence and interconnectedness. It also calls us into of our highest human attributes such as sharing, empathy, respect and compassion.
Journey to Africa
By Ward Mailliard, Project Leader
“At Philani Child Health Project I was given the gift of touring the township of Khayelitsha and being exposed to poverty I had only witnessed as numbers and statistics, and my heart never felt heavier. I remember standing in the home of a family slowly dying of AIDS – but looking into their faces I saw hope, a hope in the form of an intense, enduring strength and will to persevere. I found myself turning away from their eyes in an effort to hide the feeling of helplessness and sorrow I felt for them. I wondered why I couldn’t locate that feeling of hope they had for themselves in myself. Has my society taught me that hope is unrealistic? Is my natural reaction to doubt the good and only see the bad? It was then that I realized that these people were the ones I wanted to define me. These were the kind of people who believed in compassion and a hope for the future. If the world would learn to see like this, our visions of our lives and ourselves would no longer be blurred by selfish desires and needs, but rather a belief in the strength of the community to help us succeed.”
The above was written by 11th grader Anneka Lettunich after returning from our recent journey to South Africa to interview Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Read more…
a place where wealth is measured in terms of how many people you hold dear.
a place where people WANT to hear your problems, because when you are down it creates a rift in the group.
a place where isolation is not accepted and resistance to becoming one of the group is futile.
a group of people who think as a unit, not as a set of individuals.
the object of the Mount Madonna School Ubuntu Project.
There is a philosophy in African culture called Ubuntu which focuses on people’s interconnectedness and human relations with one another. Part of Ubuntu is the sense of community as outlined above. One of the goals of the Values in World Thought Program at Mount Madonna School is learning through experience and this year we hope to gain an experiential perspective on community in relation to the philosophy of Ubuntu. As part of this quest, we plan to travel to South Africa this April to interview Archbishop Desmond Tutu about his life, his idea of community and his thoughts on the values of Ubuntu.
To help us prepare for our journey we have been engaging with several wise mentors. We spoke with author and indigenous wisdom carrier, Sobonfu Some, who embodies a most beautiful definition of what community means from growing up as part of the Dagara tribe in her native Burkina Faso. She inspired us to continue searching for the meaning of community. We also spoke with Margaret Wheatley who is currently doing a lot of work in Africa to strengthen the role of women, and we talked with Peter Block who has recently written a book called “Community, The structure of Belonging.” All have given us gifts for our journey.
With these gifts we are moving forward in our preparation phase of the process. The class has split into four groups, each with a different research focus such as Desmond Tutu, The Apartheid Movement, Culture, and History. As we learn more about the area we will be visiting, our excitement grows. We have begun working with some Non-Violent Communication (NVC) exercises to bond as a group and learn to express ourselves positively so that we will be able to manage when the inevitable challenges of the trip arise.
I am really excited about our project, however I am overwhelmed by how much we have to do in the short amount of time we have left. The class is generally very productive, which helps, and everyone seems to be really pumped about the trip. The group dynamics are very positive and each person is contributing to the group. Mari is spearheading the fundraising aspect of the trip, and having immense success. Her note follows.
The Philani Child’s Health and Nutrition Project in South Africa is an organization that tends to the needs of those who truly need it the most. Mothers and Children with no means of support or medical care are taken in by Philani. Beyond medical care, Philani offers: education and training to women, income generating projects, preschools, an outreach and home-based nutrition program, a mothers-to-be program, an orphans and vulnerable children program, a dental program and a care and support program for HIV positive mothers and children. As soon as we heard about Philani, our class of 20 juniors and seniors decided that this organization would be our main focus. We set a goal to have raised at least $1000 and to collect at least 100 baby outfits by the time of our departure in April. In our current stage of preparation, we have almost reached both of these goals. To raise money, we have asked for donations, as well as through the generosity of Jenny Turner, mother of 11th grader Haley Turner, put on a charity haircut day and raised over $600! Upcoming in March, our class will be selling T-shirts and Tote bags with designs by Leah Nascimento at the Cabrillo Farmers Market on March 14th and 21st. We have received so much help from both our families and the community in getting this project off the ground and in the collection money and clothes. As the trip is getting nearer, now only a month away, our gratitude and excitement is growing, and we feel so blessed to be able to participate in an opportunity as great as this.
“The Philani Child Health & Nutrition Project has changed the lives of thousands of women and children in disadvantaged communities on the outskirts of Cape Town. Many of whom are the poorest of the poor – children suffering from malnutrition, mothers who are struggling to find any food at all to feed their families. Philani has provided life and hope with great commitment and loyalty since 1979. I am proud to be Philani’s Patron.”
