Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Bittersweet Ending

Well, our time in South Africa has come to an end. The VCU students are now back in the US, and I'm willing to bet that things are much less hectic now for the UKZN students and faculty. However, before we left we were fortunate to have the last few days off to enjoy our time in Durban with each other. I think I speak for the group when I say we made the most of every minute!

My incredible team at the Kenneth Gardens Community Hall.
 I already miss seeing these faces every day...

Being our usual goofy selves

At the goodbye picnic in Durban Botanical Gardens

All in all, leaving Durban and all of my South African friends (and Zim friends of course- shout out to Chiedza and Showers!) was bittersweet for me. Though it's great to see my friends and family here in the States, I fell in love with South Africa and its people. For this reason, I've decided to apply for a Fulbright research grant in order to return to Durban and the Kenneth Gardens community.  The deadline for my draft research proposal is due next week, so that's how I will be spending my weekend! It's a long, arduous process to apply, but it will all be so, so worth it if I am granted the opportunity to return to my Global Bridges family in Durban. Wish me luck!

To my Global Bridges family- I miss all of you guys so much already. Good luck with the rest of the semester. I know we will see each other again! Fingers crossed it will be sooner rather than later (just now). ;)

 Love always, Lisa. xx

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ubuntu! I am because we are and we are (as we say at St Paul's Baptist Church) because God is.

Today we leave to go back to the United States with our time in South Africa well spent. We had our closing presentations on Wednesday and our community farewell on Thursday. It was awesome to see how much everyone appreciated our hard work. The head master of Brettonwood High School had so many positive things to say about the impact we have had (and will continue to have) on his students. He thanked us wholeheartedly and told us he would love to have us back at his school doing similar work with additional students.

I was sooooo proud of all of the students who organized and executed their own closing ceremony. The program consisted of the students welcoming their guests, discussing what they had been doing over the last month, discussing the meaningfulness of the program, and inviting the guests to enjoy refreshments and talk with their peers about why they took certain photos. They led the program themselves and it was so well received that the head master wants them to do it again this coming Monday for the student body during an assembly. At the end of their ceremony hugs were passed around, laughter filled the room, and there were even a few tears shed. The students were so happy about how everything turned out, so happy to know their photos meant something to someone other than themselves. I remember one student saying to me "Jasmine, this lady came up to my photo (a beautiful picture that showed two concrete pathways leading to different places), read my caption (a discussion about how we all have a choice - we ultimately decide where/how we end up), and cried." He was so excited that his art could move someone in that way. It was empowering to watch them be empowered , to watch them realize they could be powerful in their own way, to watch them see their talents come to life before their eyes, and to watch them receive praise from others that they may have otherwise never seen - it was an incredible experience.

I was also moved during the farewell to the community. The community mother - Ma Connie (or GoGo) shared some very kind words about how much she appreciated the interviews we did with community members. There were other women there who shared similar sentiments. They, like the head master from Brettonwood, also wanted to see us back in their community. After the semi formal community farewell, we said our final goodbyes to our mentees - yep more tears. I exchanged phone numbers and Facebook information with many of them and told them I would let them know when I return to South Africa (I hope to be back within the next year). After we had already boarded the van to leave, the girls begged Morgan and I to do one last traditional Zulu dance with them (Jackpots). Even though we mess it up every time, we happily did it with pride. I love doing that dang dance! Haha :)

I will surely miss the mentees, the kind community mothers, the funny community men, the slight warmth of the South African sun in winter, the beautiful waves of the Indian Ocean, the van rides with Tamlynn, the informative conversations with our UKZN peers, the learning spaces that were created in the most unexpected places, the random "Sawubona Sisi" from native South Africans who assumed I was Zulu, and many many more things. I look forward to resuming my life in the States and I am also looking forward to my return to Africa.

Bye for now,


PS - You will hear from me again about my adjustment back to life in the States.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Goodbye is Hard

What an amazing adventure!  A real curvy, up and down rollercoaster ride… at times exhilarating and exhausting, emotional and moving, frustrating, entertaining, educational, beautiful and challenging.  We gave it our all, accomplished all that we came here to do, and in return gained new friends and family.  I didn’t know I would get so close to this place and the people here.  I didn’t expect it would begin to feel like home.
They say when you travel, you never return the same person.  I certainly will not return the same as I left.  I have a greater appreciation for global health and the struggles of people outside the US, and the knowledge gained from building global bridges - connections between people, regardless of country of origin.

For fear of leaving out anyone, I will simply say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone… for the love and kindness, hospitality, patience, strength and resilience you displayed and instilled in us.  I will miss you all.

In the press

Our project was featured in a local Durban paper!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Blossoms at Brettonwood

As expected, the Brettonwood learners did not disappoint at their PhotoVoice presentation yesterday.  They did a GREAT job!  In fact, my words cannot do justice in expressing the awe and pride I feel with their accomplishment.  This performance was led by the same group that we heard iterations of again and again to lower our expectations… from their teachers, principals and various community members.  I only wish more of these people and more of their parents were in attendance to witness the same glimpse of their potential that we were privileged to see.  As outsiders, we were free to form our own opinions about the learners and we chose to believe in them.  Day after day they revealed themselves and proved worthy of our respect and praise.  They rose to the opportunity and blossomed in front of our eyes.

I was particularly impressed with the transformation of one of my mentees.  He was certainly not one of the main “talkers” of the group, but he volunteered to speak during the presentation.  I was moved by his audacity and willingness to participate.  Although he struggled a bit in the beginning with his nerves, he persevered… and eventually provided a great oration.  

My Father wrote the following quote in my high school graduation card, and I think it applies to my mentee, as well as to the other Brettonwood Learners:

“Success is to be measured not by the number of accomplishments, but by the number of obstacles one has overcome while working towards their accomplishments.”
--Booker T. Washington

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Late Nights...Early Mornings

Whew!!! I have been incredibly busy over these last few weeks - not only with Building Global Bridges but also with my own personal work. Anyone who has ever completed a PhD program can testify to this statement: The work never ends...until you graduate...kinda. Even though I am away I still have to keep up with my academic responsibilities from home. Its been difficult to manage all of my responsibilites but I am ever learning to master the skill of time management, which is essential to successfully navigativing the journey of professional life. Needless to say, I have had my share of late nights and early mornings in Durban. I must confess, however, that my nights of limited rest cannot only be attributed to work. I have also stayed up/out late exploring South Africa outside of Kenneth Garderns and UKZN. At this point in my life, I am also trying to master the skill of working hard but playing harder and I am getting great practice in Durban. This past weekend I had an awesome time visiting Zululand. I had the opportunity to visit museums honoring King Shaka Zulu and Cheif Albert Luthuli (1st South African nobel peace prize winner), see a series of AMAZING traditional Zulu dances, dance some AMAZINGLY DIFFICULT traditional Zulu dances, eat dinner with the Cheif of Shakaland (a small commerical community within Zululand), and visit King Dingani's palace. I also went on a safari during which I saw 4 (elephant, wilderbeast, rhino, and a lion)of the South Africa's Big 5 (we missed the cheetas). Annnnnnnd I had a chance to meet and spend some time with a Sangoma(traditional healer). I loved all parts of my trip in different ways but the visit with the Sangoma was quite interesting and one of my favorite parts. Though most of the South Africans that I have met think that going to see a Sangoma is a pretty wild idea - I enjoyed my experience thoroughly and saw somethings I had never seen, heard somethings I already knew about my life, and learned somethings that I did not know. Overall, this weekend was great! It gave me a different feel for South Africa and I appreciated that. I played very hard this weekend and enjoyed every minute of it :) Check out my pics below...