A New Adventure Begins…

Hello internet!

For those of you still paying attention to this blog, you’ll notice it as been almost a year since my last blog post. Last summer I spent 5 weeks in the incredibly beautiful and rich country of South Africa. (rich in history and depth, not economically rich) The experience gave me such a critical understanding of the world we live in and even taught me a little about myself in the process.

Since then, however, I have graduated from Guilford College with a degree in Community and Justice Studies. In August I am starting a year of service with the Young Adult Volunteer Program in Washington DC. I’m still not sure at what service site I will be working for the following year, but needless to say I am both excited and anxious to start this new adventure. Thank you to all of you who will be supporting me through this year and I will keep you all posted about all I am experiencing.

With faith,

Ben

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Village Heights and Garden Rout

Sorry friends, I actually meant to post this blog over two weeks ago but half of it got deleted and I’ve had quite a bit of trouble with wifi. If you’re interested in hearing more about my South Africa trip, I’ll be posting more in the days to come. I’m actually on my way back to the states now. Hope you all are doing well and see you soon.

7/13/15 Blog start:

Hard to believe that I’m a little over half way through my time here in South Africa and it’s not going to be easy for my to leave. The project I volunteer with is called The Gift of Hope, which works as a community center in the township Village Heights located Lavender Hill.   

   
(This last picture is of the playground at the back of the community center)

For the past few weeks the kids have been on their winter break from school so we’ve had tons of them at the site, which is fun but a lot to handle at times. We’ve had our hands full trying to tutor, play games, and go on trips with them to the nature reserve located just outside of the community center. Some days I’ll bring my banjo and sing a few songs with them. I think music is a powerful tool to teach them something or give them a new perspective on the world, and the kids seem to really enjoy it. While we do have a lot of fun with the kids, we also dig a little deeper into some of the issues the townships face and attempt to think through ways to solve them.

Some of the volunteers focus on issues of health or nutrition for these communities, something that is sorely needs improvement in all the townships. I’ve been interested in understanding more about the issues of gangs that dominate much of the townships. It’s not uncommon for young teens to get caught up in these gangs and this often leads them to commit crimes, go to prison, and in some cases die at an early age. For many of these kids, there isn’t much other influence to prevent them from joining these gangs. Some of their parents have drug problems and often spend their money feeding their addiction instead of feeding their children. My hope is that we can show these kids that there are other paths their lives can take. One that doesn’t continue in this cycle of gangsterism and poverty that effects so many communities. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but from what I’ve seen, these kids need a more positive influence in there life. Friends who can play games with them, mentors who can teach them the importance of morals and kindness and respect, and people who can love them unconditionally. Unfortunately, the site is lacking a bit of support from the main office and while we can brainstorm all day about ways to solve some of these problems, as volunteers we aren’t here long enough to see these project through to their end. Still I feel blessed to be a part of such an incredible community and that I have been able to touch the lives of others as they have touched mine.

This past weekend I was privileged to go on a garden rout tour of the southern coast of Africa. We did some safari tours, went zip lining, stayed on an incredible beach, and much more. Below are a few photos of the trip.  

                 
This trip has been an absolute blast so far! The South African culture is incredible and a lot of fun to be in, but a lot of it has to do with the other volunteers I’ve gotten to know. People like Tatiana (US) and Will (Spain) and Elise (Scotland) and Jesse (Holland) and Caroline (US) have made this trip more fun than I could have imagine. And because the volunteers are all international it’s allowed me to peer into the insight of people from around the world. And you know what? We’re really not all that different.

Much love. Many blessings.

The Trail Head

Where do I begin to share what has happened over the last week? Like most places I’ve traveled, it’s almost nothing like I thought it would be. And though my journey is just begining, I’m excited for what’s in store.

  
I’ve been in Cape Town for a full week now. The host family I live with is very nice and accommodating to anything we need. The father works as a driver for the volunteers during the week and runs his own weekend touring company of popular places for tourists to visit while their here. The family has three children, and the oldest has a child that’s almost 2. They tell us that the area we live in is not safe for us to wonder around in by ourselves. This is wise advise to follow as I’ve already heard of two other volunteers getting mugged at gunpoint in the past week. Still, there’s a park across the street from our house and I sometimes go play soccer with the kids from the neighborhood. So far haven’t had any problems.

Much of Cape Town has been influenced by western culture. Parts of the city look very modern and it’s hard to tell any difference between here and the US; however, the place that I volunteer is a township called Lavender Hill. Townships are very poor areas of the city where homes are made out of scrap pieces of tin and wood that are nailed together to provide some shelter. While they do have some electricity, the number one threat to these communities is fires and they have no heat to keep them warm in the winter. Dean, our project manager, tells me that this was where people we’re relocated and how they would segregate during Apartheid. These communities are home to several gangs and see a lot of violence. Dean also tells me that 70% of South Africa is unemployed and most people live in these kinda of communities. 

I was shocked. Anywhere you go, you can find some form of inequality, but it seems to be more visible here. Yet these townships are pushed out towards the edge of the city so that they are hardly seen and don’t have to be dealt with. And for the people living there, there’s not much they can do to escape. Through our volunteer work, we hope to inspire this community and help them realize their power in creating a better life for themselves. One where they aren’t marginalized and have value. I’ve been told that I’m too much of an idealist, but I know that a better life is possible for these people and the millions of others that share their situation. It’s not going to happen overnight, but in the words of Nelson Mandela:

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

More to come soon. Grace and Peace.

We are unstoppable; another world is possible.

BenUndertheBridge

As I begin this blog and reflect upon my experiences, I begin by quoting Mahatma Ghandi:

Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless person you have seen and ask yourself if the next step you contemplate is going to be of any use to that person.

Through this blog I aim to share my journey and what I learn along the way.  Tomorrow I board a flight to South Africa where I will spend 5 weeks in a country where Ghandi too lived and learned the importance of living for others.

I am so grateful for this opportunity and hope to share what I see and hear and experience with you.