Friday, July 31, 2009

The Adventure Continues!

Greetings from Cape Town!

We completed our epic drive down the wild coast this morning and pulled into Cape Town around noon. Highlights of the week include beautiful hostel locations in Port St. Johns and The Kraal backpackers with ocean views, perfect beaches, and more great weather. On Wednesday we made it to the Crags where we stayed at the Rocky Road backpackers and took full advantage of their 16 person hot tub as we held our nightly discussions in "the pond." Thursday morning we woke up early and headed to the Kurland township for a walking tour and a morning field day with some pre-school aged students where we led 4 stations of sports games.

Our students are now exploring Long Street in Cape Town and tonight we are ordering in pizza as a treat for a fantastic trip. Tomorrow we will take the ferry to Robben Island to tour the prison where the political prisoners from the Apartheid struggle were held. On Sunday we are hoping to drive down the coast to Cape Point and hit up Boulder Beach along the way to check out the penguins. Sunday night we'll hold our final banquet at a restaurant to be determined later. Monday morning we'll pack up and head on our way back to our respective homes.

Spirits are high. We have accomplished so much on our program. Everyone is healthy and we had a discussion today on what it will feel like to go home and try to explain our journey to all of our friends and family.

Cheers from Cape Town!

BSA 09

Student Notes:

Ryan- continues to lead our group and adds humor and friendliness to all of our activities. He befriended our contact "Bonks" who took us to see the sunset at the Amopondo backpackers in Port St Johns.

Ben- cooked an amazing meal of pesto pasta, steak, and ostrich last night! He continues to do well working with kids of all ages that we come into contact with; and he helped lead games of tag at the township we worked with at the crags yesterday.

Freddy- maintained a positive attitude despite being a little sick last Sunday. He made a lovely card in the sand for a fellow student at the Kraal Backpackers.

Josh- continues to keep the group spirits high with his sense of humor. He has captivated kids throughout Southern Africa with his "human zombie" game.

Maddie- the glue that holds our group together. She is always the first to volunteer for any activity, like leading the group on morning runs, and she does a great job with kids of all ages!

Allie's laugh lights up all of our days! She is a terrific "vanigator" helping to navigate shortcuts throughout our drive down the coast from Durban to Cape Town.

Winnie- continues to come out of her shell and make the group laugh with her sometimes random comments. She really excels at pulling out individual kids from large-group situations and spending 1 on 1 time with them.

Toni- helps keep the group on track by making suggestions that are straight-forward but said in a positive and productive manner. She has a running comedy duo with Josh that was a huge hit in our talent show and beyond.

Megan- leads great games of Che Che Kule with kids that we meet all over the place. She really enjoys any musical or theatrical activities that we get involved with along the way and got the group fired up for our hike up Table Mountain.

Maia- truly embodies our "go with the flow" mentality and has managed to connect with every member of our group in a meaningful way. She volunteers for new challenges every day! Maia really loved our time at Rocky Road Backpackers.

Jazmin- got a lot out of our visit to the Kurland township at Rocky Road today. She instantly connects with young kids at all of our sites and brings a zest and enthusiasm to all of our evening activities!

Clara- the most even-keeled member of our group. She is always involved and attentive in every activity. We love having a non-American student on our program to give us some perspective on things and she helps us to practice our spanish whenever we get the chance. Clara has a lot of insightful comments during our Evening Discussions and tells us about her parents' development work in other parts of the world which inspires our group.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Update from Kestell, Malealea, and Durban

Greetings from Durban, South Africa!

The past week found us passing through Kestell, South Africa on our way to Malealea, Lesotho. In Kestell we stayed with a lovely woman named Vera Anne at the Karma Backpackers lodge. Think of your favorite aunt or uncle's house at Thanksgiving with heaps of family around, delicious food, and great people - and that is what our experience in Kestell was like. Our group felt truly refreshed as we slept in a little bit, went for a hike in the Drakensburg mountains, and had our first "MMT" (scavenger hunt like activity) in a town called Clarens.

We then departed Kestell and headed to the Malealea lodge in Lesotho. In Malealea we stayed in traditional huts that looked like this. Our group spent two and a half days helping a local community rebuild a road that was washed out during the rainy season. The students continue to amaze Sarah and me, as well as our local contacts with the vigor and ease with which they embrace our new challenges and service projects. They simply engage in any activity we present them and make rapid and powerful connections with local people throughout our program.

