Going into the ACE program, I was prepared to soak in the South African culture, meet members of the Zola Township, and help run a fun holiday sports program for kids in the community. What I wasn’t prepared for was the incredibly warm welcome from the community members; the sight of kids dancing as we drove into Anointed, the center at which we would be working, for the first time; and the overwhelming kindness I experienced throughout the trip. We were greeted each day with a smile by our amazing driver, Bulelani, who took us to the Zola Township every day. Every morning when we arrived at the school, the kids would run to talk to us, hopping up and down with excitement and begging us to start playing sports with them right away. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and every day we left the school wanting to stay for so much longer.
“[The kids’] enthusiasm was infectious, and every day we left the school wanting to stay for so much longer.”
Prior to the trip, I had been nervous about three weeks being a long enough period of time to have any positive effect on the community we would be working with. I wondered if the kids we worked with would remember us or the camp when we left. I wondered if they would remember scoring their first goal during a soccer drill, learning about the elements of a healthy lifestyle, or playing song-and-dance games together during free-time.
Over the past few weeks, this nervous feeling quickly disappeared as I watched the kids help each other with their technique during sports drills, laugh together while drawing their favorite foods, and teach each other the words to “Jiggalo,” one of their favorite games which involved both singing and dancing. I realized that, even if the kids don’t remember our names or the specific lessons we taught, they will carry with them the kindness and teamwork they showed in every activity they took part in. One of my most bittersweet memories was from our last day in the Zola Township, when we said good-bye to all of the kids. We were playing one final game of “Jiggalo,” and a few kids from the community who had not attended the camp ran in and started to play. At first, they didn’t know any of the words, but the rest of the kids quickly started to teach them the game, and soon enough everyone was laughing while dancing and singing the tune, “Jigg-alo, jigg-jigg-alo!”
This game showed the full-heartedness of the kids in the camp and was a small example of the incredible sense of community I experienced throughout my time in Zola. It was incredible to see how kids of all ages looked out for one another and treated each other like family, especially in situations where one of the kids was struggling to master an activity. The kids taught me the power of community and the happiness and strength that comes from forming close relationships with those around us.
“From being able to experience the truly special bonds present between community members in Zola to laughing while the kids tried to teach me the proper clicks of the Xhosa language, I felt that I was constantly learning and having fun all at the same time.”
From being able to experience the truly special bonds present between community members in Zola to laughing while the kids tried to teach me the proper clicks of the Xhosa language, I felt that I was constantly learning and having fun all at the same time. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and for the chance to have been able to meet so many wonderful people, from the women and children of the Zola community to the inspiring Braai entrepreneurs of Estratweni Mobile Foods. As I look to the future, I will cherish the countless memories I have made in the past few weeks with my fellow Stanford and Duke student-athletes and the lifelong lessons I have learned from my time in the Zola township. Enkosi, Zola!