Monday, November 21, 2011

My Year as a Rotary Scholar, In Review

My time as a Rotary Scholar is winding down, much faster than I ever imagined.  Luckily, I will be returning to Cape Town in January but in a way it is still the end of many things. For example, when I return i'm no longer an official rotary scholar, though  I will stay as involved as I can.  Also, most of my friends will be moving on as well so I will be starting over in many ways when I return.  Therefore,  I am stuck between this weird feeling of closure and excitement for returning home and then starting fresh when I return to the Cape in January.  I would like to focus on some highlights of recent events and people i've found to be inspiring during my time here.

Firstly, I've been working with my old spanish teacher at Holy Innocents Episcopal School in Atlanta, GA (my old high school) to form a sister school (a long term relationship with a yearly exchange) with a school here in Cape Town.  I struggled the first few months to find a school willing to spend the time on this, but things fell in to place in July thanks to a Rotary connection.  For the last 5 months or so i've been working with the interact club at Groote Schuur High School in Rondebosch.  The students in the club are extremely bright students, mostly women, from Eastern Cape, Cape Town, Namibia, and other areas of South Africa.  I've had a great time getting to interact with him, giving them access to the blog they use to communicate with students in Atlanta, and scheduling a skype session for them to all interact.  Finally on Monday we had our first Skype session!  I was worried because you never can tell with the internet here, it is barely fast enough to have a decent conversation on skype on a good day let alone handle video for 30 minutes.  But, everything fell into place and we had a great conversation.  It is difficult to explain the positive and exciting vibe that took place.  The students were all so enthralled with each other, and you could see that the young women here took pride in their cultures.  This is often complicated here because of the political history surrounding race and different cultures.  In addition, I think the students were surprised to see how much they had in common.  Another highlight of this conversation was seeing the young girls react to seeing an American boy! They equally delighted to hear that he was in fact an American football player!  Also, it was great to see how impressed the students in Atlanta were to hear the students speaking in Xhosa (one of the 11 official languages here, involving 3 different types of clicks). All in all I think they had a good time and were able to find similarities and differences in their lifestyles and cultures.  These students here only know about American culture from TV and it is nice for them to get to find new pathways of communication with students in America.  Below is a picture of the interact club communicating with the students in Atlanta.  I am hoping that this is just the beginning of many more skype sessions to come! I can see the positive effect it has had already and i'm happy to have been a part of the initial stages.

I've also spent the last month doing research for my thesis.  Again my thesis is looking at how different government departments and levels of leadership interact surrounding flooding issues in informal settlements.  I'm looking at a case study of an informal settlement in a detention pond.  Recently i've interviewed community leaders, and representatives from different city government departments as well as a representative from the disaster risk management department.  I also was able to help my professor and some colleagues with a workshop for various government representatives about risk response.  It has been a good opportunity for me to learn how various government departments function and collaborate around issues of risk and flooding. (pictured below). From my research i've also been able to get multiple perspectives about the various complexities of managing informal settlements.  Working with city representatives and researching in the informal settlement of Graveyard Pond has definitely been a highlight of my time here.  It has also helped me figure out what I might want to do next when I have finished my degree.

One story i'd also like to share is about a women who works on the corner of the street I live on selling the "big Issue".  The Big Issue is a magazine that employs vendors from disadvantaged areas (mostly townships).  I pass Cynthia often as I walk to the bus and we always exchanged casual friendly greetings. Recently I decided to stop and ask more about her.  We talked for a while and it turns out she is in her 40s, is raising children, working at the big issue and has managed to get training in over 10 different areas of social work.  She has certificates from workshops on sexual abuse, drug abuse, leadership, etc.  She informed me that she has been working to get a bursary for the University of the Western Cape so she can study social work next year and get a degree.  Because of her situation growing up whatever it may have been, she never graduated so she even worked hard recently to matriculate (graduate) and get a high school certificate.  Unfortunately she was denied bursary because of her low scores.  It is a tough balance here, well anywhere really when it comes to race, poverty, and education.  But, Cynthia's efforts to get a degree and become a social worker so that she can move out of Khayelisha (one of the larger townships in Cape Town) and make a bigger impact is inspiring to see.

So, as I sit and reflect on my time here I feel as though my work is not done.  I would like to formalize this sister school relationship if possible, continue exploring my research question, and hopefully get some experience doing some teaching next semester.  I am hoping to work with another student to form a society where science departments send students into high need schools (mostly township and informal settlement areas) to do science education.  This is a gap that definitely needs to be filled and I think it would be mutually beneficial to have different UCT students in schools getting kids excited about science. I would also like to help University of Cape Town formalize service learning a bit more through this society if it goes well.  I am not sure what the next step will be for me, but i'd like to finish the work i've started here and then see where opportunities take me.  All in all i'm grateful to Rotary International for sending me here to Cape Town and I look forward to returning after a few weeks home in the U.S.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Winter in the Cape

Winter here has come and gone, so i'm going to try and recap my whereabouts, projects, and experiences and take a bit of time to reflect on these.  Since the last time I posted, classes have started as well as the thesis proposal process of my Master's.  I 've become more involved in a few service projects but have still struggled to get a long-term project on the ground and running.

