My first month in South Africa has been the most insightful and exciting experience. I started this journey not knowing a significant amount of information about the history and culture of the nation, and have already learned so much about the people and their stories. More specifically, at my host university, I am taking a course called Global Service Learning which is a collaboration between Stellenbosch Univeristy and the Ikaya Primary School that is centered on a social justice-oriented version of civic engagement. This course includes both a theory section- where students learn about various topics regarding the different political, economic, and social structures that exist within South Africa- and a volunteer portion that entails teaching in a classroom at a primary school in Kayamandi. Kayamandi is the township that is nearest to our university and the conditions of the homes are drastically different than those in Stellenbosch. We took an extensive tour around Kayamandi and witnessed the poor conditions of the homes, which had recently experienced fires and limited facilities. The township was originally founded in the 1950s as part of the increased segregation during the apartheid regime and is a direct reflection of the economic and racial division that still exists within the country. However, even in the midst of this abject poverty, the people of Kayamandi still share a strong level of community and exhibit so much love, respect, and compassion for one another. We witnessed this first-hand as we interacted with the teachers at the Ikaya primary school and others during our tour of the township.
In addition to my courses, I have also been able to explore the South African culture and terrain by going on different excursions, such as the hike up Table Mountain and tour of Bo-Kaap. Table Mountain is considered to be a flat-topped mountain that overlooks the entirety of Cape Town when you reach the top. The route that our group took was incredibly difficult and consisted of steep hills and several miles of an uphill incline. Although, the view at the top of the mountain was so rewarding that it made the pain from the journey worth it. We could all see the entirety of Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean, which is a memory I will never forget. Aside from hiking up Table Mountain, we have also visited Bo-Kaap– a historical residential area that rests above the Cape Town City Center. The multi-colored rows of houses were once leased out to former slaves and resemble Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture. Furthermore, Bo-Kaap is also home to the first Muslim mosque in South Africa, known as the Auwal Mosque. With that being said, both the hike up Table Mountain and the tour of Bo-Kaap introduced me to the importance of space and land within the context of South African history and culture.