While our three weeks in South Africa have come to a close, the lessons I have learned and the memories I have experienced will have a lasting impact on me for the remainder of my life. It has been the most impactful and immersive weeks I could ask for. On the flight home, I thought long and hard about why this experience was so powerful. However cliché it may sound, I kept coming back to this year’s ACE theme of “Hands In.” From the get go, the other members of the ACE group made it clear that they were willing to do anything in their power to help in whatever capacity they were needed. The group was all in on this experience, which was inspiring to me to see and made it really easy to take on each task placed in front of us. In addition, I was amazed to see how “Hands In” the community was during both the sports camp and women’s empowerment program and how everyone gave their best effort and full attention in learning the new skills we had the opportunity to teach. Here are the two most important things that I will take with me from this experience:
1. Working as a team creates a better learning environment for each individual.
I think everyone in the ACE group quickly came to the realization that we couldn’t teach these sports and lessons alone. During lesson planning before the first day of the sports camp, the group in charge of teaching soccer went around the dinner table and asked for everyone’s input on different soccer drills, games, and contests. Everyone was bouncing ideas off of each other which ultimately created a great lesson plan and one that everyone played a role in. This first night of lesson planning had an impact on the remainder of the plans as the group saw that the best lesson plans were created when the ACE group worked together.
The children participating in the sports camp also came to realize the importance of teamwork and seemed to have much more fun participating in team contests rather than individual contests. For example, one of the drills we had the kids do during the rugby lesson was an obstacle course where they jumped over hurdles and ran around cones while holding the rugby ball. We started the drill with each child going through the obstacle course alone, and then split the group into two to see which team could complete it first. When they had to work as a team, they were cheering each other on and helping each other because they knew that they wouldn’t win by solely their quickness in the obstacle course.
2. Community creates happiness.
Honestly, this lesson is hard to put into words but one that impacted me from the moment I first arrived in the Zola Township. I am not sure exactly what I expected the children we worked with in Zola to be like, but, right when I met each of them for the first time, I realized how happy each child was during camp and how excited they were to meet new people. Through the next couple of weeks I noticed that it wasn’t just the children we worked with at the camp but other community members we met also greeted us with a smile on their faces. Most of the community members we worked with had none of the materialistic items that many people claim brings happiness, yet the community members I got to know were some of the most optimistic, joyous people I have met. This helped me to realize that true happiness doesn’t come from what you have, but rather the relationships you have built and the community that you have around you. It was a very different experience for me to see community members greeting each other on the street and neighbors actually knowing and being there for one another. For example, after the sports camp was over, we saw many of the children playing with one another at one of the houses across the street from the church we worked at. It brought a smile to my face observing that the children had friends and community with one another that they could lean on for support.