This semester started off with a bang.  As soon as classes started, the whole thesis process really started to speed up.  I was lucky to have found a PHd student who is helping me with my research.  For those of you that are curious, I will be studying cross-scale collaboration and planning in an informal settlement here under the backdrop of adaptation and barriers to adaptation.  This topic will allow me to be exposed to life in informal settlements, speak to community leaders of informal settlements as well as ward counselors and government officials, and really understand more about how these various actors interact.  It hopefully will also bring positive government attention to this area.  The informal settlement i'm researching was built in a detention pond, an area created for the drainage of stormwater, and therefore it is essentially an area that cannot be lived in due to the extent of flooding.  Yet, there is a community of over 2,000 people living in shacks that constantly flood which results in a variety of issues i.e. health problems, destruction of property, etc.  I have decided to try and have my Master's thesis at least contribute to a solution to this issue by putting a bit of pressure on the government to do something about it.

In terms of service, it has been difficult to go consistently to an organization to volunteer because my class schedule is constantly changing, which can be frustrating.  I manage to go to a SEED garden in Paarl when I have free time (Schools Environmental Education and Development).  SEED is an organization that sponsors gardens in schools around Cape Town in order to educate students about the importance of plants as well as provide some nutritional foods in the schools.  It is a very interesting non-profit particularly for my field and I hope to stay involved with them especially as my time frees up.  Also, in conversing with a friend I met through a study abroad program a few weeks ago i've been trying to increase exposure to volunteer opportunities throughout Cape Town through creating a website where people can go and see what non-profits are available.  I was also looking at doing some workshops for non-profits to utilize short term volunteers with the help of a friend who has relationships with various non profits.  It has been difficult though to tap into the University because there is not one set office for volunteering or really a structure to encourage volunteering outside the few organizations on campus.  Therefore, i'm struggling to decide whether this project will be sustainable if there is not a system already in place.  Hopefully though I will build on it, and someone will take it over in the future.   I would love to see more South Africans volunteering, so i'm keen to at least start bridging the gap.  I recognize though that it will be a long journey and may not end in a "success" right away.

Basically i've realized that things here take time, anywhere really, but here especially.  Although I do want to have a consistent volunteer opportunity, i've also been looking for a way to fill a gap and have a more sustainable project that I can walk away from and feel that i'm not needed anymore but have contributed to a good cause.  This is difficult though because to do this, a relationship needs to be built.  Building relationships takes time, and a consistant schedule which is hard to comeby with full time grad school classes.  Therefore these kinds of changes and projects always take time, and at the moment i've really debated on whether it is worth my time or if I will gain more from a direct project like volunteering for an after school program.  I would like to contribute something that will stay beyond my time here, but I constnatly wonder if maybe direct service will be a better choice.  It has taken me about 6 months to really understand this place - how it works, how volunteering works, the various undertones - in order to even identify the gaps. Now that i've identified the gap I am struggling to find people who will be here beyond me to help me with the project so that I can actually make it sustainable.  I know that students and young professionals want to volunteer but can't find the opportunities.  However, creating the platform for finding these opportunities, if done correctly, is a lot of work.  So, i'm hoping that down the line I will find the right connections to make this work because I think it could really add some value here.

Another project i've been working on is creating a sister school with my high school in Atlanta and a high school here.  I'm happy to say that it is now a work in progress.  I'm excited by the opportunity to work with local high school students on a blog where they get to talk to students in Atlanta.  It has taken a bit of time to lay the framework but things will start moving this week and hopefully the students will have a chance to interact over the next few months.  It is a great project and I love seeing how excited the students are to be able to skype with students in America.  It gives me hope that these young folks are so happy to share their culture, and eager to learn about others!

In other news, My dad came to visit me last week so I was able to have a vacation of sorts.  We went to Hermanus to see Southern Right Whales, which was a fabulous experience.  Then we headed to Knysna along the garden route where we did a canopy tour, visited a cat sanctuary, hiked around Tsitsikamma National Park, and went to the elephant sanctuary.  It was nice to get out of Cape Town and see other parts of South Africa and some wildlife as well. Also, it was a magical trip and reminded me of all of the wonderful things this country has to offer.  It's amazing how many different ecosystems exist here from fynbos to forest to coastal areas.

