The GoGlobal Blog

Tag: service learning

Where the Mountains Meet the Sea

Where the Mountains Meet the Sea

I cannot stop sweating, my skin is sunburnt, my feet haven’t been clean since I arrived, I have given up trying to control my hair, the internet  never seems to work, and the house I live in is infested with cockroaches. Also, I would not change one single thing. Africa is beautiful. Cape Town makes me feel excited and alive.

So much has happened here in such a short amount of time.

First and foremost, I’m happy to announce I have made 19 new wonderful best friends. I came into this experience thinking I would generally enjoy everyone, knowing that a person who decides to get involved with this type of program must be someone I could find something in common with; I had no idea how quickly friendships among the group would form, nor how deep they could get within a period of 72 hours.

In many of our conversations, the general consensus has been that this dynamic is great. I know things may change as time passes. Perhaps people will start developing closer ties with specific members of the group, but no matter how things develop, I know I am in great company and I feel blessed to be with them all.

In fact, one of my beautiful new friends, Kristen, just came over as I was writing this. We were, again, talking about the great group dynamic and she mentioned this: “it’s impossible to feel homesick here because any room you walk in, you can start having the most wonderful conversation with anyone.” Kristen is entirely correct in that sentiment- this group just clicks. Everyone is passionate, everyone is kind, everyone laughs easily and is genuinely interested in getting to know each other.

Oh, and to top it off- people here read! It’s so comforting to find a group of 20 year olds who are interested in intellectually stimulating activities. This place is magical, I swear.

On Sunday the whole group travelled to Camps Bay to go to the beach. It was so wonderful to feel the sun on my skin again. The beaches here are gorgeous, as so many beaches all over the world are. These beaches are special because they are a place where the stunning landscape of Cape Town’s mountains (specifically Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak) is the backdrop of the sparkling sea.


The whole group took pictures and went swimming in the ocean- some of us did get yelled at once for trying to climb on the rocks during high tide, but the authorities didn’t seem to mind too much- they probably assumed we were tourists who didn’t know better.

IMG_5806 the quality of the photo is awful- the opposite can be said for quality of the subjects and photographer.

Yesterday we watched the 10th anniversary video for the South Africa Service Learning program as a group. We talked about what we are getting ourselves involved with, and our director Melikaya emphasized that no matter what we do here, that we ensure this experience is our own experience, that it cannot and should not fall subject to replicate other’s expectations or previous member’s outcomes. I have included the link for the video here:

I was lucky to able to visit my service site yesterday. I was placed at Yabonga, an NGO that serves women, children, and youth either infected  with or affected by HIV/AIDS. In preparing for this trip, I was hopeful I would be placed in an organization where I could use my interest in sexual health as a platform for my service here. I could not have asked for a better placement.
Yabunga’s main offices are beautiful. While most of the services they provide happen in 9 surrounding townships in the Cape Town area. They recruit most of their staff from within the communities they are hoping to impact, and receive referrals primarily from the clinics within the townships.  If I remember correctly, they have been around for 18 years,  employ about 100 people, and have teams in the US, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, and Germany to raise their funds.

Yabonga first started working with women in 1998 who were infected with HIV/AIDS. They soon realized the need to support the children who were either infected by HIV or had parents who were. Those children grew up, and Yabonga continued to support them as they became youth.

The staff works to provide accurate health information in clinics,  community mothers from the specific townships cook and care for the program’s children in their own homes, counselors who are trained in play therapy, engages the youth and follows through on the necessary administrative paperwork . They also have their own garden and bakery so they can create and provide nutritious food to the people in the community they serve. We were able to tour the grounds and the garden and bakery added an enchanting and importantly sustainable element to the NGO.

The truly empowering component of  the Yabonga model is they recruit from the community, and additionally, most of their field staff has been a client in the past.Recruiting from same the townships they work within allows the services allows Yabonga to give communities the means to empower themselves. The administrative staff recognizes that it’s a completely different experience to hear information about HIV/AIDS from a person living with a positive status from your own township, than to hear about it solely from someone like me- a white, privileged outsider who has not been exposed to HIV.

I worried about the “white savior complex” coming into this program. I am generally aware of the impact of my own privilege, and I feared that I might have been put in a position where I would have to engage in a sort of “Voluntourism” where my service would take away from employing the local people who could empower their own communities. The Yabonga model alleviated these fears. There are specific tasks, both administrative and in support of the existing staff I will be able to participate in

Once I begin my service work I will add more details. For now, here’s a photo of the site.


