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Before the plane took off for South Africa, the one aspect I was most nervous about was the reaction we would receive from the community. Would they welcome us? Would they trust foreigners who weren’t familiar with their culture?

“When we spend time in the community, we give people the opportunity to learn from a different culture.”

All of the concerns I had quickly went away once we started working in Zola. The owners of the center we worked at were excited to see us and thanked us for what we were doing. The children would stand at the gate and wave when our van entered each morning. They also were quick to teach us games and invite us to join them. The same can be said for the many creative handshakes created during our two weeks running the sports camp. When we worked with the adults during our women’s empowerment and first aid workshops, the adults were eager to soak up as much information from us as they could during those five days. They engaged the material and asked questions so that they could learn skills that could either help them get a job or enable them to respond to an emergency and keep their community safe.

One night, we had *Lizo, a role model in the community who works at center, over for dinner at our house. He discussed the value of having people working in the township that come from across the globe. When we spend time in the community, we give people the opportunity to learn from a different culture. Similar to how we benefit from experiencing their culture and sense of community, but without traveling to the United States. During my time in South Africa, I learned how welcoming and accepting the community was, and I began to understand the value of our presence there. It was more than what we were physically doing at the worksite. The value was also the experience we shared with the community and the benefit of individuals from two cultures coming together. It is amazing to know that this shared experience didn’t begin when we first arrived in the township and won’t end now that we are back in the United States.

“The value was also the experience we shared with the community and the benefit of individuals from two cultures coming together. It is amazing to know that this shared experience didn’t begin when we first arrived in the township and won’t end now that we are back in the United States.”

GVI has a long term partnership with these communities and that relationship was a big part of the warm welcome we were greeted with upon arrival. Our ACE program has continued to grow each year and that foundation made this experience so special for each of us. It is fulfilling to know that the work we did in the community will pave the way for other volunteers and our future ACE participants.

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