Well, that's life in my shoes at the moment.  Just getting everything set up to start making progress, hopefully next time I will have more to report on!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Camp Hope

Most of my blog entries have summed up periods of time spent in Cape Town with explanations of the various activities i've been engaged in.  This one however will focus on only 2 days of the last 5 months i've been here.  Why? Because those two days happen to be the most influential, amazing, inspiring, and intense two days i've spent here.  For those of you who know me, you know that I have a deep love and passion for camp.  Day camps, over night camps, wilderness camps you name it, i've probably been a part of it at some stage in life.  I dont know if it is the community atmosphere, the way kids respond to camp activities, the songs that are always sung in unison, or that it brings me back to my youthful days. Anyways, this weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer for a camp in Noordhoek, outside Cape Town, called Camp Hope.

Camp Hope was started by a Rotarian and suggested to me by a friend who is also another Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.  The camp is funded by the Rainbow Dreams Trust and is tailored to kids with physical and mental disabilities.  This camp was for children who are partially sighted or fully blind.
I've noticed that camps tailored to children with disabilities or diseases often have names with slightly exaggerated and often cheesy spins, but in this case Camp Hope was deserving of it's title. In only three days I saw transformation in not only the campers but the buddies (volunteers) as well. It was extremely powerful.

Going into the weekend I was told that I would be working with a woman who had been blinded at 18, only two years ago, and has had to readjust her entire life.  She wants to be an accountant, and must relearn everything in order to matriculate (graduate) and also become an expert in brail. I was nervous as I had no idea what to expect.  Putting myself in her situation, I think I would be quite frustrated, reserved, and may not enjoy a camp.  It turns out, she is an extremely powerful and inspiring woman.  She has definitely made the best of her situation, and I enjoyed every minute I got to spend with her.  The activities she accomplished in the weekend alone were inspiring.  She fearlessly tackled challenges such as rock climbing, goal ball (a variation of soccer for the blind), beading, relay races, tug of war, etc.  The best part of the weekend though was seeing her bond with other campers her age with similar challenges.  By the end of the weekend she had such amazing team spirit, it was wonderful to see her enjoying herself.

Another part of the weekend that was defining for me was dinner on Saturday night, not because I was starving by the time the braai was finished, but because everyone had to eat their food blindfolded.  This gesture of course was to honor our buddies and feel what it is like to be in their shoes for a little while.  I found it to be quite humbling, and what I remember the most was the conversation that arose from the activity.  Being blindfolded quieted me down as I focused on finding my food that I had deliberately split up into sections.  My buddy couldn't divide her food into sections, I thought.  I then searched the table for my drink, and decided it wasn't worth it.  I would have to eat my food without water.  Once I got a bit more comfortable, I began listening to everyone around me.  Everyone who was not used to such a disheartening feeling struggled to enjoy their meal.  Though it was funny to hear the other volunteers spit tomatoes out, or pass their cup a direction in hopes of getting juice; I know it struck a cord in all of us.  Not only did I get a small taste of what some of these campers experience on a daily basis, I was able to open conversation with my buddy about it.  Firstly, I heard another camper say "what does it feel like to be me for a change" with an upbeat tone of voice, knowing that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  My camper however began discussing how frustrating it can be, but how you take it each day at a time.  There were so many things I wondered about like how it feels to have to rely on other people all the time, what happens if you end up alone somewhere how do you know who to trust, how do you manage on your own in your house, etc.  Some of the questions she kindly answered, and others I kept to myself not wanting to overwhelm her.  All in all, it was a lesson for me on her strength despite her misfortune and what an amazing person she is.

There are moments of every camp where I remember why I feel so connected to it.  Strangely enough, when I think back through most of my camp memories they mostly have to do with music.  In this case, I was able to witness a fantastic musical camp moment.  For the talent show, one of the women in our group (fully blind from birth) came up with a very catchy tune about her time at the camp.  She then played a few chords on piano to match it.  A few minutes later, our group had written an entire song about Camp Hope.  At the end of camp, we all got together and sang the new campe hope song, written by our camper. It was powerful. Something about this moment, made everything else disappear and I felt nothing but pure bliss.

For a split second I think we were able to make kids and adults who are faced with adversity feel normal, and that is a powerful thing.  I recognize that a weekend at camp doesn't change their situation, and each of them will have struggles with their disabilities that we cannot imagine.  But, there will be times when they can look back at camp and remember what they accomplished, the people they met, and what it felt like to have that community of support and hopefully they will feel lighter. even for a second..

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Fall in Review

Sorry folks for the two month delay! This post will be a summary of what i've been doing, and some of the things i've learned.  The past few months have felt like a whirlwind of Rotary speeches, homework, and out of town visitors.  It is basically winter here now so the weather has changed a bit and brought the rain and chill.  It is amazing how the grey days can change how I feel about the city or be the perfect compliment to drinking tea and watching movies. The sunny days, though they are fewer and farther between now, always remind me what a beautiful place it is here.

