Reflections from South Africa

Reflections by Nicole Joseph:

My trip to Durban, South Africa, was amazing and eye opening. I was so excited and nervous about volunteering in a week long internship to work with special education students along-side my professors and fellow college mates.  After the 16-hour flight, we were greeted by the School for International Training(SIT) team-our guides for the entire stay. Our first stop was a visit to the World Cup Soccer stadium, the site of the 2011 tournament, where we were treated to American food. What a terrific ice breaker!

During our stay in Durban, we were given the unique opportunity to intern at the Open Air School. It opened in 1921 as the first school of its kind to specialize in educating students with special needs. We were allowed to observe and be hands-on with grade school learners facing many different physical challenges.  The challenge for us was to adapt to different students’ learning styles. The school lives by the moto- I can and I will! We came away from the experience understanding that the support for school is a community-based effort. We were also able to visit other schools ranging from the elementary to collegiate level that gave us a well-rounded perspective of the cultural and socioeconomic factors that affect Durban’s school institutions.

We wandered through the museums of KwaMuhle and Phansi to learn about the wonderful history of its people and diverse cultural backgrounds as well as understanding the scars from the past struggle against apartheid.

Our group had the opportunity to meet with the Honorable Ela Gandhi, the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi at the Phoenix Settlement and Gandhi Trail. She wore many titles in her lifetime but the titles I believe she is most proud of are the ones given to her by her family and people who knew her best; granddaughter, daughter, wife, mother and friend.  She was kind and humble and just wanted to sit with us around the table and talk.  She invited us to try the local favorites, cream cookies and ginger beer soda. There were no leftovers.  We covered a number of topics ranging from politics to activism to womanhood.  Then we were treated to a personal tour of the museum dedicated to her grandfather.  At the end, we took as many selfies with her as we wanted.  Though she was not able to spend much time with her grandfather due to his assassination, you could feel the profound influences he had on the generations that followed him.  She commanded the room by simply being humble. What an incredible woman!

The day before we left, we had an adventurous day visiting PheZulu village to tour its grounds, and go for the ride of a lifetime through the safari. We were greeted by all kinds of wildlife.  Sorry…no lions! I was amazed by the ranger’s ability to navigate through the vast hilly terrain dodging zebras and wilder beasts at every turn. No visit to the village would be complete without watching the Zulu dancers act out scenes of their cultural customs of kinships and courtships. We ended the day by accepting an invitation into the home of our professor’s relatives to experience traditional African cuisine.

On the day we left, the SIT staff gave us a gracious send off, which sealed the deal for me to return to South Africa. The people are so friendly and they love America and want to visit. And yes, with everything we had to do, we still had time to fit in a bus tour of the city, visit local shops, lose money at the casino, eat at incredible restaurants, and make time to watch the sunrise at the beach. The trip was everything I expected and more.

Please visit the links below to take a virtual tour of the places I visited.

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