Final Thoughts

At the beginning of May, I was blessed with the chance to take an amazing trip to Cape Town, South Africa to study abroad.  At first I did not know what to expect; I was traveling to a country I knew almost nothing about and to top it off, I had never flown in my life.   Despite the fact that all of this was new to me, I knew that this trip was the perfect chance to get a couple courses out of the way and that it would be a blast traveling outside of the US, which is something I have always wanted to do.   The trip to South Africa really gave me a newfound understanding of how the world differs from us here in the states and showed me just how lucky we are; it also gave me a new understanding of leadership and what that entails.

One of the major things that really stuck with me from the trip, after the amazing scenery, was the importance of the role of leadership in the growing of a nation and a business.  The first full day we were in Cape Town, we had a day of classes with Stuart Hendry, a professor at the University of Cape Town.  There he educated us on the immense history of South Africa and all of the pain that they had been through because of apartheid.  The prime example of the ultimate leader, from South Africa’s viewpoint as well as the world, is Nelson Mandela.   After suffering for over twenty years in prison, he was released and did not act on the hatred that had built up in his veins; he chose to push for negotiations with the apartheid government and persevered through many struggles and setbacks to win freedom for South Africa.  Mandela did not give in to the obstacles in his way, he continued to push for a peaceful transition into a democratic state and eventually he was successful and was elected to be the president of the redefined nation.  It was amazing to see how well everyone came together and worked for the common goal; everyone was invested in it and determined to see it through.  It was also very evident that the people of South Africa are very proud of what they have accomplished and they should be.  It is no easy task to change something that had become the norm for so long.  It is also very inspiring to see the young leaders coming out of South Africa and the University of Cape Town.  They are determined to make South Africa a better place and are devoted to its success as a nation.    The perceived qualities for a leader is that they have to be confident and strong in their endeavors to ensure success; even though those are important, that is not all that is important.  To truly be a successful leader, one has to know their purpose.  They have to understand where they are going in life and in their careers.  No one can lead if they themselves do not know where they are going; if someone that doesn’t have a grasp on their purpose or their ultimate goal, then they will be leading their followers into an abyss of failure.  Along with purpose, a leader must also engage with the people surrounding them.  One of the most important qualities that a leader must have is their ability to connect with others.  They have to be able to build relationships and show that they genuinely care.  Before someone can motivate others to completely buy into the job or task at hand, one must fulfill all of their fundamental needs.   According to Max-Neef, if those nine fundamental needs are not equally met, then the worker will not be completely focused on the task at hand and will not be successful.   By meeting the needs of their subordinates, a leader can develop trust and bring people together to form an unstoppable team of individual’s hell bent on making their endeavors a success. The term transformational leadership envelops all of the qualities that I have discussed, but the ultimate goal is to lead in a way that creates more leaders.  By continuing to create thinkers instead of just doers, you create endless possibilities for success.  That is what South Africa is aiming to do and that is what we need to do a better job of here in the US.

Another takeaway from the trip would have to be the difference in the social structure of South Africa compared to the US.  One of the first things we noticed after getting off the plane, while riding to our hotel, was the vast amount of poverty.  On our drive, we saw large plots of run down shacks that were made of nothing more than ply wood and sheets of metal. These communities were fenced in and set apart, in a way, from the inner city.  These places were called townships.  These townships were set up during the apartheid rein in an attempt to separate the colored population and the white population.  Even though apartheid has been abolished since 1994, the effects of it are still very evident in the cities.  There are still very poor living conditions in the townships and in some they don’t even have access to running water.  The government is working hard to correct these problems, but is struggling.  The closest thing that can be related to this type of situation are the slums and poverty stricken areas in the US, but in reality nothing compares to the sight of some of the townships.   The key to bringing the nation out of the deep levels of poverty is the development of leaders; the types of leaders that Stuart Hendry is working so hard to produce. Stuart works with an organization called SASDI – Southern Africa that focuses on sustainable development. They have developed a plan and are focusing on the youth of South Africa by building children’s centers for the townships where children can go to learn and develop a future for themselves.  We had the opportunity to go and help with the construction of one of these sites during our time in South Africa; it was definitely an experience I will never forget and was also one of the highlights of the trip.  I was tasked with laying concrete for a classroom that day and we were able to successfully complete the project.  We also were able to play with the kids and that was also very rewarding. They had a good time playing with my red hair; it seemed very foreign to them.  It was a good experience for us to be able to see the work that the foundation was doing first hand.  South Africa has a long way to go, but they are working endlessly to improve upon their situation.

