Rekindled Passion

Jenika leads her group lesson

South Africa. Wow, what an experience. I never would have thought a small city girl like me would be studying abroad in Africa. I have been touched and my life will forever be enriched by what I have seen, heard, and experienced here. It blew my mind the first time I realized that we in the U.S. have more in common with the people and communities in South Africa then we think, including schools facing closings because they are under-funded and under-resourced, children who live in these communities face being displaced and the teachers are over-worked, under-paid and at their wits end grasping for straws to provide their students with the basics of education. The classrooms have no air in the summer, no heat in the winter, and limited supplies for all students. I know that this is a major problem back in the States that I will be facing as a future teacher, but I am grateful to the teachers, principals, students, and community of Manenberg for reigniting that fire and passion in me for learning and teaching one day.

^J. Townsel


Farewell… Until We Meet Again

We said a tearful goodbye to our learners and friends at Manenberg Primary this afternoon. While we will sincerely miss these individuals, we look forward to the start of a long-term relationship with SHAWCO and Manenberg Primary. A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who donated funds and school supplies for this trip – they have been put to excellent use during our time here! In addition to the Grade 6 learners that our GVSU students tutored, we were able to utilize the supplies to work with additional children and learners who were not in the official program. It is with much appreciation that we acknowledge the support of friends, family, and colleagues who have supported this journey in numerous ways.

Group photo of GVSU sudents with their Grade 6 learners


I’m one of “those people”

I have been very fortunate to come to South Africa and study. My lectures have taught me that regardless of where I may be in the world, there will always be progress that needs to be made in various facets of society. Hearing from South African activists and individuals in leadership positions has solidified in me the importance of being an aware global citizen and someone who practices social responsibility. Before coming on this trip I was prepared for the aforementioned to happen. I was ready for my experiences here to reinforce the importance of my participation in civil service. When preparing for this trip I knew there were going to be issues I came in contact with that would upset me and make me feel strongly for my fellow man’s hardships and struggles. However, when I was preparing for this trip I never imagined that I was going to have to worry about my sexual orientation impacting my experience while here.

For the past six weeks I have been working alongside my peers from GVSU in Manenberg. We have been mentoring students in the afternoon and witnessing the inequalities present in South Africa which linger as a result of the detrimental Apartheid regime that ruled until 1994. In a classroom of a poorly-funded school, where the students don’t even have soap or toilet paper in their bathrooms, both GVSU students and Grade 6 Manenberg students are eager to learn from one another. My mentee is a tiny, energetic, goofy, young boy. His name is Athenkosi. Every day when I get off the bus and we find one another on the grassy filed outside the school, Athenkosi and I exchange nothing but smiles. We chatter about what we have learned earlier that day before we head inside for our lessons.

Monique and Athenkosi

Earlier this week, Athenkosi and I were working on English in our work book. Our activity involved a pride poem about South Africa. The poem addressed how proud the people of South Africa are of their nation and it called to action the children of South Africa for the rebuilding of their country. After reading the poem, we discussed what Athenkosi would change about South Africa to make it a better place to live in for all people. He said he would want the homeless to have houses, for there to be an end to crime and gang violence, for the hungry children to be fed at school, and for there to be no discrimination. He then asked me what I would change about America to make it a better place for all the people that live there. I told him I too wanted the homeless to have homes, and that a lot of homeless people in the U.S. were war veterans. I told him that there should be more after school programs in the U.S. to keep students and children from getting involved in drugs, gangs, and violent crime. I told him that when I was in high school, middle school, and elementary school, the only way I ate breakfast and lunch was through our free lunch program at school, because my single mother couldn’t raise me and my three brothers on her own without child support from our father.

Regarding discrimination, I told Athi that there was still racism in the U.S. I told him that sexism was a problem in the U.S. and that women and men aren’t treated equally. I told him that domestic violence and rape were both issues in the U.S. as well. Then I told him that homophobia was an issue in the States too. He asked me what that word meant. I told him that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the U.S. can be fired from their jobs, kicked out of their homes, and aren’t allowed to get married in the U.S. because of who they are. I told him that was discrimination I wanted to end in the U.S. In response, he told me that “those people” were wrong. “Those people” were wrong because they think God made a mistake with them. I asked him if he thought treating “those people” differently or meanly was okay. He exclaimed, “Oh, no! That’s never okay.” We went on with our assignment, but I really wanted to leave the room crying. All I wanted to do was tell Athenkosi that I am one of “those people.” I kept wondering if he would think differently of me if he knew that about me… if he would discredit everything I taught him because of the fact that I am gay. It hurt to wonder if the friendship we built in the last six weeks would mean nothing if he knew about my sexual orientation.

