Lior Porat, junior in Crop Sciences, Agriculture & Consumer Economics,
shares her study abroad experience in South Africa, Jan 24, 2017
I first started to feel the excitement for the South Africa service trip on the morning of our flight. I should mention that I really like to travel, and I know it is weird but I like the flight part too. Over the eight weeks prior to the flight we talked in class about the history and current issues of South Africa, and how they have influenced the diverse population in the country. Going into class I was aware of some of the history, such as the apartheid that ran this country for around 40 years, the high rate of HIV, and the high unemployment rate. Despite all of that, and all the preparation Instructor Jan Brooks gave us in class, it really hit me on the first day at our sites. I volunteered with five other friends from our group at Sakhulwazi Hub, which is a community garden in a township called Philippi. After meeting the staff and touring the farm with Khaya (Executive Director), I understood how far their situation is from being ideal. Basic necessities, such as a steady water supply, were missing, as well as basic maintenance tools. Seeing and hearing all of that inspired and motivated me to help as much as I could.
The most significant moment I experienced while volunteering there was definitely on the last day at the site, when we finally installed a new water pump for irrigation. On the first couple of days at work we had tried to fix the two old pumps that make up the system for providing water to the garden, and were able to fix one of them. One pump draws water from a well to two big tanks and the other distributes the water from the tanks to the irrigation system. After talking to Khaya, we decided to bring in the system planner. The problem was that he wanted to make sure the farm would pay him prior to the appointment at the garden. This is part of the struggle in South Africa, and especially in the townships, where there is not a lot of money and sometimes people do not get paid for their work. When we realized he would not show up unless he was assured he would get the money, we talked to our instructor and Sean, head of Volunteer Adventure Corps (VACorps), our local trip provider. To sustain the relationship between VACorps and Sakhulwazi, Sean offered that his company would pay for the appointment and necessary repairs. On Thursday, January 12th, the system planner arrived, and after checking the pump, replaced it with a new one. It felt amazing to know that our work and our help from VACorps made such a big impact on the future of the garden and the community there.
One of our daily tasks was to water the garden every morning. We filled a big blue container every morning and watered the garden with old bottles, water jugs, and buckets (left image below). I was trying to find ways to improve the tools to make the job easier, so I made each one of the garden workers a watering can. I took the old bottles and jugs and glued them together. (See below.) Seeing the reactions of garden workers Mama Maria, Lindela, and Tubisa was worth it all. This was another meaningful moment for me during this amazing experience.
I have not yet mentioned any moments from places we traveled to or visited while in South Africa, but they were secondary compared to the experienced mentioned above. We visited beautiful places, such as Table Mountain or Cape of Good Hope, where the views cannot be described by words. Also, we visited Beth-Uriel Shelter for Young Men, which is a house for boys between 18-25 who lived in the street and now have an opportunity to complete school and even higher education without being worried about where to sleep or what to eat each night. They had organized an amazing tiny coffee shop and a very cool t-shirt store at the shelter.
This experience as a whole was something that I will take with me and remember for life. It gave me lessons about life, and helped me to be a more complete person. Some of the experiences will help me in the future everywhere I go, and that is priceless.
From left to right: (top) Andrew, Jake, Mama Rose, Khaya, Tanner, Green, (bottom) Elyse, Lior, Squash, Tubisa, Lindela, and Mama Maria.