Wednesday afternoon, after we finished our service project, we went for a hike and saw cave paintings that were 27,000 years old! We hiked to a nice rock on a freshwater spring and had a snack before heading back to the lodge for dinner. We all appreciated a great feast at the lodge that we didn't have to prepare or clean up - we have been cooking and cleaning nearly every meal for the last 3 weeks so it was awesome to kick back a bit and let someone else do the cooking!

Yesterday we headed back to Kestell from Lesotho and once again had a terrific time with Vera Anne. Her partner, Lucio, made us homemade fettucini (using his Italian genes to perfection) and our group contributed a 3 cheese sauce, salad, and chicken as we feasted and debriefed our time in Lesotho.

This morning we drove about 4 hours to Durban where we are staying at a hostel on a hillside overlooking the beach and the ocean - easily one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in. The Blue Sky Mining Co. hostel and a little warm weather were just what we needed to get over the frigid temperatures we faced in Lesotho. This afternoon we went to the Arayan Benevolent Home just outside of Durban and spent the afternoon running games and playing with the kids. Again, it was remarkable how each of our students immediately rounded up a group of kids and led them in activities ranging from volleyball to duck duck goose. Our students seem to have endless amounts of positive energy!

Sarah and I look forward to a positive, healthy, reflective, and productive final week of the program. We are confident our group will continue to acheive great things as we make our way to Cape Town.

I can smell the burgers and sweet potato fries that they cooked for dinner tonight so I must run along.

Much Love from Durban,

BSA 2009

Student Notes

Josh and Toni: are keeping the group laughing every day. They did a piece in the group talent show in which they impersonated each other, which had everyone rolling on the floor.

Megan: has made wonderful connections with people we met along the way. During our service project in Malealea she bonded with the women we were working with, speaking through a translator to learn about them and their lives.

Winnie: has opened up to the group much more over the past week. The quiet Winnie we used to know has started piping up more and more with surprising and hilarious comments! And even though the physical labor was a challenge, she stepped right up to dig and push the wheelbarrow during our three days building a road.

Maia: reaches out and is friendly and caring to everyone in the group. More and more, she has started reaching out to people that the group meets along the way as well.

Ben: has really stepped up his involvement in the daily tasks of the group this past week. If someone asks for volunteers for cooking, packing the van, organizing snacks, etc, Ben raises his hand.

Freddy: brings positive enthusiasm and excitement to everything the group does. During our first day building the road he dove right into the difficult work of digging and breaking rocks. He is always up for a game or challenge, and his enthusiasm is catching!

Ryan: put in great work on the road we were building in Malealea, impressing even the strongest local men with his rock-busting and digging skills. He also has proved wonderful at creating joy and fun wherever he goes. Just one example: he has popularized the song "Rainbow Connection" on our long van rides, and has many group members singing along.

Allie and Maddie: This dynamic duo works hard and brings positive energy to every aspect of group life. As leaders of the day Thursday, they facilitated the group efficiently through unpacking the vans, organizing the food, cooking an amazing dinner, cleaning up, and a wonderful evening activity.

Clara: is friendly to all in the group, and wonderful at connecting and communicating with local people. Already fluent in four languages, she is starting to learn a bit of local Southern African languages as well! She also just cooked an amazing dinner with Winnie and Megan and our hosts at Karma Backpackers.

Jazmin: is wonderful at thinking outside the box on the road and coming up with creative solutions. When she found herself low on clean clothes in Malealea, she did a load of laundry by hand using the group cooler as a basin, and volunteered to wash others' clothes in there as well. She also graced the group with a lovely dance performance on talent show night.

Student Response:
Question: what was your best moment of the week?

Josh: Building the road. Constructing something that benefits the community. When I was wheelbarrowing, a local woman started laughing so I started dancing and she started dancing.

Megan: Talking to the women in Malealea. One of them told me that God tells her to be happy, so she is, and that she's always been really happy. She was really, really cool.

Winnie: Hiking. It was really hard, but I liked it. Nice scenery!