A few Saturdays ago, six of the juniors and seniors got together at the Cabrillo Farmer’s Market in Aptos to sell shirts and tote bags to support Philani Child Health and Nutrition Project. The shirts, which we designed ourselves, had “Ubuntu” (the name for our Africa project which roughly means “I am who I am because of who you are”) on the front, while the back showed an unfilled image of the earth with Africa showing. When we first got there no one stopped by. People would kind of pause and look at us, and then keep walking. We began to get very discouraged, but then little by little our piles of shirts began to shrink!
We are told that we can do anything if we put our minds to it. Well, we put our minds to it, were involved in every step of the process, and we sold enough shirts and bags to raise nearly $500. It was so rewarding and empowering to see our hard work really pay off.
When we walked out of customs and into the crowd of parents I was immediately flooded with questions; “How was the trip? Was it life changing? What was your favorite part?”
In that moment it was impossible for me to fully answer those questions. Now that some time has passed I can try to explain what I encountered in South Africa and how it has affected me.
I have always been one to hold down my emotions. I keep my feelings inside so that no one can judge or hurt me. This has seemed especially necessary because of what Sadanand calls my “Gift of vulnerability.” In South Africa there were many times when I tried to keep my feelings in and failed horribly. The best example of this was when we went to Philani.
Near the end of the day at Philani our group was looking around the store when we heard some women start to sing. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. We followed them into the main room as if in a trance. They sang with such confidence and strength. I’ve never heard anything like it.
The people in the room were standing in groups, South Africans on one side singing their hearts out and the Americans on the other side watching in awe. Then, out of nowhere, the singing women crossed the room and mixed into our group. The beautiful sound was coming from every direction. It was too much for me to handle. I could hear the struggle in their voices. How hard they had fought for their place in the world. I felt so overwhelmed that I became teary-eyed. I noticed that many others had the same reaction. Tears were rolling down our cheeks as we listened to them, not wanting the sound to end. Those women and their songs had the biggest impact on me of the entire trip. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.
Greet, talk, share stories, home, food, and sleep. This is my usual coming home routine after a long trip. I guess you could say that traveling to South Africa was not a usual trip. I know this because my old routine was totally thrown off as soon as I landed in San Francisco. It went more like: Greet, talk, share stories, questions, guilt, confusion, reality check, and a tremendous drive that I have never felt before. The feeling of being home was nice, but the only thing I could concentrate on was how empty I felt. Since I couldn’t find comfort in my own home I went outside to feel closer to nature; To take big breathes and I think about the question, “What’s next?”
Everyday in Africa I experienced exciting new concepts and ideas. It was not really the environment or how the country looked that interested me, but rather how people in South Africa lived in their environment. Going to Cape Town and seeing Table Mountain and the many expensive homes was amazing but driving ten minutes away and seeing the townships was what really captured my attention. Why were people waving to this monstrous bus filled with noisy Americans? If I was living in the township I wouldn’t want tourists disturbing my home and taking paparazzi style pictures. I don’t know why they were so nice to us. Maybe it was because we noticed them or because we were curious and friendly.
When I got the chance to go into people’s homes in the township I couldn’t comprehend how their living conditions were considered acceptable. Malnourished babies, mothers and babies with diseases that kill, one bed, one counter, no bathroom, flies everywhere, unknown bugs everywhere, no food, and no water. Experiencing the township made me feel antsy and uncomfortable. The houses were made out of garbage scraps. At first I did not understand how these shacks could be homes. Once I entered the houses and experienced how welcoming the people were to me, I realized my definition of “home” altered. It was no longer the big item called a house, but the homey interaction between people. When you smile at someone and they smile back, I think you are home. When people treat you like family and accept you, you are home. I am still working on my definition of home but I believe it can be explained much better through feelings than in written words.
What was the highlight of my trip? Honestly the whole experience. If I were to focus on one thing it would be the people I met. At MyLife, I spoke to a man who introduced himself by telling us his name and explaining that he was an ex-gangster who had spent 16 years of his life in jail. I immediately felt uncomfortable. I was definitely not home. He talked for a long time about his hard life and all of the horrendous things that had happened to him. He got shot in the head, stabbed in jail, was raped in jail, shot his brother twice in both legs, killed people, and lost his family and friends. I didn’t know how to react to what I was hearing. I felt nauseous and uneasy. But then my feeling shifted. After sharing stories and cracking jokes with each other, I began to feel more at home. I thought how extraordinary it is when you just listen to one another. I would have never imagined myself making friends with a man who looked so tough and hard and was called a gangster. I wish he had introduced himself differently in the beginning because being an ex-gangster wasn’t who he was. I really wouldn’t put a title on him at all. Desmond Tutu said, “People are fundamentally good.” I felt the good in my new friend because he had passion, respect, and dreams. I realized that everyone shares the same fundamental needs in life: To be loved, and to love. In order to do this we need each other. People are people through loving other people.
Where is the love? Where is the community? If I am who I am because of others, who am I allowing to define me?
