By Gabriella Nagy, Age 16
South Africa is filled with scenic landscapes and amazing people. Throughout our trip we encountered both, although it was three days of the seventeen that truly stood out.
These were the days that we volunteered and spent time with the people and children of the local villages and townships. The first week of our trip was spent in the bush, in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
First, we went to a preschool called Happy Homes. We were introduced to the founder of the preschool, who took our family into a classroom where we were welcomed by about 20 little kids smiling and looking up at us with wide eyes. My sister and I sat down and proceeded to read a book to them one at a time while their teacher helped translate into Shangaan.
After we read to them, we had time to interact with the kids. Immediately, they ran over to us and started to play. I was wrapped into playing a hand game, while another was braiding my hair, and some were talking to me in Shangaan. I was overwhelmed with happiness and amazement at how much love these 5-year olds had and the excitement they got just by spending time with us. It was so incredible.
Later that day we went to an after-school center where older kids came to play outside or do crafts and have a meal before going home. We showed them how to make paper crafts like flowers and animals. They were all so appreciative of the supplies we brought and it was easy to engage in interesting conversations with them as we worked.
I remember a moment that was very special to me. One girl around my age gave me a note before we left that said “Dear Gabriella, will you be my friend?”. It was such a small gesture that made such a big impact on me because it showed me how open and eager they were in a new type of environment with complete strangers. That gesture made me feel so comfortable and so welcomed in this village.
The next day, we went back again to both the school and the after-school center. The whole time I couldn’t stop smiling as we all held hands in a circle and played games like duck duck goose. When it was time to go I had to pull myself away from all the smiling children and knew that they were people I would never forget.
Having done art for many years I drew some of the kids’ pictures that they could put onto their crafts. Their compliments meant so much and it was in the last couple minutes that I realized my take away from the past two days…
My take away on why this experience was so special was not because I felt good about making an impact on their lives for a short time but it was the impact they had on me.
Our second volunteer experience was in Khayelitsha, the second largest township in South Africa. We visited a preschool, a women’s’ shelter where they were taught how to start up their own craft businesses, a center for the “oldies”, and a community garden. The highlight of this experience in my opinion was visiting the oldies.
From the minute we entered the small building we were immediately welcomed by singing, dancing and handshaking from all of the members! We started by introducing ourselves and immediately they had questions to ask us. I was intrigued by how interested they were about a part of the world so far away. As we left we danced and sung together in a circle and in that moment, I felt truly connected to the culture and community of the people in this township.
After we left, our guide gave us a book made up of stories from the elders. Reading this made me realize how different the world we live in today is from the world that once was. I grew an appreciation for the gift of history and the impact it has on a people’s culture.
In conclusion, I learned from these people what it looks like to live with the minimum but have the most genuine gratitude and joy for every small impact made to their lives.
This important concept of appreciating the smaller things in life is often overlooked by many but is arguably the most humbling and special trait a person may possess. This experience throughout our trip made it possible for me to witness the culture and people of South Africa, but allowed them to leave a greater impact on me then we had on them.
These children and people, through their effortless appreciation and joy throughout life, left an imprint on the person I have become, and for that I am so extremely grateful.