This summer, seven Duke and Stanford student-athletes virtually supported SA Harvest, an NGO that works to give every South African access to nutritious diets through food rescue and distribution. The ACE in Place South Africa team broke into small groups to provide research towards one of SA Harvest’s main three goals.
Devin Connell (Duke Men’s Cross Country and Track & Field) and Carly King (Duke Women’s Track & Field) collected data on malnutrition among adolescents in South Africa. Natalie Maurer (Duke Women’s Soccer) and Zach Wassmer (Duke Men’s Swimming & Diving) analyzed current nutrition trends and identified nutrients that could improve current diets. Finally, Suhas Chundi (Stanford Wrestling), Deja Davis (Duke Softball), and Faith Zehfuss (Stanford Lightweight Rowing) explored and presented creative ways to increase nutrition and food waste education.
“This project opened my eyes to the reality of society’s relationship with food. I learned that food is interconnected with almost every nameable social issue, ranging from wealth disparity to domestic violence to deforestation.”
– Zach Wassmer, Duke Men’s Swimming
Carly King preparing Cape Malay Curry. Image courtesy of Carly King.
The research-based nature of ACE’s collaboration with SA Harvest initially left some of the student-athletes wondering how they could meaningfully contribute to a service project in a virtual format. During the final presentation and meeting with SA Harvest’s COO, Deja Davis (Duke Softball) saw how virtual service can become a catalyst for real encouragement and tangible progress. Deja reflects, “…while researching these ideas to propose to SA Harvest did not seem like much to me, it was clear at our final presentation with their COO, Ozzy, that our ideas and suggestions would greatly impact their organization and their goals. His kind words and grace will stick with me far after this project.”
Learning about global malnutrition and lack of access to nutritious foods also had a transformational impact on the student-athletes themselves. Duke Men’s Swimming and Diving teammate Zach Wassmer shared how researching with SA Harvest changed how he thinks about food systems. He writes, “This project opened my eyes to the reality of society’s relationship with food. I learned that food is interconnected with almost every nameable social issue, ranging from wealth disparity to domestic violence to deforestation.”
“From learning how to dance, speak, and cook, to learning about conservation and architecture, I got to dive deeper into South Africa’s world than I thought we would since it was a virtual experience.”
– Natalie Maurer (Duke Women’s Soccer)
But, the transformation for many of the ACE student-athletes including Wassmer went beyond a better understanding of society’s relationship with food. The ACE in Place South Africa team also had the opportunity to learn from local South African entrepreneurs in virtual Masterclass sessions.
Suhas Chundi (Stanford Wrestling) recalls hearing how Recycle Rebuild founder Rory started the NGO after leaving a job environment that no longer aligned with his values. Hearing these stories and participating in digital coaching sessions encouraged Suhas to “consider my values and create goals that align with my values” as he explains that ”there is sometimes a pressure to equate success and money, but the speakers we heard from definitely changed that perspective.”
These Masterclass workshops and coaching sessions, alongside a Zulu dance class and cooking class where the students learned to make a Cape Malay curry helped the student-athletes immerse themselves in South African culture from miles away.! “From learning how to dance, speak, and cook, to learning about conservation and architecture,” Natalie Maurer (Duke Women’s Soccer) admits, “I got to dive deeper into South Africa’s world than I thought we would since it was a virtual experience.”