Classwork, Research, and Field Trips!: Classes picked up the last month or so, so I've been researching and turning in assignments.  I have also been working on finding topics for my research.  At the moment, I am looking to work in Imizama Yethu, a township in Hout Bay that is experiencing sanitation issues and hence having issues with water quality.  Other possible projects include working with this livestock farming community, assessing the amount of plastic waste in the creek beds in town, or exploring how townships decrease vulnerability to stormwater and flooding. I haven't figured out specifics, as i'm trying to find a niche within this topic that interests me, but those are some ideas at the moment.  I had the pleasure of going on a field trip for class to the West Coast National Park.  We learned about the issues facing Langabaan lagoon traditional fishers.  The fishers have struggled to maintain their livelihood in the face of a Marine Protected area that prohibits them from fishing in a part of the estuary they have always had access to.  We were able to meet with fishers, and National Park guides to hear both sides of the debate.  IT was a good hands on example of how science needs to be integrated into social sciences.  I am incredibly interested in this interface between science and society and greatly enjoyed getting to see it hands on in a local community.  The place we stayed wasn't too bad either!  We got to stay in a community based project called Duinepos which is a nice cabin style accommodation in the park.  We had a nice braai as a class and got to experience the bush for a night.  We also saw different types of buck and some ostrich, which are always a blast to see.

Rotary Talks:  The past month has been filled with Rotary speeches and meeting different Rotary clubs.  It began with the District Conference presentation which I had a part in planning.  Our task was to present to Rotarians from across the district about who the scholars are, where we are from, and what we are doing here in South Africa.  Our presentation went really well, and exposed me to various Rotary clubs across the country.  Since then I have been invited to clubs and have greatly enjoyed meeting Rotarians.  The opportunity to meet with different clubs has provided me with a great list of contacts for social activities, environmental work, and possible contacts for my thesis work.  All in all it has been a great networking opportunity.

A Piece of Home:  A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of a visit from my college roommate Bonnie and her friend Phillip from West Virginia.  I was able to do some touristy things like wine tasting in Stellenbosch, fish and chips in Hout Bay, drive to Chapman's peak and shopping in Green Market Square (a local market in town).  I was able to take them to a Rotary Club in Paarl and visit a township outside Stellenbosch where Bonnie used to volunteer.  On our way back from Stellenbosch (thanks to modern technology and the lack of real maps in the car I borrowed) we managed to get incredibly lost along a dangerous area at night.  (parents and friends, no need to freak out) This story is all to say that our friend Phillip stayed relaxed the entire time, while bonnie got extremely quiet and I began to freak out.  I was confused that he didn't immediately understand the kind of trouble we could have been in.  I realized later that the extreme wealth discrepancy can be avoided if you stay in certain areas of Cape Town, and therefore it is easy to not see the crime levels and extreme poverty that exist here.  It is hard to explain the complexities and divides of living in Cape Town, and perhaps as I reflect on it more I will be able to describe it in a future blog post.  But, I continue to be in love with the city, and intrigued by these aspects as well.

Speaking of crime, my Rotary Club of Roggebaai hosted a local writer by the name of Andrew Brown.  His book, Street Blues, addresses the complexities of crime here in Cape Town that he has faced as a police man in the Reserves.  He read a portion of a story he had written regarding his experiences responding to calls in various parts of Cape Town, and one township in particular.  He was discussing the ambiguity of police work here, and how he struggles to remain neutral and not recognize the humanity in others.  He spoke about getting to confront criminals and realizing that all of them are human.  Part of his story described an interaction he had with a child in a township that reminded him of the struggles of being a policeman, and the difficulty of having to judge a situation in the moment.

In other news, it is possible that I will be working with UCT to develop a solidified Service Learning structure so that more students are encouraged to participate in service learning and those that do receive credit for it.  At this point it was just a friendly request from my professor who is on the social responsiveness committee, but could be an interest project to take on.  I am also hoping to get to work with outdoor education in some schools with an environmental education non-profit.  In July my roommate and I are looking at traveling with some other scholars and friends in Botswana and Namibia.  I hope to get to spend more time exploring other parts of the country as well as doing fun cultural activities around Cape Town.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Few New Perspectives


Last week I was able to have new experiences of Cape Town, giving me different perspectives of the city.  I visited a few of the townships during a tour of a non-profit, road in the mini taxes, went to the Old Biscuit Mill local market, volunteered at the Cape Argus cycle tour, engaged in interesting class discussions, and had a nice dinner with my host family.  Below are the details of my last few weeks, and reflections on what I have had the pleasure of seeing.