An important side-note: after visiting Yabonga, we visited one of the other service sites called Christine Revell Children’s Home. The organization houses 49 children, from infancy to 5 years old. Of course, as the baby obsessed person I am, going to Christine Revell was a treat. Babies make my heart glow. I may or may not have picked one up while we were on our tour. (In case that wasn’t obvious, I definitely did pick up a small child, and it was one of the highlights of my day and the first thing I came back and told the group).

It’s funny I’ve only been here three days and already it seems as if I’ve been here for weeks. I can talk to anyone about anything and I feel safe. I feel like these people get me.

Today was another beautiful day. I’ll post details later.


Serving the Greater Good

Serving the Greater Good

Although the process towards getting our service learning projects started was a bit rough, when all was said and done, the experience has been far more rewarding and positive than I could have ever hoped. In the past week I have been able to tend to the children of Mai Tam as well as work alongside and empower peers at KOTO. Being able to give back and help better the nation of Vietnam was one of the biggest influencing factors on my decision to study here and it gladdens my heart to see actual differences being made.

Mai Tam is an orphanage that cares for up to 77 children from month-old to 17 who all share one common factor: they are HIV+ and parent-less. The organization shelters and educates the children because governmental and other social institutes in Vietnam will not. KOTO stands for ‘Know One Teach One,” and they strive to help the underprivileged youth of Vietnam by taking them from the streets, teaching them life skills, and training them in the hospitality industry. Currently KOTO facilitates training centers in Hanoi and HCMC, both of which also operate restaurants as a social enterprise entirely run by KOTO trainees.

From talking with Fr. Josef at Mai Tam, Anh Duc at Thao Dan, and my colleagues at KOTO, I have gained an even greater understanding of the plight of the underprivileged in Vietnamese society. It seems as if there are almost unwritten codes that discriminate and make it harder for such individuals to prosper. The fact that the government provide little if any aid towards the education of HIV positive children is especially depressing to hear. However, as all of the service projects sites demonstrate, there is a growing movement to change things for the better. I am especially proud that our university’s pillar of social justice encourages this mission as well.

On my first visit to Mai Tam, I did not really know what to expect. However, Conner said something to the extent of, “Just hold the kids, it’s amazing that all they want is a little bit of affection and to be loved.” A short taxi ride later, I found myself in the first level nursery room where I struggled to move as 4-5 children dangled from my limbs. The short time I spent with the children and facilitators at Mai Tam really brought into perspective just how fortunate my opportunities in life have been. I conversed with the mothers and other adults there and learned that what drove them to work in what society would call a ‘fruitless endeavor’ was because they had invested their hopes into these children. Even if they [the children] started life with a disadvantage, their innocence and sincerity to learn would carry them leaps and bounds ahead.

More recently, I have poured a large amount of my time into work at KOTO, which has nearly become a part-time job and another daily facet of my life in Vietnam. Being exposed firsthand to the power of social enterprises and life-changing endeavors such as that of Banteay Prieb in Cambodia bolstered my ambition to help foster such differences in the lives of others. While unfortunately, I am not able to directly help out in sharing life skills and mentoring at KOTO’s training center due to space restraints, I have more than found a niche for myself with the background staff of the KOTO organization. Working with the marketing, fund-raising, promotion, and design teams of the organization has revealed to me the intricate support structures that a social enterprise such as KOTO or Friends (in Cambodia) require in order to continue making a positive impact on the lives of others.

My adviser, or ‘boss’ at KOTO, Matin Tran, revealed to me that KOTO is in the midst of a re-branding and expansion. As evidenced by the successful event they held this Sunday, KOTO has already succeeded in establishing a presence in Vietnam. However, the organization hopes and earnestly believes in trying to change as many as lives as it can, that is why KOTO has begun launching other social enterprises such as cooking classes, catering, and a bakery. The goal is to increase the amount of trainees the organization can support and provide a wider set of hospitality training and industries that these individuals can learn and make their livelihoods from.

While I may not be directly helping my peers at KOTO, I still have the opportunity to interact with them everyday at the restaurant or during events such as the Happy Feet Slipper Race on Sunday. When working alongside other volunteers or trainees, I am privy to small moments where we connect. We laugh, smile, and share our dreams and aspirations. It is these little opportunities that have made me enjoy my work so much at KOTO, whether it be hands-on such as helping out with event planning or photography or as simple as scrambling to help assemble the new menus for guests arriving within the hour. Currently, I put in upwards of 10-15 hours a week at KOTO, but that does not include the time spent outside of the office doing other work such as researching event ideas and planning how to put those ideas into action. Working at KOTO has been phenomenal, and I only hope to continue doing my best.

Pictures to come!