I went to Africa searching for answers, but instead came back with questions. Questions it could take a lifetime to find answers to. New thoughts, ideas, and people who have made me question my society, my relationships, and even my own mind.
Before embarking on this trip, I naively thought I knew what “ubuntu” was. I thought I could define a sense of self that thrives off the community and the well-being of others. Looking back at myself then, I realize that I could not have possibly comprehended “ubuntu” simply because I had never been exposed to a community of hope like the one that shapes South Africa. I still cannot quite put into words my exact definition of “ubuntu”, but I can vividly remember and recall the things I experienced that helped me develop my comprehension of the word.
The first exceptional and memorable experience I had took place at Philani. I was given the gift of touring the township and finally being exposed to the poverty I had only witnessed through numbers and statistics. My heart literally never felt heavier. I remember standing in the home of a family slowly dying of AIDS, yet looking into their faces I saw hope. A hope in the form of an intense, endearing strength and will to persevere; and I found myself turning away from their eyes in an effort to hide the feeling of helplessness and sorrow I felt for them, and I wondered why I couldn’t locate that feeling of hope, they had for themselves, in myself. Has my society taught me that hope is unrealistic? Is my natural reaction to doubt the good and only see the bad?
It was then that I realized that these people were the ones I wanted to define me. These were the kind of people who believe in compassion and a selfless hope for the future and for the current community. If the world would learn to see like this, our visions of our lives and ourselves would no longer be blurred by selfish desires and needs, but rather a belief in the strength of the community to help us succeed. Community is ubuntu. Hope is ubuntu.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” –Oscar Wilde
The most important thing I learned through my experience in South Africa is what I want to do with my life. The most valuable time spent, in my opinion, was with the people we met there. Through these experiences I’ve discovered that I want to help people around the world who are most in need.
When I saw the kids at Cotlands all of the tension and stress I felt melted away. They were so happy to see and play with us, it felt unreal. It was heartbreaking to know that most of the children were either infected or affected by HIV. The service that Cotlands provides is remarkable and I want nothing more than to be part of such an incredible organization. I also got to witness the power of people helping other people at Philani. It was remarkable how much Fiona Burtt and the founders of Philani have done for the mothers and children in Kayalitcha.
Going to the Fezeka School in Guguletu was another eye-opener. It was amazing to hang out with the students, but like their teacher said, just meeting them is not enough; in order to truly make a difference in their lives, we need to stay in communication and develop a genuine relationship. I made a friend named Mpho at Fezeka, and we found that we were a lot alike. We were both pretty quiet at first, but once we started talking, we couldn’t stop joking around and laughing. When the time came to leave, I’m pretty sure we both teared up a bit. The experience made me realize that there are people all around the world that I haven’t met that I can learn from. Now that I’m home, I’m aware of how sheltered my life is and how I rarely meet anyone new. I have this new found longing to move to a foreign country and give what I can to people like Mpho.
I learned from every person I met in South Africa, but the point at which I decided that I HAD to do something to help was when we met Linzi Thomas at MyLife. Watching the video she showed us was shocking. Seeing what the homeless children of Cape Town have to go through everyday brought me to tears, and I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I understood how powerful Linzi is when she spoke to us about MyLife. I felt like she was looking straight into my soul and yelling at me. Then I realized that she was angry; angry at the government and the rest of the world for not caring enough.
I’m pretty sure I got infected by that anger because all I’ve been thinking about since is how I want to help people like Linzi Thomas work to improve peoples’ lives.
I have a hard time putting my journeys, experiences and emotions into words, and an even harder time putting them into writing. I’ll spill my heart out onto paper and then re-read my work and find that my writing doesn’t do justice to the feelings I had.
One true statement I can make without hesitation is, I have changed and I’m glad. How I have changed is a more complicated matter, but here is my best explanation.
Walking into the small crumbling building which housed the Mylife foundation I had no idea what to expect. I suppose I should have been nervous, but I really didn’t know I had anything to be nervous about. After polite introductions and some brief chitchat Linzi Thomas, the founder of Mylife, played a brief commercial about the organization. No movie, commercial or documentary has ever brought me to tears so quickly. Watching a young girl about to be raped and seeing the violence and hurt that happens every day on the streets of Cape Town showed me a perspective I had never seen before. I felt crushed for children who fight so hard every day of their lives, while I fight hard to win a volleyball match. The most incredible thing about this experience, the part of it where I could truly see myself changing, was witnessing the hope and will these teenagers had.
These kids made it through situations that I have a hard time believing are possible. One boy, a few years older than me, pulled up his shirt to show his stab wounds. One girl told us about how she held her boyfriend in her lap while he died. What they all had in common was that they didn’t give up. They knew they could change their lives for the better. Linzi gave them that chance and they took it, knowing how hard it would be.
