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As my ACE team members can attest to, I made thorough use of the sauna at our gym throughout my time in Cape Town where I was able to meet and talk to some fascinating people. As a group of us sat in there together and watched the clock tick, it was often out of boredom that I’d try my best to strike up a conversation.

My favorite conversations were with an older man named Keith who lived right in the neighborhood we were staying in. The dialogues were very similar to those I’d have with my own grandfathers – often having to do with sports, food, and what’s wrong with “the younger generations.” After a passionate rampage on how Twitter will be the downfall of society, Keith did in fact ask if I had any cool pictures from the trip I had posted or was planning on. While he is right about how problematic social media can become, his question did prompt me to look through my camera roll and figure out which photos best captured the memories I’ll take from my time in South Africa.

Catholic Church in Bo Kapp township

I ultimately settled on five pictures, each one representing a unique element of the trip. Included are: a picture from inside the classroom at one of the kindergartens in an impoverished township, a landscape of the coast, a sunset photo with some of the close friends I made over the trip, one from the Bo Kaap area, and one from the back of a Catholic Church in that same township. While these pictures and the themes of service, nature, relationships, culture, and faith that they represent are so unique, the takeaways from each can be boiled down to one: gratitude.

rocky oceanside
South African coastal landscape

Gratitude took on a completely new meaning for me on this trip and prompted quite a bit of personal reflection in my spare time. It was always something my mother had stressed to me and my siblings, but this ACE trip gave me a whole new perspective on the world and what it means to feel, express, and live with gratitude. I felt grateful for everything I had grown up taking for granted, from my health and safety to my access to electricity and clean water. I felt grateful that I got to witness picturesque sunsets and enjoy delicious late night ice cream.

As I was frequently wearing dark blue while volunteering — as I often do in my hometown of Chapel Hill as well — I appreciated what Duke provides me with in every facet of my campus life. When one of our South African coordinators encouraged us to “fly our flag proudly,” I felt such a sense of gratitude for my liberties and freedoms that so many Americans died for. Finally, and most importantly, I felt gratitude for the people in my life that care so deeply about me and inspired to try to live my own more selflessly.

township colorful houses
Bo Kapp

To my ACE in South Africa teammates, thank you all for helping make this an unforgettable experience and adding so much fun energy to everything we did. To my GVI leaders, I thank you for giving us a great example of selflessness with your devotion to volunteerism around the world and for organizing and executing a phenomenal trip for us. To my Duke coaches from last year who encouraged me to take this opportunity, I thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone into the experience of a lifetime.

man teaching child at table
Inside the classroom at one of the kindergartens in an impoverished township

Seeing kindergarteners smile during every song and dance, witnessing the excitement of the older kids after scoring a goal, and hearing Keith weigh in on Gen Z’s obsession with social media reminded me that we all come from the same place. Moreover, we all crave the same things in our lives no matter where life takes us: hope, joy, and love. Out of a greater sense of gratitude that I’ve gained from this trip, I look forward to restoring hope, sharing joy, and spreading love with all those I encounter.

Here are my pictures, Keith.

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