In the words of South African theologian and human rights advocate Desmond Tutu, “my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” Over the past week here in South Africa, I have begun to recognize the beauty and necessity of togetherness. Traveling twenty-two hours from my home in California to Gordon’s Bay, I prepared myself for the differences: traditions, languages, cultural norms, food, landscapes, history, and societal structure, to name a few. I excitedly anticipated the personal growth and learning that I would derive from exposure to this new environment. While mere exposure does hold some value, my brief time working in the Nomzamo Township thus far has illustrated that it is togetherness that fosters genuine, mutual growth.
“It is incredibly special to be in this group of students from different places, backgrounds, and universities all united by the desire to work together. If I have learned anything from this week and these people, it is that you do not have to be the same to be together, to work together, and to grow together.”
When observing from a distance, it is quite easy to point out and to become fixated on cultural disparities. Certain facets of culture such as language can overshadow deeper human parallels and resemblance. Before embarking on the ACE program, I might have seen Xhosa—a language rich with clicks that I will probably never be able to correctly produce despite my efforts— as a significant barrier to understanding and working with the A.C.J. Primary School students. Working in unison with the community, however, has started to bring more fundamental similarities to the forefront. My limited Xhosa skills and the varying English proficiency of our students are surface level divisions rather than insurmountable obstacles. In fact, the majority of our interactions with the students are not unlike those that would occur at a youth camp in America. There are always the troublemakers, the diligent rule followers, and the jokesters, regardless of what continent you happen to be standing on.
On the second day of the holiday sports program, I experienced a poignant Deja vu moment. Andy, the sports program leader, was reigning in the kids’ attention by singing the repeat-after-me song ‘Boom Chicka Boom.’ As the kids enthusiastically chanted “boom chicka rocka chicka rocka chicka boom,” I was taken back in time to my 4th grade summer camp. When I was ten, my counselors had led me and my fellow campers in that exact same song. I smiled to myself and sang along.
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” – Desmond Tutu
Complementing the joy of working with the children in Nomzamo, it has been an unbelievable pleasure and honor to be a member of this little Stanford-Duke family. Our group features an array of personalities that somehow fit together perfectly. My time in South Africa has been characterized by the brightest smiles and continuous laughter thanks to our amazing ACE team. It is incredibly special to be in this group of students from different places, backgrounds, and universities all united by the desire to work together. If I have learned anything from this week and these people, it is that you do not have to be the same to be together, to work together, and to grow together.