I have decided not to come out to Athenkosi because our friendship has been so crucial to my experience here. This specific experience between us has impacted me greatly. More importantly, this experience between Athenkosi and I has been a first-hand illustration of something we have learned in our lectures as GVSU students. South Africa’s constitution is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. It enshrines constitutional rights to LGBT people, in addition to many other progressive policy pieces. However, these paper rights that are enshrined by the constitution are often not carried out in South African society, and there is a disconnect between the ideology possessed by the people of South Africa and what the constitution guarantees. I have learned a lot while being here in South Africa and the actual issues that have presented themselves to me while here have solidified my passion for seeking social justice on a global level.

Monique and Athenkosi during Monique’s group origami lesson.

^M. Tumbleson


As a descendant of slaves, my heritage was pretty much taken from me. We lost our language, religion, and other traditions. We were made to believe that we could only work as field hands and mammies. Those that would succeed were obviously the exception, and they would never be admitted past a certain position in life. But in some magical land African Americans have managed to emerge from the shadows, and guess what we have even managed to invade the White House.

When I landed in South Africa I don’t think I could have been more proud. We landed in a beautiful metropolis that was headed by people that looked like me. Granted my ancestors came from West Africa, but all my life I was told that this massive continent was butt backwards. Global racists would have us believe that the people on this continent have no sense of direction and that they are not capable of running their own society. I have never felt so much pride about one nation in my life. The people of this country recognize and honor their dark past. They know that the tribulations they faced shaped them into the strong people that they are.

I beamed with joy as I walked through the townships that I later found out were named after great armies. The townships seem like a gloomy place to someone just passing through them, but as you walk through you feel the joy of the people. Despite the lack of some of the basic needs these beautiful people still manage to pull through and make the best of things. I think about how that same pride traveled across the water with us and we exude that same pride. Some of us have little money but we work with what we have and pray for better days.

Even in the middle class village of Pinel, they exuded that same pride. They were proud that as direct descendants of slaves they were able to overcome every obstacle Apartheid threw at them. They have raised doctors, lawyers, and teachers despite their environment. They have risen from the ashes to make a name for themselves by letting those around them know that it can be done. You can be all that they said you couldn’t be. Racism has killed a lot of dreams and destroyed many communities but when a few people make up their minds that they are somebody, a community can be rebuilt and a people can be restored of their hope. And that little bit of hope can inspire a nation and even a little black girl from Detroit.

^K. Gause

A Home Away from Home

This weekend we did our homestay. A lot of the students were really nervous about spending the night in a stranger’s home somewhere in a village outside of Stellenbosch; but not me, I couldn’t wait! Our adventure started with a little old man named Uncle Eddie giving us a guided tour around the village, which is called Pniel. Pniel is the Afrikaan’s word for God’s face, which is the shape that can be seen in the mountains that surround this beautiful place. After our lengthy walk, we arrived back to one of the host families’ homes to the smell of a braai! The food was delicious and successfully brought everyone together and then the assignments were made.

Uncle Eddie, our tour guide

Colene picked me up first. I said goodbye to my classmates and climbed into the backseat with two of Colene’s “naughty children,” as she called them. She lived right up the street from the house we had just left, which belonged to her cousin Denise and Denise’s husband Winston. Colene’s whole family lives within a one mile radius and they take care of each other. It’s beautiful.

When I got to the house, Colene introduced me to her husband, Cronan. They were both so welcoming and were very willing to answer my questions about their history and culture. You could tell that they were both very proud of their heritage – Colene, a native of Pniel, and Cronan, originally from District Six.

The way of life in Pniel is one that is peaceful and serene. It used to be a vibrant farming town so the appreciation for nature and its gifts is still very present. Colene and Cronan have a lemon tree and a “pekanut” (walnut) tree right in their backyard and the harvests are shared by the whole family. They even sent two bags of pekanuts home with me!

In Pniel I found a home away from home. I was loved, respected, and taken care of by people who didn’t even know me and it was genuine. I will never forget that kind of generosity and aspire to be the type of loving stranger to others that Colene and Cronan were to me. Until we meet again, my friends.

GVSU group with some of our home stay families

^J. Eskridge

On On, Twirling & Human Airplanes: Preparing to be Home Sick (for Cape Town)

In preparation for this trip we were all asked to think about the things that we were most nervous about. The first thing that popped into mind was my shyness and whether or not it was going to hinder my experience in any way. I was extremely nervous that I did not know anyone that was also going on the trip prior to our first meeting and I was definitely anxious knowing that many of the students had already known each other.

But I surprised myself; I have been able to form relationships with many of the amazing people on this trip. I have expressed many times throughout our stay in Cape Town that I am taken aback (in a positive way) by how comfortable I am with many of the individuals on this trip. I have shared so many personal details about my life struggles and personal gains I have made over the past four years, and the things I hope to change about myself. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to be surrounded by so many open-minded individuals that allow and embrace me for being exactly who I am.