The change that has taken place in me is that I now have so much appreciation for those kids. If they can change their lives after being raped, imagine what I can do with everything I’ve been given.
Since I have been back the main questions I have been hearing are either “What was your favorite part?” or “What meant the most to you?” The truth is I can’t pick just one part. Our trip was about finding the meaning of Ubuntu. So, the whole trip meant a lot to me. I discovered that the people we met in South Africa weren’t the only people that could teach me about Ubuntu. The kids in my class taught me a lot as well.
We met some truly incredible people in South Africa. We met young two year olds who already seemed to know more about love than we did. We met young adults who, at our age, were taking care of full families. We met teenagers who had seen horrors you would only expect to see in movies or TV shows. They taught me that to be a good human all you need is to be good to other humans. When we met Desmund Tutu he confirmed that saying, “If you want to be nice to yourself, start being nice to others.” It was clear that this is what he thought Ubuntu was.
I also learned that sometimes it is your peers who are your best teachers. Throughout the whole trip my class was caring and compassionate toward each other. They taught me that humor can be the remedy in any situation. They taught me that to truly care about someone is to be there when someone is down. They taught me that to truly care about someone is to protect them when you think they’re in trouble.
Most importantly, from small children, teenagers, an archbishop, and the kids in my class, I was taught that we all start out with Ubuntu and it is the choices in our lives that determine whether we get to keep it or not. What I experienced and witnessed on the trip proved to me that every person I traveled with and every person I grew to know in South Africa has Ubuntu.
About three weeks ago 22 of us left our small school in our small town to go to a much bigger place, South Africa. Once there, it was our intention to interview the renowned Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Before we left, I had no clue what to think about the whole experience, and being optimistic, I believed that we were about to make a huge impact on the world and on our community. We received so much support from our friends and family. Their excitement truly made me think that we would come home from South Africa transformed and in a new state of enlightenment. Sadanand classified our trip as a “Hero’s Journey” and that is exactly what I expected it to be. I was so unbelievably grateful for the opportunity and was ready to take full advantage of every moment.
When we got there it was a different story. Never before had I seen such poverty and hopelessness, and at the same time so much wealth. It was confusing; on one side of the highway people were living in small mansions, and on the other side they were in barely standing cardboard shacks. I immediately felt a pang of sadness seeing that there were so many people in need of help. I imagined how depressed everyone inside these townships must be, living with nothing and being forced to watch as other people lived with so much. However, depression was not what I saw when I walked into the township of Kayalitcha. People walked up to me, took my hand and told me that I was welcomed in their home. Never before had I felt so accepted and happy to be somewhere. There was so much life in the township. I would never have guessed this if I only focused on their living conditions. Seeing these people’s lives made me appreciate all that I have. When I got home I felt out of place and guilty that I have so much good.
Throughout our entire journey we were continuously tested by heartbreaking stories and the harsh reality of the “real world” that none of us knew about before South Africa. The hardships of the people we met were endless and many were terrifying. The scariest thing that I have to deal with at home is the dark. We talked to people who had been raped, shot, seen their mothers or siblings killed, and in some cases people who had shot people. How can one stay whole after experiencing something like that? How can you stay positive and believe that your life will get better, when there is really so much to feel hopeless about and to fear? I had a realization after talking to some of the youth in South Africa. I realized that as an American I fear so much when I don’t really have a true reason to be fearful. While South Africans have so much to be fearful about but instead remain hopeful. Being with these people made my experiences seem insignificant. I felt ashamed that I complain so much and never truly appreciate what is done for me. I have always felt entitled to everything I get and angry when things don’t go my way. How could I have become so selfish and self absorbed while some people in the world have nothing? It is not fair.
What I saw on the trip changed me internally for the rest of my life, but not in the way that the community back home expected me to change. They expected our class to be completely transformed, unable to re-connect to our world, and though it did change us, we are still us, we just have a broader understanding of the world and we have seen what suffering looks like. What I have experienced has reshaped my reality and my understanding of how the world works. It made me realize that I have no idea how to fix the world’s problems, but I know now that I will sure as hell do all I can to make a difference. It would be impossible to see all that I have seen and not try to do anything about it. I think that the main thing that all of us can do is to bring awareness to the issues South Africa faces because we have seen them and we know how these conditions affect people’s lives. Our names are not tomorrow they are today, and our class will find a way to help the people that touched our lives.
