Traveling to visit other volunteers around South Africa blesses us with incredible opportunities – a chance to explore a new part of this wonderful country, a chance to meet new friends, a chance to relax in the company of a close friend, a chance to challenge all the things we think we know about how South Africa works. Add to that a sense of confidence and achievement in successfully navigating South Africa’s public transport on one’s own, and the combination is addicting. However, the high of personal success is short lived when faced with the reality that in no way can I be attributed with navigating the whole way on my own. There was Gogo Nkosi, who adopted me on our taxi ride to Joberg and directed me where to go in the intimidating city. There was the guardian angel at the station turnstile who let me cut the line to get to my bus, as it was five minutes from leaving and I was still 10 minutes away. There was Sandile, who told me about his interest in psychology and theology before I had the chance to tell him my background and interest in both, who sat with me while we waited for stores to open. There was the sister whose name I never learned who guided me through the complexities of village taxi life and recommended some interesting books. There was the Afrikaner grandmother, knitting on the bus, who spoke up for me when tea and coffee was passed around the cabin. In South Africa, you rarely travel on your own. Taxi rides may be silent, but at gas station breaks, a shared taxi is often enough to warrant a few watchful friends. On buses, drivers or attendants can almost always be relied upon to smile patiently while explaining, again, that the stop you need is still coming. In South Africa, traveling isn’t so much about moving from one place to another as it is an opportunity to be in close quarters with a new knitting partner, a new best friend, a new community. Like everywhere else, traveling here is riddled with challenges and struggles, but when traveling in the company of saints, it’s always an entertaining trip.
Current YAGM, Emily D., writes about her experience in historic Soweto on Youth Day 2014:
About a year ago, I found out that I would be living in Soweto.
Naturally, as soon as I heard, I did as much research as possible on the area in preparation for my YAGM year. Nearly everywhere I looked, I saw mention of the Soweto Uprising. I saw it described as the beginning of the end of Apartheid, a critical piece in the struggle, the first time the next generation became involved, and more. It became clear that the events of June 16, 1976 will forever be etched into the history of South Africa.
For the past 38 years, South Africans and others around the world have celebrated, cherished, and remembered this day. Today, June 16th, is a public holiday known as Youth Day.
I have always had a love of children. I grew up with a preschool teacher as a mom, two younger brothers, and countless babysitting jobs. In college, I spent a semester as an Elementary Education major and coached elementary students in gymnastics. While here in South Africa, I spend a majority of each day with kids ranging in age from 7 months old to 20 years old. Basically, I love kids and youth.
Now, after hearing more about June 16 and spending all day with some of my favorite high school students in the world, I not only love kids but have a deep and profound respect for them.
First of all, my respect and admiration for the students involved in the Soweto Uprising is through the roof. At the age of 13, I was much more worried about my hair and what boys were saying about me than the political climate of my country. I realize that the political situation in Soweto in 1976 was a little more intense than Minnesota in 2004, but I still don’t think I would have had the courage or ambition to do what those amazing students did.
Apart from my respect for the 1976 participants, I am beyond proud of and grateful for the OVC After-School Programme students who played a huge role in the success of the events today. The Oldest Group sang three songs, including one that they chose and practiced on their own. The Middle Group sang three songs and performed a dance, despite the fact that the sound system stopped working. The Youngest Group sang a song completely in English. All of the children respectfully listened to guest speakers and marched proudly through the streets of Soweto.
The courage, ambition, creativity, and energy of these kids is astounding. I am constantly blown away by their desire to learn, their ability to face challenges, and their overall joy and excitement for life.
In my opinion, the Soweto students of 1976 left a legacy that is being carried on and continued by the Soweto students of 2014.