ABALIMI BEZEKHAYA:  "Farmers of Home" is a non-profit organization that I stumbled upon via my Rotary Host (thanks Terrence).  The organization has been established for almost 30 years with the goal to alleviate hunger in low-income communities through sustainable and organic micro-farming initiatives.  Abalimi means "the planter" in Xhosa, which is the main language in the communities that the organization targets.  The farmers involved in Abalimi have traditionally been the elderly women of the community who are taught how to create and maintain gardens that will sustain them throughout the seasons and provide nutrition for their families.  These women then hold workshops to teach other women throughout the townships how to create their own small plots.  I spent the morning on Tuesday touring the large community plots, the training facility, and the Harvest for Hope shed (where the vegetables are brought to distribute to the community).  It was a fascinating morning where I had the pleasure of meeting some of the head farmers in Nyanga  and Phillipi (two townships outside of Cape Town).  For those who are unfamiliar with this term, townships are low-income communities formed under apartheid government and therefore are primarily black communities.  I was incredibly impressed by the organization for several reasons.  Not only were the gardens large plots of land on previously abandoned waste land, but the director of the organization refuses to sell the vegetables produced to any individual or company who does not believe in the principals behind the organization.  If you'd like to know more about the non-profit, you can check out the website:  The part of the project that i'm currently getting involved in is Harvest for Hope.  I help pack boxes every week that are sold to people around the Southern Suburbs at various schools.  The manager of the non-profit makes sure that all of the community members that buy the vegetables in the Harvest for Hope boxes understand where the food comes from and why it is important to buy locally.  It is a fascinating organization and I look forward to telling many more stories. 

UNDERSTANDING A NEW CULTURE OF SERVICE: In addition to seeing the projects Abalimi runs, I was able to have a variety of conversations that helped me understand the culture of service in Cape Town a bit more.  When I first met the head female farmer in Nyanga, she shook my hand and asked me where I was from.  I responded explaining I was from the states and would like to volunteer.  She took my shoulder and said "you must date a white man, and bring him here with you to volunteer".  Later, I asked the women who drove me back to my apartment why this comment would have been made.  They explained that most people that volunteer here are foreigners, and South Africans at my age are not pushed to volunteer.  It made me think about all of the systems in place in the U.S. that help promote our age group to volunteer for our communities.  I realized how many various factors are involved with the service movement, and it changed my perspective from one of frustration to appreciation for the opportunities we are given in the states.  It did however lead me to question Is volunteering linked to wealth and comfort? or Has the U.S. just included it in the system to a degree that provides more opportunities for young people to volunteer than in South Africa?  Though the culture of volunteering is stronger for National residents in the States compared to here, I think the interconnectedness of the organizations in South Africa is something to look at.  In conversation with various professionals in the service field at dinner one evening, I started to really consider how non-profits function here and network.  On the whole, it feels much more like a giant network where everyone shares information and works together with less structure and hierarchical organization than many of the non-profits in the states.  This seems to work very well here and provide strong relationships among organizations and in turn greater support for community members.

TYPICAL SOUTH AFRICAN SATURDAY:  On the lighter end of things, I have been able to see and do a variety of wonderful activities in and outside of Cape Town.  Two Saturdays ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning / afternoon participating in "typical South African" traditions, some specific to Cape Town.  It started with a Jammie Ride to UCT where I was picked up by some friends.  Then, we jumped in a mini-tax, my first mini-taxi experience, and headed to Woodstock.  For those of you that aren't familiar, mini-taxes are inexpensive, taxi-vans that take people to various parts of the city.  They do not have the safest reputation, but they are accessible and inexpensive.  At Woodstock we went to the Old Biscuit Mill which is this large market with all sorts of food.  There were all kinds of different people there and so much to eat!  I had a routi (typical South AFrican meal).  A Routi is a type of curry wrapped in a warm tortilla, and it is delicious!  We then grabbed dessert and headed to the waterfront (again via mini-taxi) where we ate our dessert on a boat ride around the harbor.  It was a fantastic afternoon with very cool people who were extremely excited to share all of these South AFrican traditions with me.  The next morning I volunteered for the Argus Cycle tour which is a famous bicycle tour around the Cape Argus.  I met a lot of different people, and saw the cyclists off on their 100K journey.  The following weekend I attended an all day concert with local South African artists where I could hear a lot of the music i've been listening to since my last visit.  I also participated in a Rotary Event with the Seapoint Rotary club painting a fence around a park.  It was a very nice community event with lots of kids, families, and people from all different walks of life.

For the weekend I went to Hermanus, which is about an hour along the coast (worth googling) for part of my vacation from university.  I spent the weekend relaxing, walking along the coast and even got to Sea Kayaking!  I had an awesome seafood lunch at Beintang's Cave which is a restaurant right along the coast. 

