I never appreciated the fearless, invigorating feeling of joy until I lived in South Africa. It sometimes feels as if I had been half-appreciating and half-loving the beauty of the world until now. I am realizing the extent to which my perspective on the world has broadened in the two months that have passed. Although I realize the importance in taking advantage of the beauty and knowledge of this country, I also realize the importance of giving back to a place and a community that has given me so much love. Out of all the beautiful things in my life right now, volunteering at the SHAWCO foundation has re-instilled the beauty and freedom of joy. SHAWCO is one of South Africa’s largest student volunteer organizations that had focused on health and welfare projects throughout South Africa’s era of apartheid. This opportunity has allowed me to tutor underprivileged children in a township called Khayelitsha in the Western Cape of South Africa. Teaching children who are living in poverty at such a formative age is mind-altering. It is an experience that has pulled me away from my “bubble” of living a privileged life in Cape Town, and has awaken me to the realities of many around me. Many of the children speak Africaans and Xosa that creates a language barrier and an added challenge when tutoring English lessons. Tutors are not only taught to manage cultural and behavioral issues, but are also aware of signs of abuse and neglect in many of the children who live in the townships. This experience is awakening me, each day pulling me closer to understanding a reality that is so different and so mind-altering from my own.
Visiting the townships each week has gone farther than push me out of my comfort zone, but has challenged me to feel and see the struggles that are the harsh reality for thousands of children living in South Africa. Many children that live in townships are born into disadvantage simply because of the color of their skin. A common term for this in South Africa is the “black tax,” a term used to make reference the way in which many blacks have to work twice as hard to overcome the setbacks that they are inherently born into after years of oppression. Even in understanding these realities, I cannot help but feel as though I learn so much more from the children of Khayelitsha than they can learn from me. These children are fearless yet fierce, strong yet soft. They speak with their eyes and laugh with their hearts. I am compelled to understand them, and am mesmerized by their ability to love so openly. It is touching to be in an environment of pure and complete joy; to gain perspective on a culture and a community that is so vastly different than my own. Never had I thought it possible to feel so much joy in such small moments, but as the days pass easy and the moments slow, I am learning that these are the moments that I’ll cherish for a lifetime.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
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<p>Hi! My name is Alissa; I am from NYC and am studying politics and psychology at Catholic University in Washington DC. I am unbelievably excited to be studying abroad in South Africa, and truly want this blog to reflect on the emotional, cultural, and intellectual experiences that Cape Town will lead me towards. Hope my blog will do this justice!</p>