Learning that I was going to be working with a 6th grader for the service learning component of our trip also made me nervous. I have no experience with children and, as a matter of fact, they terrify me (well, at least they used to). Our first visit to Manenberg Primary School was a nerve-racking day; I had no idea what to say to them. I did not want to talk to them as if they were stupid and I could not find the right words in order to start a conversation. Seriously, what does a sixth grader like to talk about and how am I supposed to know?

During the first half of our first day in Manenberg I tried to talk to some students but the conversations were falling into that awkward silence pit. The silence where you both look at each other and think “quick find something interesting to talk about” or “hum… what is the smoothest way to exit this conversation?” It was a horrifying experience, much like I expected it to be.

Later that afternoon I walked out of the classroom where lunch was held and to my surprise I was greeted by a little girl giving me a HUGE hug and my heart melted. She asked me if I wanted to play On On (basically Tag) with her; there was no way I was going to say no. We went out into the field and just had fun. I became a human airplane ride for the kids, rolled around on the ground, and twirled so many little bodies around in circles. I have never had so much fun just goofing off; and the most amazing part is that I was able to be completely comfortable around children for the first time. I was not worried about whether or not I was going to say something inappropriate, what the kids thought about me (they seemed to love me), or whether or not it was suitable to give them hugs or pick them up. I had an absolute blast playing with them; it was also a pretty decent workout.

That afternoon changed my whole perception of kids; they now hold a very warm spot in my heart. It was a warm up I needed in order to be as effective as possible during the next four weeks of tutoring/mentoring Naledi, the student I was partnered up with.

Now that the trip is winding down to the final week, I have to say I am not ready to leave.  The relationships that I have built with my fellow classmates are unforgettable and will continue once we are back in the States and the impact these kids have had on me is something that has changed me in so many ways. I can honestly say I am going to be “home sick” for Cape Town and the children in Manenberg.

Liz leading her group lesson,”Unique Families”

^L. Josey

“Oh, it would be lovely for these children to have soap…”

I wanted to start this off with a fantastic quote, deep and moving, but for me a quote cannot describe the change that has occurred from within me and my peers throughout this journey here in South Africa. I am truly grateful to have been a part of this journey with a group of such intelligent, compassionate, and driven individuals. The experience definitely would not have been the same without their support, guidance, and love.

Throughout this journey in South Africa I have been looking for that one moment that would spark my curiosity and would lead to me to my digital story for our final project. I began to doubt myself and overanalyze situations, I tried to elicit that moment from other experiences, but it felt forced. Until the day I stepped foot into the girls bathroom at Manenberg Primary School. Alright, now that was a weird transition wasn’t it? But seriously my “light-bulb” moment occurred. I don’t feel the need to go into detail on the conditions of the bathrooms or toilets, but I will say they are not good. As I looked around I noticed that the soap dispensers had been removed from the walls. I do not know if that was from children messing around or if they had been removed. Either way, there was no soap, no paper towels, and no hand dryers. As I walked out of the bathroom, not using it because I had personally reached my limits, I couldn’t help but think about how these children washed their hands after using the toilet. I noticed multiple children constantly coughing and blowing their noses throughout our sessions. I began to stew over this for a couple days, wondering why these children didn’t have access to soap, and if they did have access to soap wouldn’t this prevent a lot of common illnesses that sometimes become full blown illnesses?

So I thought about this, wrote about it in my journal, figured “oh, it would be lovely for these children to have soap…” After much thought I realized that instead of simply stating what I mentioned above, I can actually help this school community with the resources I have at home. I cannot simply spend all my money buying soap for a school in Manenberg, but I have the resources to write grants to corporations to send a continuous supply of hand soaps, towels, or install hand dryers for these children. This issue is something I cannot turn my back on. It may seem so simple; some may say, “Why don’t they just go buy a bottle of soap?” It is not that simple, this school is tight on resources, and the toilets do not even have toilet paper in the stalls. Most children tell us they bring toilet paper from home, which is another issue I plan on addressing. Either way, I know with the right tools and the support I have had from my peers and my enthusiastic professor, Dr. DeMuth, I know that I can advocate for these children and I can help facilitate a way to meet one of their most basic needs: hand soap.

I have learned from this experience that I have taken things for granted, especially soap; but these children in Manenberg are human and they deserve to be able to live a healthy childhood free of harsh illnesses. They also deserve to feel clean and should be given the chance to prevent the spread of germs in their school. I am confident in myself that I can provide the product and am confident that there are companies in the United States that would understand my point of view.

With all that being said, I am confident that I can contribute something to a community that has made an impact on me personally and will remain engrained in my memories. I am not judging their conditions; they simply work with what they are given, but would simply like to share resources that are available to me. Humans need to help each other out, it is in our nature, plain and simple, and that is what I am compelled to do.

Ultimate goal: full soap containers in the bathrooms at Manenberg Primary School.

^L. LeFurge