I’ve been back in the United States for nearly one week and I am still in a state of culture shock. The emotional disconnect and lack of meaningful relationships in our society deeply hurts me to the point where I wake up in the morning disappointed to find myself in my own bed. I didn’t want to come back home, which shocks me because I’ve never felt that before. I have had such an uplifting experience in South Africa. I’ve learned the values of sacrifice, strength, determination, and hope through people who breathe these qualities. I have fallen in love with the culture, the people, the community, the traditions, the environment, and their emphasis on the value of relationships and connections to one another. South Africa is that exact opposite of the United States; we are wealthy in material, artificial happiness while they are rich in culture and connections. It is a tragedy that we unknowingly care more about the possession of things more than the importance and dignity of human life. I feel like the culture here in the United States doesn’t exist and we, both individually and collectively lack meaning. For some reason, we are taught to value privacy, which gives you an excuse to disconnect and stray from the people around you. I was a victim of this conspiracy; I left for South Africa a little disappointed that I wouldn’t have any privacy or time where I could be by myself. I found that this was the “luxury” that I missed the least. Once I was surrounded by loving, caring communities, I wanted nothing more than to remain there. Connection is contagious. If everyone was given the opportunity to travel to South Africa and be exposed to people who believe in and practice a strong sense of community, then concepts like ‘privacy’ would no longer be missed or even exist.
It feels as though I left home when in reality I came home. I find myself quite disconnected from life here in California; I am having a difficult time relating to the culture and environment that I’ve grown up in. My values have drastically changed and I’m not sure how I should go about handling that. But I am trying. It has been challenging to try and explain what exactly I’ve experienced back in South Africa; I lack the words but not the motivation. How do I even begin to express my new found passion and love for the relationships I’ve witnessed and become so envious of? How can we pick back up their lives here without forgetting what we’ve seen and grown to love in South Africa? I am terrified that I will slip back into my routine and role in our artificial society. But I am also positive that I will return to South Africa. That place, those people; they are forgotten and abandoned yet they are still the strongest and most selfless people that I’ve ever encountered. Being given this amazing opportunity to witness and experience the culture in South Africa has been the best, most fortunate event to ever happen to me. I have a stronger sense of who I am and what I value. I want to invest in other people. This has always been a passion of mine but communicating with the people of South Africa has fanned the fire. I will not let that fire die.
When we arrived at the MylifE Foundation I was intimidated. I saw 20 rough and worn looking individuals, ranging in age from 8 to 30. Most were visibly scarred.
“We are not okay.” This was one of the first bits of information that Linzi Thomas, the founder of MylifE, shared with us. Linzi is a fireball. She radiates strength, compassion, humor, and perseverance. She had a cruel and intense childhood and as a result she understands what it is like to feel hopeless. Her goal is to create a better situation for as many abandoned children as possible and to help them become hopeful again.
Linzi showed us 3 short film clips about the daily life of street children in South Africa. Linzi is an amazing filmmaker/producer. This was beautifully and devastatingly demonstrated in the harsh movie clips we watched. After we watched the clips Linzi spoke to us about the traumatizing realities of these children. I was in shock. These kids have faced unbearable, unacceptable, life shattering experiences. Their stories of rape, abandonment, drugs, and street life overwhelmed me to the point where I mentally shut down. They had absolutely everything taken away from them, yet they made the choice to keep going and to try to change their lives.
I spoke to two boys who told me that they were abandoned and left to care for their younger siblings. They had to deal with violence, abuse, and drugs. They felt disregarded and thrown away by everyone around them. Their strong will, determination and hope led them to MylifE where Linzi gave them opportunities to better their lives.
We met many strong, amazing and talented individuals at MylifE. One young girl had made international news because of her incredible voice. Another young man, Wiseman, is a successful movie electrician. It was astonishing to see how these young men and women had turned their lives around. They all seemed hopeful, happy and determined. I am sure that I will be back here to support these beautiful people. I will help. MylifE Foundation is integral to this country’s healthy future. -Leah Nascimento
MylifE and Mount Madonna Students
Today was amazing. It is hard to put my thoughts and feelings into words. The people at MylifE are street children varying in age from 8 to 30. Hearing about their hardships was heartbreaking.
They all had so much talent. One of the girls was even nationally renowned for her singing. Some wrote, some created beautiful art, and a couple are some of South Africa’s the best soccer players.
It was extremely difficult to watch the videos of the children. Listening to their stories made us all emotional. One of them began to cry as he told us about his life. Talking to these individuals changed my view of the world and existence.
Just after leaving MylifE we went to a mall. The contrast was obvious. I am happy that I have my family and friends to care for me. At the same time, I feel sad for all of the people who don’t have families.
