In what is arguably the most chaotic time of my life, from playing in my first ever Women’s Softball College World Series to graduating from Stanford, to trying out for Team USA, and all of the things in between, one thing remained consistent. That one thing was my plane ticket to South Africa on July 21st. ACE in South Africa, could not have come at a better time, with better people in a better place.
I came into this new country, into this new continent, knowing that it was going to be a completely different experience for me in a completely different community. I didn’t have any idea of the ability to create a community of my own while still managing to find a role and impact a new community that once felt so different to me. My Duke and Stanford peers, who I only knew of through mutual friends back on campus, did nothing short of making the experience so memorable. The purest laughs, memories, and forms of joy that I have ever witnessed came over these last three weeks, and I only attribute my team members to making that possible.
I will never be able to describe the community of the townships and how much being a part of them, especially Langa where we spent the most time, impacted me. The opportunity to create relationships with early childhood development (ECD) students, despite only knowing how to say “listen” and “be quiet” in their language, was such a unique experience. To feel so strongly about only wanting the best for each one of the kids that held my hand and pulled me towards their seat when it was time to move from the carpet to the tables, and the less literal pull the kids that would sit in the back of the classroom waiting for their turn for us to tell them good morning had on me.
Teaching the 12u rugby team the sport of softball, and seeing the smiles on their faces when their friend would miss a popfly, brought a whole new perspective of the game that I have played for nearly 15 years.
– Alana Vawter, Stanford Softball
These were bonds unlike any other and ones that I will cherish forever. Although there were some of the kids that clung to individuals from our ACE team, perhaps the most rewarding part of it all for me was to see a new kid’s face every day and the smile we were able to bring by singing whatever song or simply giving them a high five. Just to look into their eyes, knowing I had no idea what their life was like, or would be like, but that, for 45 minutes together, we were right where the both of us were meant to be.
ACE in South Africa, could not have come at a better time, with better people in a better place.
– Alana Vawter, Stanford Softball
To be completely present in this experience was my goal. In the end, I was able to do not only that, but I was also able to understand the full benefits of it. All it ever took was simply giving one kid at the ECD my full attention for five minutes, appreciating their design they colored on the 3D paper boat, and helping them pick out the right colors to feel pure joy. Teaching the 12u rugby team the sport of softball, and seeing the smiles on their faces when their friend would miss a popfly, brought a whole new perspective of the game that I have played for nearly 15 years. I was able to learn so much in what felt like such a short amount of time. But boy was it the right amount of time, in the right place, with all of the right people.