Youth Fellows Study Trip to South Africa

Youth Fellows Study Trip to South Africa

On July 18th, 2016 The Desmond Tutu Center Youth Fellows traveled with facilitators from the DTC and Peace Learning Center to South Africa for a two-week Study Trip. Part of the one-year program for the Indianapolis Youth Fellows, the Study trip was an eye-opening educational tour in which the Fellows experienced the country and the struggles of the Apartheid, and sought out key lessons for social justice work and community development.

It’s hard to imagine that in two weeks we made it through nearly 60 hours of travel; six flights, three airports, and five security gates with 14 very anxious and excited Youth Fellows and Facilitators. We couldn’t have done it without the Fellows’ constant positivity, flexibility, and laughter.

We entertained ourselves during travel with games like “Honey I love you” or the question game. While some airport patrons may have not been as entertained by our antics, I know we lit up the dark airport terminals with our happiness and it helped us maintain positive attitudes throughout our trip. Yet, nothing was more satisfying than gazing out of the plexiglass window as we exited the plane landing and seeing DTC Managing Director, Waseema Ali, in the South African airport lobby smiling and waving at us from the floor below.

Upon our arrival in Cape Town, we met with Waseema and Edwin Arrison, one of the leaders of the Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme (a group with whom we’d spend time with while in Volmoed) and our local guide and facilitator during our time here in South Africa, anxiously waiting for us in the airport lobby. It was immediate, the smiles extended from cheek to cheek of each of the Fellows as they exited the terminal and stepped outside for the first time after nearly a day and a half of travel. We were just happy for fresh air and that our bags all made it to Cape Town (relatively) unscathed.

We clambered on the bus, eyes wide and ready to absorb the view as we pulled away from the airport. The most significant feature was Table Mountain, a mountain so large that you can see it from any point in Cape Town. Driving into Cape Town, you cannot miss the overwhelming topography that consumed the view in front of us. It was truly our first view of South Africa, our first view of many to come of the country we spent ten days exploring.

Each night we participated in a reflection circle where we talked about events that happened that day; shared stories, artifacts, or emotions and feelings that came up; posed tough questions to each other; and ultimately grew closer as a DTC Youth Fellows family. In addition, we did activities such as The Privilege Walk, STEP conflict mediation, had discussions with the Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme (VYLTP) members, talked about topics including local community development in South Africa, local and global conflicts past and present, explored our privileges and lack thereof, practiced conflict mediation skills and how to be open to other viewpoints, shared personal stories and listened to the stories of others, and engaged in powerful discussions of how we can empower each other and our communities through peace and justice.

During our first few days we stayed in Cape Town where we visited three museums, two townships, and two memorials to develop a deeper understanding of the history, struggles, and lessons of South Africa. We visited the District 6 Museum, Slave Lodge, and Robben Island.. At the District 6 Museum we met Mandy who told us, “A story is a gift… Listen as if you have to tell it to your mother, brother, or neighbors.” This stayed with us throughout the trip as we learned stories of the local people who have struggled and overcome obstacles in their lives and used those lessons to uplift their community.

Themba, a friend of Edwin’s, met us in Gugulethu Township to show us two memorials: The Gugulethu Seven and the Amy Biehl Memorial. Afterwards, Themba invited us to his home where we me with his mother and siblings whom he lived with. Driving to his home, we watched multicolored houses pass by. There were so many beautiful colors that contrasted the rows of barbed wire and spiked fencing, a contrast of decor and protection. We also found that color played a much deeper role than layers of paints on houses. “We didn’t choose the color of our skin or the country we were born in, but we can choose to heal our own wounds,” Themba said to our group upon our arrival to his home. After a furious and harmonious beating of African drums with Themba, we headed to Eziko in Langa Township, a local restaurant that trains and mentors local youth in catering skills that will help them obtain good jobs in hotels and restaurants.

During the evenings in Cape Town, we visited restaurants that featured traditional African and Cape Malay cuisines. Many of us- vegetarian and meat-eaters alike- branched out to taste new dishes and experienced an important aspect of local culture.

Before we left Cape Town, we had the utmost honor to visit Archbishop Desmond Tutu at St. George’s Cathedral. We were introduced during the service and able to take photos with him afterwards. He also met with us for coffee and spoke to the Fellows about “reaching for the stars.” His laughter and light illuminated our hearts, a meeting we’ll never forget.

Before the drive to our next destination, Hermanus, we visited Robben Island. After a sea-sickening ferry ride, we took both a bus and walking tour of Robben Island, its prison sections, wildlife (including penguins!), and villages. A former inmate of Robben Island guided us through the prison blocks, pointing out the cell that Mandela resided in. In each cell we walked past, there there were also artifacts such as cups, bowls, chairs, beds, or buckets. A tangible memory of dark times spent in cold, damp cells.

In Hermanus we stayed at Volmoed Retreat Centre where we met the South African young leaders group, VYLTP, whom we worked and socialized with over the next week. When we weren’t visiting local townships or exploring the town, we were at Volmoed participating in other activities and workshops.

During our time in Hermanus we visited townships, community centers, and met with locals who were implementing programs in their community to empower youth.  We met Theo and Fiki at the Youth Cafe in Zwelihle where they told us how they help feed, mentor, and engage local youth in art, sports, and educational activities. “Poverty is fueled by hopelessness, but hopelessness is fueled by inferiority,” Theo said. We must demand quality education for everyone across the globe. “We must have new mindsets,” he continued. “We need moral leadership, and for our leadership to be loyal to humanity and not politics.” We also visited Hawston, a local fishing village where we met three fishermen. It was moving to learn of their struggles as big companies and gang-based poachers competed with them for fish. For these men fish was life, sustenance. For others it represented greed. We felt the emotion deeply as William, one of the fisherman, read from his books of poems. Like Themba, William found art as a form of expression. We learned every day of the various ways individuals deal and overcome challenges.

To deepen our interfaith understanding, we visited a church, synagogue, and mosque. At these spaces, we learned that while we are of different faith traditions, we are more alike that we are dissimilar. We learned that no matter our background, we must be thoughtful in all of our pursuits. During a church service Edwin said, “We must seek out the things that make for peace, justice, and that will bring us together.”

We developed relationships with many incredible individuals. We learned a lot about cultivating peace and empowering our communities through the organizations and people we met in South Africa. We also took time to enjoy the incredible landscape and natural beauty that makes up South Africa. The mountains, rivers, trees, and oceans are all integral to the culture and history here. We spent time hiking, visiting beaches, and meeting the local sea creatures such as penguins and whales. The world is a big, diverse place. Our hearts and eyes were opened wide as we visited this beautiful, incredible inspiring country. As a team we all grew closer together as we learned about ourselves and each other. Our travels through local townships and the people we met along the way inspired all of us to continue our work towards peace, justice, and reconciliation. During our many reflection circles, the Fellows began discussing ways in which the trip has influence their project ideas and motivations. We can’t wait to see how their projects unfold over the next year and inspired by the lessons learned in South Africa. Thank you to the youth and many people involved, who made the trip a memorable and empowering one. Of course, a special thanks to our sponsor, The Herbert Simon Family Foundation.

By: Allison Troutner

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