I know that the people from MylifE will be part of me forever and I will be part of them. We will keep in touch, knowing that all of our lives have been changed through our meeting each other. -Amar Nijor
MylifE was a satisfying end to the trip. It really drove home how problematic poverty and gangsterism is in South Africa. It was shocking to hear what these young men and women were driven to do because of poverty and lack of parental support. One of the men we talked to named Knowledge attributed his life of gangsterism to not having guidance. He eventually found himself alone and turned to the people who promised him brotherhood; the gangs. We also talked to Manie who said he turned to gangsterism because the gangsters he knew had nice clothes and fancy cars. Knowledge said that he felt that the gangsters in South Africa were good people who turned to gangs out of desperation. For many homeless children joining a gang is the only way to survive on the streets. -Jack Massion
I have two extraordinary parents. They are loving, caring, and beautiful people. I have a little brother who, while sometimes infuriating, is a wonderful boy. I know I will eat when I am hungry and have warm clothes when I am cold. The young adults at My life are mostly orphans. Most do not know where their next meal will come from. They do not have homes, or beds to sleep in. Many are sick with HIV/AIDS. And many are trying to care for their younger siblings. I knew that I had a privileged life but seeing and hearing about the struggles of these children has been life changing.
The people we have met have been happy and open to learn and love. They have taught us so much. They embody our definition of ubuntu. Our understanding of the meaning of ubuntu has changed on this trip. We came to South Africa with the idea that ubuntu meant, people are people through other people. Everyone we have met on this journey has helped us to expand our definition. Now we know that to tell someone they have ubuntu is the highest form of praise. Ubuntu is what it means to be human. The love, generosity, caring and help we give others, is ubuntu. The MylifE participants, who welcomed us with open arms and a smile, have ubuntu. -Mara Getz
Today was an amazing day. Today was the day we have been waiting for since October: our interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
We started off our day bright and early with a 7:15 AM church service. It was interesting to see Archbishop Tutu in action. There was a small group of people, besides us, and the Archbishop made us feel welcomed. Midway through the service everyone, our group included, took part in a traditional greeting and peace offering. We walked around the room, shaking hands and saying, “Peace be with you.”
After the service we returned to our hotel, had a delicious breakfast and did some final interview preparation. Then, we headed off in our bus for the event that we have all been eagerly awaiting.
When Archbishop Tutu arrived we gathered around him in a small office. He was full of energy and had a bubbly attitude. With each question we asked, we gained more and more insight into this influential and powerful man. It was clear how strong his faith is in the goodness of people and in God. Archbishop Tutu kept the interview lively with his clever jokes and funny movements and sounds. When the interview was done we sang South Africa’s national anthem for him. He was truly impressed and happy that we took the time to learn a song from his culture.
Coming out of the interview I felt good about all of the things we have done on this trip; the people we have met and the people we have helped. Also I felt relieved that the interview went smoothly and I was thankful for the great advice we received. This trip has been worth all of the hard work that went into preparing for it. We have one more full day here. I can’t wait to see what is in store. -Trevor Forry
Today was the first time that the junior class had a formal interview. We have been preparing for the last three days. SN told us from the beginning that the interview would only be a sure thing when we were in the room with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When we arrived at his office he was not there. We waited outside for a few minutes and then to our great joy we saw him walking up the stairs toward us.
As soon as I saw him my nervousness went away. He was easy to talk to because he was cheerful and playful. Of course, I immediately became nervous again when we all sat down in the room. My favorite part of the interview was when we asked the Archbishop for some words of advice. He said that we are the future and therefore need to dream big and go after what we believe in. -Brittany Lovato
Students interviewing Archbishop Desmond
Our interview with Archbishop Tutu went by in a whirl. I asked him, “How did you develop such a deep faith in humankind and have you ever doubted it?”
He began his answer with a story about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. When he was done he explained that he has such faith in humankind because humans, by their very nature, are good. If they were not they would not be bothered by the suffering of others. At the end of his answer he looked over at me, touched my arm, smiled, winked and giggled. I could not believe that Archbishop Tutu gave me a special touch and look to make sure that he had answered my question completely. I was so moved. Words cannot begin to express how great I was feeling. What an experience. What a trip. What an interview. -Mara Getz
After our interview with Desmond Tutu we drove to Fezeka, a school in Gutuli. We were greeted with warmth and compassion as we walked through the school. Upon entering the classroom we met a high school English teacher, a Canadian who has been volunteering at Fezeka for the last two years.
When the students entered the classroom we were divided into small groups. While in groups we discovered the similarities between our cultures and dreams. Through these discussions we found a common interest in singing. Our class decided to sing the South African national anthem, a song we had learned on our many long bus rides. The students found so much joy in our singing that their faces filled with happiness. Afterwards, the students sang a traditional tribal song. Their passion and love for music was apparent and inspiring. While they sang, certain students entered the circle and began to dance. Their enthusiasm and intensity was so inspiring that we decided to join them in the center of the circle. When the singing and dancing concluded we said our farewells and exchanged contact information.
Leah Nascimento dances with a Fezeka student
What I experienced at Fezeka reminded me how simple happiness can be. The willingness of the students to open up and share with us created a joyous and festive environment. -Max Connor
UBUNTU – people are people because of other people
One of the social workers from Philani looked confused and pointed at my t-shirt. She asked where we heard the word “ubuntu” and why it was on our shirts. We told her that we found the word in one of Desmond Tutu’s books and thought it was an accurate representation of our project in South Africa. We told her that the definition we have been working with is “people are people because of other people.” She agreed with our definition and seemed impressed with our knowledge of the term.