There is one last thing that I learned while on the trip and it is expressed with one word, Ubuntu.  This word encompasses what I have always tried to show through everything that I do.  It means, “I am a person through others, a part of a human community, to value others rather than oneself, and be fair to all.”  To me, this is what the world needs.  No matter where one travels, there are millions of people doing their own thing and only caring about themselves.  They are worried about what the world can do for them and not what they can do for the world.  They are so focused on getting what they want and willing to do whatever it takes to get it, even if it is at the expense of others.  We, as a “human community” need to care for everyone and do our best to help others before ourselves.  If we can come together for the common purpose of making the world a better place then there are no limits to what we can do.  The obstacle that stands in the way is greed and the need for individual power.  It will not be easy to break the habit of those and it would be completely naive to think that one could abolish them altogether, but if people come together and see the big picture, that its not about them, then the world would be forever changed.

The trip to South Africa was amazing.  I am truly blessed to have been able to take the trip with such an amazing group of people.  I will cherish and carry this experience with me for the rest of my life.  Leadership, the difference in culture, and the fundamental idea of Ubuntu were just a few things I have taken away from the trip, but probably the most important thing generated from the trip were the relationships built with each other.  I will never forget the memories we all made.  It was something I will never forget!  I am definitely ready to go back!

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Philippi

On Tuesday, we had the amazing opportunity to give our time to a worthy cause.  We traveled to a township named Philippi to work on a children’s center.  It was located about 45 minutes out of town by taxi.

 

When I first learned that we were going to have the chance to travel in to a township, I was excited, but I was also unsure of what to expect.  After learning about how the townships were formed through apartheid and how the people living in them were struggling, I knew that it would be a great opportunity to go in and help.  I was also a little skeptical about going in and helping; after reading Toxic Charity, I knew that going in and doing the job for them would not be the right answer and would not help them in the long run.  The key to long-term success is to help the people in need get on their feet and get going so they can finish the job.

 

Our task for the day was to go to the Philippi Children’s center and help with the construction of the center.  We traveled by taxi to the location and entered through the front gate that had barbed wire stretched around the tops of the fences.  We proceeded inside where we met up with Stuart and the principle of the school.  The principle was a kind and generous lady who was excited for us to come.  We then were assigned to our respective groups; I was chosen along with a couple others to lay down the concrete for the inside of one of the classrooms and a small section outside.   After coming together for a final word, we broke up and began work.

 

We were tasked with transporting the concrete from the truck across the yard to the room that was waiting for us.  We traveled that route a numerous amount of times. After filling the floor with concrete, we were tasked with a few other jobs that included removing poles from the premises and knocking down a couple walls. The work may have been a little tedious, but it was worth it.  I had this amazing feeling of accomplishment that I was helping the children and the rest of the construction workers get the job done.  But, looking back I wonder; did I really help and make a difference or was I just in the way?  Did they need me to volunteer free labor or could it have helped more to employ someone who is out of work to do the job that I was doing?  I do believe that we did help get things done in certain ways, but we also got in their way.  Our numbers allowed for the process of moving the concrete to go by much faster and the girls who painted did a great job and got an enormous amount of the walls finished, but I can’t help but think that they could have done those things even faster than us.   But, I did learn that all of the supplies that we used during the trip to Philippi, we supplied.  That was our main contributing factor.  And I also saw that maybe our labor and the providing of the supplies was not the main focus; just maybe we were there for a moral purpose to show the people involved with the project, the people that have invested so much into it, that people do care about them and the great things they are trying to do.