Yesterday, I went back to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was in prison during Apartheid.  I had been before in 2008 during a history and culture course and had the pleasure of returning with some friends who were visiting from the states.  It is a very intense place to visit, thinking about all of the inequalities and torture during Apartheid government let alone hearing it from a past prisoner.  It is indescribable the way this country has turned out after such a torrential time for most of it's people.  Yet, the past is the past and you can see that it is behind them.  It is fascinating learning about all of the leaders that were able to make the end of apartheid so peaceful.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Laying the Ground Work

Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at my friend's holiday house in Kleinmond, which is on the coast southeast of Cape Town. We spent the weekend braai-ing, hanging out on the beach, playing guitar and catching up. It was a nice weekend outside of Cape Town and I had the chance to explore a different part of the Western Cape. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. I've included pictures above of the scenery there and along the drive. The beauty of South Africa has not ceased to amaze me.

THE LEAP SCHOOL: My next project has been finding a service site as well as a possible sister school to do an exchange with my high school from Atlanta. I believe I mentioned in my blogs earlier that I had met a teacher from a school called LEAP. LEAP is a high school for students from low income areas where the focus is on Math and Sciences. In addition to classes, they have a life orientations course which provides time for each grade to get together and talk about issues relevant to their age. For example, the grade 12 students are working on college applications, CV's, and job applications. Each LEAP school also focuses on giving back to the communities in which the students come from. Therefore, there are two service projects per semester that the school participates in. Everyone at LEAP was extremely welcoming to Jessica and I. We were able to see every class in action, get a school tour, meet the principal of one of the schools, and sit down with the volunteer coordinator. They were eager to see how our service could focus on working at LEAP. The Principal wants to focus more on how students can understand their role in community service as well as increasing global understanding and community. It was definitely a good start for figuring out how I could make my time here count. As of right now though, i'm still working on building relationships with organizations and seeing which one will fit my skill set. I hope to meet with teachers at the LEAP school again soon and see if I might be able to help out in the classroom and with planning service projects.

END POLIO NOW: One event that I had the pleasure of getting involved in through Rotary was planning Rotary International's Birthday on 23 of February. Each year on Rotary's birthday, district's around the world plan an "End Polio Now" screening on historical buildings. This year South Africa used the Cape Town Stadium to show their support for ending polio. Because
Polio only exists in 4 countries, and 1 of them is in the district, raising awareness is a huge part of the focus in this district. The other huge campaign that my District here was involved in was "kick polio out of Africa". This campaign sent a soccer ball around Africa gathering signatures and raising money to support the distribution of polio vaccines in Angola and Nigeria. In order to celebrate all of these efforts, the district plans the lighting every year so Rotarians around the world can see the "End Polio Now" lit up on the Cape Town Stadium. The event was small and consisted mostly of Rotary members but it was a nice way to celebrate Rotary's Birthday.

HEALTH CARE: This past week i've become a bit more acquainted with the health care system here. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of my tonsils. I came down with tonsillitis last week, and luckily had a friend with a car take me to a Medi Clinic (like an Urgent Care in the states). Transportation, or lack there of, proves to be a setback in situations like this. Thankfully the people i've met here were extremely supportive and helped nurse me back to good health. Anyways, I had the pleasure of going to a Medi Clinic. It proved to be a very pleasant experience, though later I was told it is an upper / middle class hospital. The reason I mention this is that I walked in without my ID and with just my international insurance card. In turns out, here you can get any sort of medical care - a private doctor or at help urgent care centers - without having an ID and /or health insurance on you. I found this to be quite convenient, and realized that there is a bit more red tape when it comes to getting care at most places in the U.S. I also realized that in the states I never really had to worry about it, which got me thinking about what health care is accessible to those without insurance and how much it costs.

TYPICAL DAY TO DAY: In general, i've been working on settling in and finding my routine here. It's easy to forget i'm not in America, but there are always the little things that remind
me. For example, I'm getting used to hanging my clothes up on the clothes line instead of using a dryer, having the internet cut out every few minutes, watching rugby and cricket, buying electricity and cell phone air time, and relying on the mountain breeze to keep me cool during the afternoon instead of air conditioning. It's strange how many things come so easily in America that you don't even think about until they are inaccessible. It has been an adjustment working all of these things into my new daily routines, but it's all part of the exciting experience of being somewhere new. Living in Cape Town has a lot of perks. I spend a lot of my free time going to the beach, going to braai's with friends, and traveling around to various areas of the cape. I attend my Rotary club meetings every few weeks where I get to catch up with various Rotarians. This week i'll have the opportunity to check out another non-profit that builds gardens in townships. So, my goal here is to keep living in the moment, taking advantage of opportunities, and enjoying the people I meet along the way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Getting Settled

Now that my preliminary blog is out of the way, I will do my best to spend a bit more time attempting to describe the city, my life here, and all of the cool experiences I’ve had thus far. Cape Town, on the surface, reminds me of most American cities. There is constant movement, different pockets of the city that have different vibes, and consists people from all walks of life. There are green spaces all around where I people can be found laying in the shade, or school students will be walking in their uniforms. Often times when I walk down the street from my apartment on Orange Street and watch all of the cars drive by (or run across the street to attempt to avoid the cars from hitting me even though the light has turned green), I become part of the noise and traffic. When I finally take a second to look up from the street I see the overpowering and mystical presence of Table Mountain. It not only reminds me that I’m in South Africa, but it reminds me that among the noise you can find peace anywhere. I believe this could be why I feel so connected to Cape Town, you can have the wonderful motion and life of a city with the ever present reminder of nature in the background.

