As I reflect back on my experience in South Africa, I get emotional thinking about my time in the township and all the incredible people that I got to know so well. I arrived in Cape Town believing that I had a good idea of what to expect from the communities we would work with, but each day was full of surprises and new lessons learned. The experience of “load shedding” was one that had an unexpectedly profound impact on me. We were all warned about load shedding during our pre-program meetings, so I prepared myself for these daily power outages. However, no training could have prepared me for the experience of load shedding while working in the township.
When we walked into one of the Early Childhood Development Centers (ECD) for the first time, the children rushed to greet us with the biggest, most genuine smiles. Their excitement only grew when the classroom lights turned on and the time came for us to start class. The very next day, we had our first encounter with load shedding. We were in one of the ECDs and the children were drawing various fruits when the power went out. Sighs of disappointment filled the room. These children have grown up experiencing load shedding every single day. They cheer for joy when lights come on and roll their eyes when the lights go out.
[The load shedding app] has become a daily reminder of my experience in South Africa and continues to contribute to a newfound form of gratitude that I have for things that I once took for granted.
– Brandy Atuatasi, Stanford Women’s Track & Field
While I was in South Africa, I downloaded an app that notified me when load shedding was scheduled to occur. I’ve been home for four days now, and I’m still receiving alerts on my phone about daily scheduled times for load shedding. Every time that I get this notification, I think about the young students and athletes that I got to know. Growing up in the States, I had never thought about how inconvenient it would be if the power randomly cut out. Of course, I’ve experienced some power outages in my lifetime, but I have the privilege of not dealing with them every day. I don’t think I’ll ever delete this app from my phone. It’s become a daily reminder of my experience in South Africa and continues to contribute to a newfound form of gratitude that I have for things that I once took for granted.
My time in South Africa was a very humbling experience. The children and community partners that we worked with will have an everlasting impact on me. The last three weeks were the most monumental three weeks of my life so far. I returned home with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation to stay civically engaged.