 

I’m glad that we were able to travel to the township and meet some great people working to enrich the lives of the youth in South Africa.  It was a great and humbling experience and a great eye opener.  It made me see how fortunate I am to be in the place that I am.  We all have been blessed with so much and others are not as fortunate.  Sometimes giving money and labor is the right thing to do, but maybe there is something even greater that people need; maybe they need moral support and direct human interaction to show them that they are not alone and that what they are doing is still important.  The youth is the future in every nation and especially in South Africa.  These leaders are fighting to create a better South Africa and I am grateful that I had the chance to share a piece of that journey with them.

 

 

Stellenbosch

So far, Cape Town has been amazing! I don’t think I could ever find a more beautiful place.  Yesterday, May 20, we traveled to Stellenbosch.  The town was beautiful and had a nice small town feel.  The streets were lined with old houses and architecture dating back to its settlement.  We took a tour of the town, which included a wine tasting at a local winery. It was a very interesting experience.  The people could not have been nicer and the venue was very trendy; it was my first wine tasting and I learned that wine is an acquired taste, to say the least.  From there we moved on down the streets and explored.  We then came to a small open plaza area where we participated in a tea tasting, which is also an acquired taste.  I did enjoy the relaxing time we had to sit and talk with each other.  We were able to spend time getting to know one another even more, and it was a great way to relax from the tough hike the day before.  After our “tea time,” we then continued our tour and proceeded to another wine tasting.

 

After our second venture into the world of wine, we went to meet with a man from the Burgess group, a company that manages financial data for well know establishments like MIT and Stanford University.  It was interesting to hear about how positioning themselves in South Africa gives them such an advantage over the markets in the US because of the time difference; it gives them a head start on collecting and condensing the market information from the US.  Its position also gives them great access to Europe and some parts of Asia because they operate in the same time zone.  It was interesting to see how a company could be successful in that type of business with the presence of big name engines like google analytics and others.  The key aspect of the Burgess group that sets them apart is their dedication to privacy and the protection of their clients information.  The visit was a great success and I enjoyed learning from a specific business here in Cape Town.

 

Our final destination was to the Dornier winery in the wine lands.  It was truly magnificent!  It was positioned with an amazing view of Table Mountain and saturated with beautiful gardens all around.  I, not being a wine person, focused on the view.  Experiencing the wine country was a great cultural experience and I am grateful for the opportunity.

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From the winery we traveled to a restaurant in Stellenbosch that was not your conventional sit down dinner.  It was a real treat; from the gift shop to the dinner table, we were essentially in tents outside.  It simulated an african village with a sophisticated twist.  The food was amazing and the entertainment was perfect.  We even got to see some of our own group members get up and dance.  It was a perfect end to a great relaxing day.

John Simmons Fallaw

 

Cape Town Day 3

Today, we had the amazing opportunity to join the congregation of St. James Church for worship.  I was excited to visit the church knowing of its history.  It was interesting to see that there are not many differences between their church services and our own in the United States.  After the service, we ventured up to the second floor of the church where they had their own coffee house and lounge area.  There we were able to meet some members of the church and mingle with them and students around our age.  We had a great time and met some great people.

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From there we traveled back to the hotel and were given two options; one an adventure, the other a chance to relax and rest from the past two days.  Without a doubt, I chose the adventure and it has turned out to be my favorite experience of the trip!  A group of us traveled back to Table Mountain, but instead of riding the cable car up for a nice view, we were taking on the challenge of hiking up to the top.  It turned out to be a great choice to enjoy the afternoon.  We began our journey not knowing what to expect, but we soon found that the hike was going to be more difficult that we had anticipated.  I was thinking of a winding dirt trail that lead us up the mountain; it turned out to be a trail with scattered stones in forms of steps.  It was a straight shot to the top.

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Although it was difficult, we pushed on and were able to see magnificent views of the city and environment around us.  I was amazed with the beauty that surrounded us!

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We finally made it to the top after a strong push.  The views from the top were fantastic!  I have never seen a more beautiful place.  I was blown away. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to see and experience this amazing city and to share it with some great people.

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Toxic Charity

In Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton presented a different way of looking at the many charities that exist today. Toxic Charity really opens one’s eyes to what is going on behind the scenes.  Charities are a big part of western civilization today.  It seems that just about everyone is involved with some sort of charity; the question that needs to be examined closer is: do they really help?

