Well, it’s been a record-breakingly long time since I posted in here. For all of you out there who may have been reading, I apologize! Life now finds me at the end (as in, in the throes of Finals week) of Winter Quarter, feverishly writing a paper on human rights and foreign aid trends in Zimbabwe for Professor Kaplan’s “Human Rights and Foreign Policy” class. Monday also brings a lovely presentation of a team development project proposal for “International Project Analysis” and on Friday, I will sit for my Stats II final exam. Gotta love Finals week! But I must say I’m quite used to it at this point in my grad school career–finals never get more fun, but they do get easier in terms of managing the stress and time associated with them.
I have only one quarter left until I graduate in June, and that’s SCARY!! Exciting, but scary. My feeling is that I’ll be ready to be done with the actual school (aka, homework) part of grad school by the time June rolls around, but getting a job–the task that now lies before me–is definitely a daunting process. At this point I think I’m looking for something at the nexus of program coordination/organizational capacity-building/international education (if such a nexus exists), and to boot I’m looking to stay here in the Denver area for awhile. I love it here and don’t want to leave, and being from Vermont I’ve never been a big city girl and cannot picture myself in DC or New York, even though internationally-focused jobs abound in those cities. So Denver it is for the foreseeable future. I do, though, feel confident that my time at Korbel has given me some really marketable skills that I can put to use in the job market. I just need to figure out how to properly communicate all of that to potential employers.
BUT, as admitted or prospective students are probably reading this, that all is way down the line for you. How about I talk about South Africa for a bit? On November 25th 2013-December 23rd 2013, I participated in an international service learning program through DU that took 12 other students and myself to Cape Town, South Africa. The group was comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students from lots of different disciplines, and it was led by a professor from the Forensic Psychology department and his wife (who were FABULOUS). We took a five-week class on South African history and on current social/economic/political issues in the country prior to our departure, and then before we knew it we were on a plane (well, several) headed down to the tip of the continent. It was a looooong flight to be sure, but the excitement of going somewhere that I had never been (and on a continent I had never visited, no less) far eclipsed the monotony of spending 30 hours in transit. The first area of South Africa that we stayed in was called Hout Bay, a peaceful, quiet little nook of Cape Town that is characterized by a slow pace of life, harbors, and really strong winds:
From here, we were assigned to our field placements, which were basically short-term internships in organizations in the nearby townships of Khayelitsha and Langa. My field placement was with an organization called Siyakhathala (which means “We Care” in the native Xhosa), and its mission was to provide support and services and to advocate for the rights of orphans and vulnerable children in the Khayelitsha area:
In a word, I loved my field placement. I got to do some really cool organizational development stuff like making business cards, creating pamphlets, coming up with a strategic plan, and writing grants, but more importantly, I got to know the amazing woman, Nontsasa, who was behind it all:
Khayelitsha is a tough place to live. It’s only 25 minutes outside of Cape Town, yet the two worlds could not be more different. It just goes to show how damaging Apartheid-era policies were, and how far-reaching the inequalities those policies created really are (even now, a decade and a half after Apartheid officially ended). True systemic change really is slow to occur, and in my opinion, the South African government could be doing more to provide adequate housing and services to township residents, the vast majority of whom are currently living in shacks. Severe weather becomes a huge hazard when one is not housed in a stable structure, and one problem that Khayelitsha residents in particular have had to deal with are fires. They start either via a lightning strike or (more commonly) are cooking fires, and because this part of South Africa is so windy and quite dry, the fire spreads rapidly throughout the township, uncontained. The way Nontsasa (who has lived in Khayelitsha for most of her life) tells it, the fire department is typically very slow to respond, which can have devastating results for the residents and their homes. If you are interested in reading more, there is a good article on the subject here.
In spite of their hardships, though, all of the people I met in Khayelitsha were warm, honest, open, and amazing people with a zest for life and an appreciation of the human connection: family and friendship. I was lucky to celebrate along with them in some cases:
And mourn along with them in others. We happened to be in Cape Town when Nelson Mandela passed away, which definitely sparked some complex emotions. I won’t go into them in detail now, but if you’d like to read more on my thoughts on the matter you can click here (a post I wrote for WorldDenver, the organization with which I have interned for the past ten months). South Africans were deeply sad to learn of Mandela’s passing, but they also richly celebrated his legacy and were grateful for everything he did for the country. From some of them, I also heard expressions of hope: the African National Congress (ANC) is the long-term ruling political party in South Africa, and it was originally Nelson Mandela’s party. Since the end of Apartheid, however, many South African feel that the ANC has become too corrupt and has strayed too far from its values as Mandela’s political party. So many hoped that, in light of Mandela’s passing, ANC supporters would remember what their party was really supposed to be about and would oust Jacob Zuma (the current president, who is very unpopular) from power. As I understand it, Zuma will be elected for another term (since in South Africa the ANC is too popular to be voted out and one essentially votes for a political party and not a candidate), but he will not sit out his next term completely–he will be democratically replaced by a special committee vote within the ANC. Below are some photos of a gathering that took place in Cape Town in honor of Nelson Mandela’s life. Hundreds of Cape Town residents gathered in front of the City Hall to watch the televised memorial that was taking place in Pretoria:
That’s as far as I’ll go with this post right now, as my final paper (and breakfast) beckon. Suffice it to say, the trip was really incredible and eye-opening in a lot of ways, and it complemented by studies in human rights and international development very well. I left with a lot more questions than answers, but that’s the way of things in this field we’re in, eh? 🙂