Returning to Cape Town has been an interesting experience. On the one hand the transition has seemed effortless, and on the other, there are a lot of things that are still new to me. Visiting a place for a few weeks, and moving there for a year allows you to see the place from different perspectives. Before, I got to know some areas of the city, a lot of the tourist spots, what locals generally do for fun, and where the awesome shops are. This time, I get to take comfort in knowing those basic things, but also have to learn how various systems work. For example, getting set up with a cell phone, bank account, student ID card, etc have helped me better understand those systems and how they work in South Africa. Attending University has given me a different perspective of the culture, as everything here moves a bit slower and information seems to be given no sooner than when you actually need it. Jessica and I managed to find a nice apartment in town, so we have been using the Jammie Shuttle to get to campus, and have been walking everywhere. This has also given me a new perspective of the city. As I get more comfortable, I hope to continue to go into new areas that I did not get to experience last time I was here.

In order to settle in here, I’ve tried to maintain my normal routines from home, and try out new things that are part of life here. For example, the first few days I tried to go without coffee because getting coffee here that isn’t instant proved to be a bit of a mission. I gave in after 2 weeks. After sipping my real cup of coffee on the balcony in the morning I realized that coffee is one way that I connect myself to a place. I have fond memories of times spent alone or with friends in places drinking coffee that somehow it helps me feel more at home. I also find that I like to explore places before I get settled in them, and once I’m settled I often stick to my normal routines. Therefore, I’ve made it my goal to jump into life here by experiencing new things with new people whenever the offer presents itself. I’ve also signed up for different groups on campus that are service related, and hope to get involved. In addition, i've joined a gym here that will hopefully motivate me to stay in shape.

Within the last few weeks, My roommate and I have managed to partake in quite a few fun adventures. We attended the summer concerts at Kirstenbosch gardens where we had a picnic with friends and listened to a local South African band, Zebra and Giraffe. We went on a hike to a spring at Bain’s Kloof where we spent the day laying on rocks, jumping off of them, and swimming. The drive also provided quite the view of Cape Town. We met up with some of my friends on the beach to watch the sunset. We also had the pleasure of going to a braii (a BBQ with South African meats), which is a big part of life here, and one of the traditions I remember from three years ago. All in all I’ve found my friends (old and new) have been eager to show me the beautiful parts of Cape Town, as well as some of the more touristy parts.

This week has been the start of coursework at UCT (University of Cape Town). I will be getting my master’s in the Environmental and Geographic Sciences department where I take coursework for a year and do a dissertation for 6 months. The courses I’ll be taking this semester are Managing Complex Ecosystems and Climate Predictability and Variability. I will only be taking class twice a week on campus, but it will eventually equate to about 40 hours a week of work. The courses will include lectures, fieldwork, and practical use of skills learned throughout the semester as well as exams, projects, and presentations. Once I get a better feel for the courses I’ll comment on them. In September I will be proposing a research project, and at this point I will be focusing on water conservation and management in the Berg River hopefully focusing on the community level.

Another fascinating part of my experience has been the conversations I’ve been engaged in with people that I meet. In general it seems that people here have a greater understanding of what is going on in the world, including America. At the bank the other day Jessica and I had an hour and half long conversation about what is going on in Egypt, the corruption in the South African government, Obama, September 11th, the end of apartheid and the current wars. In talking about our government, I was able to appreciate the level of democracy we have, and how strong our voting system is compared to most other countries. It felt great to be able to have a conversation about politics and current world events especially from different perspectives. I have found that many people here have a higher level of awareness and are eager to discuss American politics and what is going on in the world with us. It’s been a great way to find common ground with South Africans, and point out what it is I like about South Africa while also appreciating how things are run in America. Without reinforcing stereotypes, or giving an extreme opinion, I’ve been able to connect with a lot of people here just by discussing tactics to improve the world and reflecting on history to learn from. To me, this is a large part of what the Ambassadorial Scholarship is about – opening doors through conversations, paralleling two cultures, and connecting with people over the desire to make the world better.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

From the South to South Africa

It is difficult to describe just what it is that has been calling me back to South Africa. IF you know me at all, you know it has been about 3 years in the making. This time though I get to experience the country through a Post-Graduate education program while being an ambassador for Rotary International. For those of you that do not know, Rotary International is a world wide service organization comprised of local businessmen and women who raise money and work to make change locally and internationally. Their biggest achievement is working to eradicate polio, which only exists in 4 countries now. As a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar my role will be to participate in Rotary Meetings through my local club, speak at Rotary Clubs around Cape Town and South Africa, as well as participate in service projects. In addition, I will be receiving my Master’s degree in Environmental and Geographic Sciences at the University of Cape Town. My focus will be on water conservation and management through community outreach.

