All 10 students and 2 faculty/staff have arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa for this year’s WGS study abroad trip (our luggage happened to make it too)! We spent our first night having a fantastic dinner at a steakhouse on Mandela Square, and are all now back in our rooms getting ready for some much needed sleep after about 30 hours of travel.
Look forward to our student-written posts about all of our excursions and experiences coming in the next few days!
This week marks the last week we attended Manenberg Primary School. Yesterday, we had to say goodbye to our learners and to the place where we have spent three hours a day for the last five weeks.
On Monday, we had the learners share their short stories with one another. We have heard some really great stories this week. One included a superhero that could shoot spaghetti out of his hands, and another was about an bear who stops a robbery by throwing milk tarts at the culprit.
It was really fun to hear the learners share their stories. Many of them would never have been confident in the beginning to read in front of the class. It’s been really awesome to be able to watch that growth. We’re really proud of all the learners.
On Tuesday, we had a discussion about how we use math in real life, and the applications of math in careers. We really wanted the learners to be able to share their big dreams of the future, but focusing on how they might use math in their future. We heard a wonderful business plan about a recreational tower and heard from a future fashion designer.
Wednesday was our very last day at Manenberg. The social studies group arranged the first ever Gemstones Grammy Award ceremony, and the learners spent their day being treated like celebrities and rock stars. Each of the GVSU students created paper plate awards for their learners and presented them at the awards ceremony. The ceremony also included fun commercial breaks where we had activities like a selfie challenge and a challenge to draw Dr. D with their eyes shut. We had a lot of fun.
We also got to hear speeches by the head of the SHAWCO program at Manenberg, and from some of the learners. It got kind of emotional to hear from them how much they’ll miss us and how thankful they are to us for being there.
It was really hard to say goodbye to our learners. It’s hard to know that we won’t be back again tomorrow to see them and hug them and hear their wild stories. Saying goodbye to them means that we’re getting ready to say goodbye to South Africa. It’s a hard realization to come to.
Following a trip that the learners had to Cape Point on Monday, theywere filled with excitement for the rest of the week. My learners have been acting more comfortable around me and I can see the relationships that I am building with my learners as well as the relationships`growing between the other Grand Valley students and their learners. After a week full of multiplication and character building, for short story writing, dancing was a great note to end the week on. The dance lesson was presented by the Social Studies Curriculum Group. Penni and Ari taught a variety of hustles and then the lesson was ended with a huge dance party (including a soul train line). Joyful dancing consumed the room by all of the learners and GVSU students. This lesson brought a nice end to the week.
As the weeks go by, our relationships are growing stronger; I am not looking forward to leaving in the next couple of weeks. I had never imagined that going on this study abroad trip would end with me being so attached to my learners. They have taught me how to be patient and as one of my learners said it, “We are all family here.” I am eager to see what the next couple of weeks at Mannenberg will hold.
As someone involved in activist work back in the United States, I was intrigued to learn more about social justice issues and activism on the University of Cape Town’s campus. As a browsed campus I became aware of the similarities and differences of social justice work occurring in South Africa and back home. One flyer I saw advertised a donation drive for pads and tampons to give to younger students. It mentioned that young students are often absent from school because they are menstruating but lack access to menstruation products. Coincidently, prior to leaving, I was working with Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids to collect pads and tampons as well. For many in the U.S., especially lower-income individuals, pads and tampons are extremely expensive. This is further complicated by the fact that menstruation products are not exempt from the state sales tax because they are not considered to be essential. I found this to the absolutely ridiculous, so I organized a donation drive “Give Power. Period.” to bring awareness to this issue and provide pads and tampons to those that may not be able to afford them.
I dedicate a fair amount of my time fighting for reproductive rights through volunteering with Planned Parenthood. Therefore, I was interested in learning more about abortion after seeing a sign about women’s right to choose. After some research, I learned that abortion is legal in South Africa. A woman is not required to have a reason to terminate her pregnancy up to 12 weeks, and after that point up until 20 weeks she must cite one of the following reasons: rape, severe fetal abnormality, severe maternal physical or mental disease, and/or severe social or economic conditions from continued pregnancy. Furthermore, parental, spousal, and/or guardian consent is not required for a pregnancy termination. This differs from the strict abortion laws in the United States that often times require consent from parents, mandatory counseling, and waiting periods. South Africa recognizes the importance of providing its citizens with safe and legal abortion to reduce maternal mortality and provide women with bodily autonomy.
In the bathrooms on campus, free female condoms are provided for students. This is part of a government program to reduce HIV rates and increase the use of condoms in general. The government has even gone as far as providing colored and flavored condoms for free to increase their appeal in the face of reduced usage rates. Although there are a few places on Grand Valley’s campus that offer free condoms, there are no free condom dispensers in bathrooms. Furthermore, these free condoms are not issued by a government program, that would be entirely too progressive.
