Before embarking on the long journey to South Africa, I had heard only positive things about the ACE program. Everyone who I had spoken to talked about how close they got with each other, how incredibly beautiful the area was, and how fun working with the community would be. While I didn’t know fully what to expect, I anticipated a similar experience. What I did not expect was how impactful the experience was, specifically what I learned from the community, and the way the community members we worked with appreciated our time together.
Every day we showed up to work at the Holiday Sports Camp, the kids eagerly waited at the gate – rain or shine – ready to play and learn. As we walked out the door of the van, day after day, several kids stood there ready to assist us in carrying the equipment inside. Upon the first moment I met the kids, I felt a part of their community and their world. Despite never have met and growing up in a completely different culture, that did not matter to them, as they immediately accepted us as part of their family. Seeing the kids smile and eager to learn warmed my heart and made me feel at home in a culture so distinct from mine.
“Everyone who I had spoken to talked about how close they got with each other, how incredibly beautiful the area was, and how fun working with the community would be…What I did not expect was how impactful the experience was, specifically what I learned from the community, and the way the community members we worked with appreciated our time together. “
There are a number of moments that capture this loving spirit of the communities and kids, but there are three that stand out in my mind. The first was on Day 1 when one girl, *Leslie opened up about her family and life, sharing with many members of the group, and trying to personally connect to each of us. While she called a lot of the group members “Power Rangers,” she called me, “Hannah Montana.” Growing up, I loved Hannah Montana, and by sharing her interest in Disney and the popular stars, I immediately felt a connection to *Leslie, and saw her desire to share and connect. She shared more about interests and life, showing how her community and mine also had many similarities. We love sports, music, tasty food, and popular television. This, however, was just the beginning of getting to know *Leslie – a brilliant, smart girl. I shared with her my interest in French, and every day she would learn a new French word. “Bonjour Hannah!” she would greet me, then ask me more about my life. Her eagerness to learn and desire to make me feel a part of the Zola community will forever stand out to me.
“While I learned so much throughout the three weeks, my main take away is to cherish every moment and love those around me.”
The second moment was after I had finished eating lunch one day. I walked up to a group of boys who were finishing up their meal. We were talking about soccer and sports, when one of the boys asked me if I wanted some of his meal. Many of the kids in the community only get a hot meal at camp or school. He did not hesitate to offer part of his meal to me. This was one of those moments that showed me how loving and compassionate many of the kids we worked with are, treating those around them like family.
The final moment was when working with the women of the community on computer skills. I worked with one woman, *Monica, every day for a week. While in the beginning she could not even turn on the computer or use the mouse, by the end of the week she was successfully navigating the computer and even learned how to use Microsoft Word. Her positive attitude and spirit to stick with the skills we taught was encouraging and heartwarming. It also made me realize I take so many basic skills for granted, such as the ability to use a computer, let alone have access to one whenever I want. Whenever I get frustrated trying to learn a new skill or task, I will recall *Monica’s spirit and loving nature, and remember how blessed I am to even have the opportunity to learn.
The community members of Zola, from the young kids to the adults, welcomed me into their culture from the second I arrived. While I learned so much throughout the three weeks, my main take away is to cherish every moment and love those around me.