Anyways, that is how I got here to Cape Town. My first night I arrived to meet the President of the District for RI as well as my host counselor, Terrence Matzdorff. Terrence and his family welcomed me with open arms, sarcastic comments (which if you know my family, is standard protocal), home cooked meals, and help getting set up. Immediately I felt like I was at home with the Matzdorff’s. They gave me tips on the city, showed me how to get back and forth from campus, took me to see apartments, and so on. I am forever grateful for their generosity. The generosity has not stopped at the Matzdorff’s. I’ve found that my American accent has opened more doors than I had assumed. Even though most people do have stereotypes of how American’s act, most people who I’ve interacted with have been eager to help and I’m sure laugh at whatever silly thing I was asking about. It is strange how two countries that speak the same language, still have so many language barriers. In general though, I’ve been working hard to break American stereotypes, and find common ground with the people I’ve interacted with.

Thanks to my hosts, and my roommate, Jessica’s hosts the first 10 days also allowed me to see various beautiful parts of the city. We went to Kirstenbosch, which are the botanical gardens right under Table Mountain. Every Sunday there are concerts at Kirstenbosch, which I’m excited to attend. We went to Llandando Beach, being that January here is the summer - woo woo! We were driven around the city to see various views, and walked around campus to get accustomed to where we would be attending Uni. I also had a chance to speak at a rotary club and explain why I’m here, where I’m from, and what I hope to accomplish.

In terms of logistics, the first ten days involved a lot of running around trying to set up a cell phone, bank account, and get the money transferred to my bank account. luckily, Jessica happens to be a pretty organized person, and so we managed to get it all done (though our funding came a bit late so we had to improvise the first few days). However, it did help us get to know the city better, and how things work here. Internet is quite expensive, and capped so it's been a good experience getting used to things that seem to come so easy in America.

Through Rotary, I had the pleasure of attending Ray’s Reunion. Ray is the President of RI, and happened to be a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Cape Town in the 50s. At the reunion, I heard F.W. DeKlerk speak, as well as Frances Moloi. F.W. DeKlerk was involved in ending apartheid government in the 90s in South Africa. He spoke about the issues facing our world, and what the solutions to various conflicts could be. He discussed the opportunities Africa would have in the future to become stronger, and more of a world power. Frances Moloi was an Ambassadorial Scholar to Harvard University and then became the SA Ambassador to India. His speech was focused on how much he learned from being an Ambassadorial Scholar, and how he took the time to talk to students from all over the world about conflict and conflict resolution. The Rotary Ambassadorial experience is what you make it. Moloi reminded me though of the purpose of the program, and inspired me to really make it worthwhile whether it be through service or just through conversations with people from all over the world. It is important to remember how even small interactions can open up doors to new conversation, and lead to change whether it be change in perspective or attitude.

My next step in getting set up here will be to establish my service organization of choice. Word on the street is, there is an Outward Bound in Cape Town, so it’s only a matter of time before I’m knocking down their door. I’ve also been told of an organization that helps families in the townships make garden plots. In addition, I’m working on setting up a sister school with my high school from Atlanta. Finding the right school is a challenge though, because Cape Town is set up much like Atlanta in my opinion (minus the beach). The city is divided into sections, suburbs, and segments often divided by economic means and ethnicity. The main part of the city is much more integrated and reminds me of areas of downtown and Decatur. So I’m in the process of finding a good fit for an exchange program that will give students a different perspective than they are used to without re-enforcing stereotypes of Africa. I’ve been able to make some good contacts due to this, so it is quite exciting. On Monday I was invited to the Newlands Rotary Club meeting where young adults that are involved in Rotary were invited to come and talk about what their local school clubs have been doing. There were students there from a school called LEAP that gives students from low-income areas and troubled backgrounds the opportunity to get an education. It was extremely inspiring to hear about all of the service projects the schools have been doing, and I hope to work on finding a way to partner with them in the future.

So that has been my experience so far. Sometimes it is easy to forget that I’m in South Africa because Cape Town is such a huge city, and very industrialized and modern in many ways. It’s a strange mix between people that are connected, and still removed from the consumerism levels of America. In a way I think South Africa has gotten it right, but then again it’s hard to say if a society would change if they had the same access to all of the technology that comes to cheap in the states.