Overall, I am impressed by the activism and progressiveness occurring in South Africa. Perhaps the United States could take some cues by initiating social reforms and amending regressive laws.
Unlike many zoos and other places that own animals, Aquila Game Reserve respects the animals under its care. The reserve is over 7,000 acres; providing plenty of roaming area for elephants and lions. The animals live in their natural habitats so they are able to feed on the natural vegetation and are already acclimated to the weather. Furthermore, the reserve takes many precautions to ensure the safety of its animals. At one point, one of the rhinos living there was had its horn removed by poachers. Now the entire rhino herd is under 24/7 surveillance in addition to extra security at night for all the animals.
The reserve also serves as a place for visitors to gain respect and appreciation for nature. The tour guides for safaris provide information about the reserve and the animals. Our guide mentioned that the two male elephants living there were rescued from going to a circus. Stories like this make you rethink visiting circuses and zoos. Those animals are not in their natural habitats, they are often in tiny environments, and are forced to perform for spectators. At least at the reserve the animals can live safely and happily instead of being imprisoned.
Another positive thing about the reserve is the rehabilitation center. Many of the animals that are rescued live in this area for awhile until a permanent home is found for them or until they are healthy enough to live on the reserve. Currently, two crocodiles, a leopard, and lions are living there until they can be moved elsewhere. As the sign outside of the reserve mentioned, the less animals living in the rehabilitation, the better as this indicates less animals were in need of being saved from harmful situations.
Visiting Aquila was much more than just a fun weekend trip to ogle at majestic animals. I started to critically consider why reserves like this have to exist. Climate change, deforestation, and poaching has led to the extinction or near extinction of many species. All of those issues seem to have one common factor involved: humans. With every glacier that melts, forest that is cleared for a shopping mall to be built, and extinct species, the closer we are to ending our own human existence. It is time to consider the possibly irreversible consequences of our actions.
The ride to the Aquila Game Reserve was nothing but beautiful. Seeing the clouds intertwine with the mountains gave surreal scenery and made us think about what was up ahead. Arriving to the reserve we were greeted with refreshments and led to a lunch buffet. After getting our room keys and time to our leisure we underwent an evening safari. During this safari we saw two elephants who were 20 and 21 years old. Katryna, a member in our group was in a state of bliss when encountering them. (She Loves Them) These elephants were surrounded by ostriches and the beautiful greenery.
Our next stop led to a “dazzle” of zebra as taught to us by our tour guide when referring to a group of them. These zebras have a good relationship with the wildebeests scattered among them. One is efficient in sight and the other in hearing. There’s no competition on food sources because they don’t eat the same things. The rhinos we passed had a very interesting back story and we were told the epidemic of poaching and rhinos lives being at stake. They are under 24/hour surveillance to cut down on this.
After, we met up with the lions during the tour. Separated from the other animals that we had just seen, I noticed the difference in stature from the lions inside Lion Park in Joburg. They were beautifully intimidating.
Proceeding the intense time with the lions and us fearing for our lives for 3 minutes we headed off to an area where we got off the truck and had champagne while getting as close as possible to the giraffes in the distance. Although the temperature kept decreasing overall the safari was nice and coming back 30 minutes before the dinner buffet was a win as well.
We woke to an early morning safari seeing some of the same things but with the sunrise attached to it. The meet up with the lions again was interesting. One of them was ready to attack when a guy from another trucks flashed their light while taking a picture. That was then followed by the rehabilitation center talked about previously and then proceeded to head back for breakfast, down time and checkout.
It has been a long month here at Manenburg and I snapped this picture of a community mural on the school wall, to me it captures in essence the beauty and sweet intelligence of these kids
and it’s break time as my peers and I were finishing our English lesson on building a character/mind map for a story.
The learners were to create a character and background information on it, some including weaknesses, five adjectives for physical description and a birth place. They loved it! We have been trying to pursue some foundational developments with creative writing and identification. Enhancing imagination has been incredible and difficult, on some days many are too tired and fussy as 12 year olds sometimes are. There are stories about pencils with superpowers, elephant teachers and many moral lessons as well. The Math group kept everyone happy with multiplication BINGO, which was a crowd pleaser and division/fractions which, was not taken too badly. Social Studies group taught a engaging and interactive Self-Love/Care which allowed for us to become more transparent and create and receive lessons both to and from our learners.
This is our last full school week with our kids and it is very much so difficult to fully engage with this. The confidence and relaxation that has come about in our learners these past several weeks is much gratifying to the heart and eyes. Preparing for our departure only allowed for a surprise. Friday afternoon as we entered the class we were greeted with a singing surprise of “The Worlds Greatest” song and it was quite the tear-jerker. Filled with emotions and mixed feelings this week, the suprises we get from our learners are more than present moments, as I think, only until the final and last few days.