Before leaving for South Africa, everyone tried to scare me out of it. I have an uncle in international business, who sent me a long text 4 days before it was time to leave. He said, “I don’t feel comfortable with you going, even when we send grown men, we send them with an armed guard to escort them.” I had four people tell me to dye my hair brown and always wear a hat. I kept hearing how unsafe it was, but all I could see in our books and online was a country trying- no STRUGGLING to grow. South Africa has a very rocky history, an angry past, but they have come together in a way that impresses me. It is my first international experience, but it was so similar and different from home at the same time.
One of our first days, we talked about three paths South Africa could take that would define their new democracy- walk apart, walk behind, or walk together. Walking together is the only way the people will be successful, and it means everyone being empowered and responsible. For the whole country to be aware of that, and trying to do it, is remarkable to me. I know this is so “college” of me, but I get on social media sites and people post about political topics that seem irrelevant. Don’t misunderstand me, there is always room for lightheartedness, but it’s when people decide to be serious what they focus on.
I have been struggling all week how to put my experience into words- I learned how to be a leader, about South Africa’s history and people, and even the psychology behind the culture’s attitude. I began this trip with the quote, “Traveling is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer,” and I completely agree with it. I went with an open mind, knowing that my world was going to be changed when I went and met the South Africans.
Two of the men we spent time with, Stuart Hendry and Ian Corbett, definitely changed my life. They founded SASDI together and have put all their time and energy into making sustainable, impactful, and effective projects that better South Africa. Stuart Hendry spent two years and lost millions of dollars trying to make their first community center work, because they all felt it was important to connect to the community. I was so impressed with their drive and compassion. I feel like, at this point in my life, so much pressure is put on us to make money, not so much on making a difference. People say they want to change the world, but so many give up on that dream. It’s hard, or else the world would already be a perfect place. These two men achieved what many dream about doing. Hendry and Corbett probably won’t get credit for the huge difference they’re making, but I know for the rest of my life I will be telling my children and grandchildren about the things they’ve accomplished. By going there, I inherited an unexpected legacy.
Kevin Corbin was also fascinating to me. He taught me that good will only takes a foundation so far- there has to be some business savvy, it has to be a smart foundation. It’s okay to donate money, but if you really are passionate about a charity, make sure the leader will be able to keep the money coming in. Corbin has done that! He told us about how his foundation actually MAKES money, all by creating a business model. I guess I was so impressed because it seems like an obvious thing to do that no one had actually done.
The most important thing I’ve learned, and already mentioned, was the lesson that everything else was based on- the value of community and empowerment of the people. It was something I have always thought about, partly because my mom and I love reading about Noetic science. Noetic science is basically the study of how thoughts are actually matter and can affect things, which is why how and what people think is so important. If someone thinks that they cannot do something, they cannot. It is like the little train that could, if one believes in something it can happen. A perfect example is Luvuyo, who came out of a townships and had nothing, started an internet café/computer purchase and repair chain.
In summary, this trip inspired me. The people are truly, truly amazing. Hardworking. Determined. And becoming more capable by the day. I was upset coming home, and the people who tried to scare me said, “I don’t believe that you didn’t have a scary experience.” South Africa is being judged by its violent past, even when they are doing so much good right now. All I want is for people to give South Africa a chance, to work with them. And that can begin with this blog, this class. Even if it isn’t South Africa, I hope everyone finds a place like this where they instantly become attached to it and want to help build it up, like South Africa is to me. I can’t wait to go back.