My time in South Africa has been impeccable! From visiting various museums to hiking local mountains with the most amazing sights, my experience has been consumed by insightful excursions and fulfilling social interactions. More specifically, this past weekend, we traveled up to northern South Africa in order to visit Kruger National Park. Our experience consisted of safari drives, bonfires, and finding different sources of peace. A typical day at Kruger would start with a 5 am safari drive where we would travel to different parts of the park and then rest at the campsite for a few hours. We would then conclude the day by going on a sunset drive and bonding around the campfire. Our early morning safari drives were fulfilling because they allowed us to watch the sunrise in addition to scouting out the big five wild animals in their natural habitat. More specifically, we witnessed a herd of elephants eating the branches of the trees and feeding their babies. We also witnessed a pack of lions crossing the dirt road in order to reach their destination. Lastly, we observed a pack of hyenas hunting and then later devouring their prey. Witnessing these interactions allowed me to truly get a taste of the natural processes that occur in the wild, in regard to hunting and animal behavior. In addition to watching the animals interact with one another, we were also granted the opportunity to meditate on a deserted river bed. That experience, in specific, challenged me to reflect on my thoughts and actions in silence which is quite rare especially when living a fast-paced life as a student.
Furthermore, I have also been able to engage with the South African culture by volunteering at a local township known as Kayamandi. At Kayamandi, I volunteer as a teaching assistant at Ikaya Primary School, which has been one of the most fulfilling experiences. Not only am I able to interact with both the teachers and the students, but I am also granted the freedom to develop my own lesson plans and gain a sense of initiative. In the past, my lesson plans have taken the shape of coloring sheets, songs, and outside activities. This experience, in and of itself, has encouraged me to go beyond my comfort zone and really engage with individuals from all different walks of life. I have also developed a sense of patience and compassion while engaging with the kids in my classroom. Aside from the various qualities I have gained from this experience, one major concern I had walking into this opportunity was the notion of the white savior complex and how this detrimentally affects civic engagement projects. The white savior complex can be defined as an ideology in which a white person offers resources and services to communities of color with the intention of rescuing them. This ideology is detrimental to the individuals who are being served because it can lead to a sense of dependency and paternalism. With that being said, I made it a point to avoid this way of serving by ensuring that I was building a sense of resilience and proactivity within my students through various activities and projects.