Lupton shows that charities can be a very toxic thing to the communities in which they are trying to help.  Charities are, at their core, great things because it engulfs a person’s desire to help and to give to those in need and shows that people do care for one another.  But, often times, the people in need are not the primary focus.

When it comes to charitable giving, people become consumed with the idea of giving that they don’t do anything to actually help the people in need.  It inadvertently becomes about the volunteers feelings of fulfillment in that they have helped someone less fortunate than themselves. Lupton explains this by using the example of a church mission trip.  He shows how people everywhere spend millions of dollars on mission trips each year; the resources they use could be put to better use.  The money used to cover the costs of travel and other expenses could be given to different organizations that could impact the community as a whole instead of supplying teenagers with a “feel good” trip that isn’t very effective in the long run. Also, the work done by a volunteer group is almost ten times more expensive than it would be for locals to engage in the work themselves.  By letting the locals do the specific jobs, it would build up the peoples pride and show them that they were capable of working through hard times; they would see that they did not need to lean on someone else and it would spark the economy in those areas.  The problem with giving is that, after a while, the recipients of the gifts begin to expect the help; they begin to feel as though they do not need to provide for themselves because others will satisfy all of their needs.  It becomes a feeling of entitlement.  They are, at first, greatly appreciative; then their gratitude turns to expectation and then to entitlement.

Another major aspect that Toxic Charity addresses is the emotional toll that “charity” has on the recipients.  In Lupton’s commentary of the Christmas day story, we see the type of effect that “harmless” giving has on the parents of young children.  People think that it is a wonderful thing to give to children who’s parents cannot afford to buy gifts for the holidays and it is, but how many people stop to think about what this does to the parents.  It causes extreme embarrassment because they cannot give their children the best; they have to rely on someone else to make their child happy and that is a powerful thing.  It is greatly demoralizing.  In this instance charity almost becomes a “perversion” of giving because it brings about a certain power that givers have over the recipients; it is a sense of superiority.  The givers often overlook this feeling, but it makes a lot of sense once one stops to think.  People who receive gifts, often seem to loose parts of themselves and cannot make eye contact or hold their heads high because they have that knowledge that they are living off of another’s good graces and cannot make it on their own.

Toxic Charity really portrayed a new way of looking at charities that never crossed my mind.  I have always thought that giving to others was the right thing to do because I have been blessed with so much.   But, Lupton really made me dive more into the situation.  It is amazing to step back and think about all of the factors that go on during charitable work.  Yes, it is good to give, but when is it too much.  Immediate help after a catastrophic event is a good and powerful thing, but when that outpouring of sympathy continues for years to come, it cripples communities because they never begin to actually rebuild and overcome what has happened to them.   Whether it is a charity on the home front of the US or in foreign countries, they need to examine more of what is best for the population that needs help.  They have to find that happy medium of giving, supporting, and building because too much of one can cause the whole infrastructure to crumble and all of the efforts will be in vain.

The main focus that charities must share in the future is not to just give to those in need, but to empower and develop communities that can take over the reins and become self-sufficient.  If people just do for others, then the no one will ever be any better off; it will just end in a short-term fix.  The key to long-term success is development of the people in need and strong strategic plans to ensure growth.

Pre-Trip Expectations

Only a week and a couple days away. South Africa is calling my name.  Never in my life did I think I would get the chance to take such a amazing trip to a place enriched with history. I have always wanted to travel to a different country to experience a different culture and to get a better perspective of life outside the US.  To be honest, traveling to South Africa never crossed my mind.  I did not know much about South Africa, other than hearing about the World Cup in 2010.  When I first heard of the Maymester, I was skeptical.  I thought that there would be better options in the future and didn’t know if I would be able to work it out.

A huge reason for me choosing to go to South Africa was that a few of my friends had decided to go.  But, after researching South Africa and learning what we would be doing, I knew that I could not turn down this amazing opportunity; I feel sure that no other trip could measure up to the experience I will have.  I am excited to get the chance to explore the beautiful city of Cape Town and to see all that it has to offer.  It will be a brand new experience all the way around, from my first flight to my first safari and much more.  I am truly grateful for the opportunity to go and experience South Africa with a great group of people.  I have no doubt that this will be the trip of a lifetime. I can not wait!

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