We wanted to make connections and relationships here, with the environment, with each other, and with the people we meet, in order to better know ourselves. Ubuntu is exactly what I found today at Philani in Khayelitsha. I volunteered in the educare center and found that the teacher and cooks there truly cared about the children. In turn, the children were very appreciative and well behaved, as though they had a sense of what these people were doing for them. Without these women, the children at Philani would not have clothes on their backs or food in their bellies. To me, that is the true meaning of ubuntu.
Philani: To get well
I feel heavy with the brutal truth about the living conditions in Khayelitsha. Yet, I also have been uplifted and enlightened by the generous people working at Philani. The women involved with this world-changing organization are so unbelievably strong, determined and beautiful. Each one cares for at least 40 malnourished children and 20 pregnant mothers.
Anneka and I went on some home visits with a woman named Tombi this afternoon. Tombi is the outreach worker for a section of Khayelitsha. She visits homes and checks in on women and children that need her help. As we walked through the narrow paths between the shacks made of corrugated metal I lost the ability to speak. I walked in silence, taking in everything around me, while trying to hold back tears. We went to several homes. Each family had a heartbreaking story. Tombi translated the story of a man and his wife, both my age, who are HIV positive. While their 3 month old daughter is not HIV positive, she has many health problems. She is recovering from a heart attack and suffering from malnutrition and pneumonia. The father has been out of work because his eye is infected and he can’t afford to treat it. I looked around the one room shack, and chocked back my emotions as he explained how his family gets sick every year when the winter rain floods his home. When we left this family, part of my heart stayed behind with them.
Eating with the Kids
There were many incredible moments today, but the highlight was when a group of women at Philani sang to us in their native language. Their voices lifted our spirits and brought us to a state of ecstasy. They drew us into the middle of the floor and there we danced and sang and laughed. I’ve never felt that genuinely happy. I could have cried. I wish that I could surround myself with such beautiful and real people everyday. These women are my heroes. They create their own power and use it to benefit others (ubuntu.) These are the souls that make a difference and slowly change the world for the better. -Leah Nascimento
It hadn’t hit me until today how impoverished the townships are. In the U.S. people tend to only take care of their kids and feed themselves. In the townships people have to look out for each other. In South Africa one in four people is malnourished and a majority is living off of government grants.
When I first got to the Philani Health and Nutrition Project I was excited to see the beaming faces of the children there. Then I thought about how serious these children’s situations are. Each child at Philani is either orphaned or living in absolute poverty. The second most shocking thing to see was how small they were. Having worked at a kid’s camp for 5-6 year olds, I was surprised to see how small the children were at the Philani Educare Center. Although it was sad to see the horrors that these kids live with, it was uplifting to know that Philani is there to help. I know that as long as I live I will never forget how a wave and a thumbs up from one of us lit up the faces of the children we were playing with.
SN, Chris, Cliff, and I had the opportunity to repaint the bathroom of a Philani Child Nutrition Project. It was one of the handful of skills we exercised today. We also engaged with the children and their guardians, sand with them, worked together with them and much more.
At Philani they really emphasize helping now and not just when you get the chance. So on that note, the coordinators put us in work groups and sent us on our way. Some helped with the children, others walked in the townships to see how they live and the rest of us worked.
The one thing all of us did together was learn. We learned how others live, how those less fortunate survive, and we also learned the importance of lending a hand when possible.
It was honestly one of the most rewarding feelings to walk into that bathroom with a mission and come out on top (covered in paint).
Now I understand when everyone says this is a learning journey. We all learned a new skill today and I feel because of that our journey to Philani was quite successful. We also had so many clothes that they ran out of boxes, which was quite rewarding. Overall, today was a day of learning and reward. It was some of the best fun I have had on the trip and I can’t think of the last time I felt so needed.
Today when we went to Philani we were split into groups. Some people stayed to help at the educare center and others went out into the township to see how the social workers interacted with the people they help. My group went to help clean and paint at two of Philani’s other locations (they have five in Khayelitsha alone). From there we were split again. One group went to mow lawns and fix and paint a bathroom. My group, which consisted of me, Shannon, Max, Sara, and Emanuel, went to an educare center about 5 minutes away to help a teacher paint her classroom. At first we didn’t have enough paintbrushes so Shannon and I painted half the room pink and Emanuel painted the other half mustard yellow with a roller. Sara and Max went to play with the kids outside. After a good half hour of painting Teresa, the woman in charge of everyone painting, came in with the paint we were supposed to be using. There became a split. On one side there was Teresa, who wanted the entire room bright yellow. Our group sided with the teacher, who liked the pink that was already on the walls. Teresa had to return to the other group leaving us and the teacher. Needless to say the room ended up pink and mustard yellow. When I needed a break from painting I went outside to greet the kids. They were singing and dancing around Max and Sara, until they saw me. What happened next was a blur, but I ended up flat on my back dogpiled under fifteen 3-4 year olds. All at once I was being pushed, pulled, tickled and snuggled. Someone was playing with my hair while someone was showing me their hula hoop while someone was climbing in my lap while someone was examining my ring. After what must have been 15 minutes I noticed two 2 year olds, a boy and a girl. I noticed them because they were the only quiet ones. The boy had a constant airy smile and the girl had a look of awe and curiosity. From under the pile I reached to them and they slowly made their way over to me. They took turns gently putting both their hands on my face. They didn’t say anything, just looked into my eyes. They looked past my eyes into my inner person. It was like having an entire greeting, introduction, and conversation just looking in their eyes. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
What I noticed with all the kids is that I didn’t need to entertain them. They just wanted me and my attention. They took turns sitting in my lap and cuddling, demanding all my attention. Of course this would often turn into a swarm of faces and smiles. When it was time to leave the kids followed us to the gate and waving goodbye.
Today was the day that I was most looking forward to on the trip. We finally visited the Philani Child Health and Nutrition Project. We were going to deliver all of the clothes and money that we had put our heart and soul into collecting.
Today we are beginning the last leg of our wonderful journey. We are on the beautiful coast road back to Cape Town. In some ways it reminds me of the Big Sur coast but with a gentler slope to the mountains as they come down to meet the sea. There are a few other differences like a bright turquoise hue to the water, African penguin colonies and the famous great white sharks that feed off the seals that live here. Everywhere we travel we see a huge variety of landscapes and many social contrasts of a country still trying to overcome the inequities of Apartheid.
In Cape Town the main event will be our interview with Archbishop Tutu – just a day away now. Tomorrow we will visit the Philani Child Nutrition Project where we will deliver the 22 bags of clothing and a check for $2700 the students collected prior to their trip. We will spend a good part of the day doing some work projects for Philani and distributing the clothes to their five different centers in the township. During the next four days we will also visit the MY Life Project, and Dance for Life, a project that teaches children from the townships in traditional African dance. We also hope to have an interview with some of the veterans from Robben Island who were incarcerated with Nelson Mandela. After our recent visit to the island I think this will be a very meaningful engagement.
The students have done really well so far on this journey. The past couple of days out at See-Eike farm we had a chance to work on our upcoming interview and engage with the Learning Journey framework that helps the students reflect on their experience become aware of how they are engaging on the road with the concepts and skills of the Values in World Thought class. This trip seems to be an exquisite fusion of adventure, challenge, learning moments, and fun. It appears to me that many of the students are trying hard and it seems they are changing right before our eyes. I am gratified at how well they are all getting along together and how they support one another. They have also been very flexible to the inevitable changes of plans and minor inconveniences here and there. I think it will be interesting to witness how they integrate what they have seen so far and all that still remains to be experienced. I think we are seeing their best. Everyday I am happy that Lisa, Shannon, Shmuel and Devin are also on this trip, each one contributing their different skills. We will do an upload to the blog tonight, including a video clip from Kruger that Devin has prepared. Shmuel will be sending out a new story for the Santa Cruz Sentinel tonight. It should run in a day or two. Thanks everyone for visiting the site and for your comments. The students are encouraged by the fact that you are following their journey. -Sadanand Ward Mailliard
In the fall of 2000, when I was in third grade, I traveled to Africa. I didn’t realize the rare opportunity I had been given at such a young age. Never the less, I made the most of the trip, waking up at an ungodly hour to see the game in their natural habitat. These experiences have always been in the back of my mind. Now I have been given the amazing chance to re-live some of those adventures.
For example, today we stopped at Stony Point to watch the African penguins. As a wild eight year old I jumped the fence separating me from the penguins to play with them close up. Now, as a seventeen year old, I am more composed, but still just as excited to see, hear and smell one of my favorite animals. -Erin Mitchell
The beaches in South Africa are even better than the ones near home. The sand is like silk. Dawie took us out to a tasty lunch at Cubana, than gave us a tour of Hermanus. We saw some of the most expensive homes in Hermanus, as well as the shacks that many people here call home. It was amazing to see the contrast between the two ways of life. It is unbelievable that they are just minutes apart.
It was unsettling to see such poverty. Yet, all of the people in the squatter’s camp smiled, stopped what they were doing and waved to us as we drove by. They all looked genuinely happy, it was odd. When I get home I want to go through my room and give away everything that I don’t need. I have way too many material things. I don’t want to be surrounded by artificial happiness. -Leah Nascimento