Maia: I had a lot of good moments, but one of my best moments was hiking. Even though I don't really like hiking that much, I still had fun, and I learned that I can still enjoy things I don't like if I'm more positive about it. And I talked to Thirsty (our guide/translator/contact) a lot.

Ben: My most relaxing moment was sitting outside the cafe in Clarens. There was a warm breeze; and the second the breeze hit me it felt like instant relaxation. And it just struck me that "damn, I'm in Africa!" This week I learned that it takes a communal effort to make a big change (like building the road).

Freddy: After hiking so long, hiking a little more and seeing a beautiful little creek. Something so beautiful in a place with so much poverty.

Ryan: Working on the road. Despite there being a language barrier, we all understood the task at hand and communicating became very easy and there was a sense of community.

Allie: When we were working with the community and the women were singing and dancing with us and we got to talk to them and find out about their lives. I found out that the chief solves all their problems so that they don't get divorced. This one woman had been with her husband since she was 15, and now she's 70.

Maddie: I liked talking to this woman about her marriage and what her life was like and how many kids she had. Thirsty (their guide) was translating back and forth for us. I liked finding out about their culture.

Toni: I liked when we went down to visit the women in their village. It was fun because we listened to music, we tasted food and drinks, and we danced.

Clara: Having lunch with the women in Malealea, talking to them, learning seSotho, and learning a seSotho song and singing it to them.

Jazmin: The hike. It was down-to-earth and peaceful. And going in the waterfall. It was the best part of the day, even walking up, even though I complained about it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Update from Mbabane, Kestell, and Beyond!

After another great leader check in, Angus and I are excited to have only good news to report about Bridge Southern Africa! The group has been in South Africa, Swaziland, and back over the past week. They have been staying at Karma Backpackers recently and enjoying homemade yogurt, fresh jam, lots of pancakes, and more. They have been resting up from their Swazi adventures and preparing for more great times in Lesotho (where they are headed today).

Sarah and Thatcher interviewed each of the students and asked for their biggest accomplishment in this past week. The answers were:

Ryan - hiking with the group outside of Kestell and dealing with my fear of heights.

Freddy - being able to teach 60 kids in Mbabane. (One of Sarah's favorite teaching moments was Freddy and Toni using experiential education to teach the class about measurement. They took the students outside and had them guess how far different distances were, like 100 meters, and then actually measure the distance with meter sticks to see how close they were. The kids had a great time running around measuring and they also learned alot.)

Winnie - despite feeling a bit under the weather, teaching multiplication to a 4th grade class in Swaziland.

Maia - teaching 6th grade Social Studies in Swaziland.

Jazmin - getting to know Bomi (a 3 year old she worked with in Soweto).

Ben - teaching "wants and needs" to a large, rowdy class of 4th graders.

Clara - teaching an English lesson about the environment in Mbabane.

Megan - teaching sex ed to 7th graders in Swaziland.

Toni - forming a bond with the kids at the SOS Children's Village in just 3 days.

Josh - interacting with the kids at SOS, leading big group games and learning about their lives and experiences.

Maddie - teaching math to a class of 53 sixth graders. (No one got the problems right and the teacher said to just mark them wrong and move on, but Maddie took the time to go around and explain the math to each kid invidually, and stayed in during morning break to finish grading papers.)

Allie - teaching math to a class of 47 restless second graders who didn't speak English.

The group had a decent internet connection at Karma Backpackers and were able to send in some pictures! They will be posted a bit later today. Check them out in the slideshow in the right hand column. You can click on a picture to see a larger version of all of them.

Now the group is headed to Lesotho until Thursday. We wish them well and are excited to hear about all their new adventures!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Student Update:

We just talked with Thatcher and the group is doing great. They are enjoying their time in Swaziland and keeping busy working with the SOS children's center in Mbabane. They are planning to explore Ezulwini (a great market, Swazi cultural village, and one of the king's residences) and maybe go to a wildlife preserve. Thatcher was able to get online at the SOS school and send us these student-generated blurbs:

Ben: So far this trip I have experienced many things. A good example would be learning a lot about the poverty in S. Africa. The art is also very interesting. The most fulfilling thing was to give clothes to the children's orphanage.

Megan: The trip is amazing. I've learned that through laughter and a little dancing, people can connect in a really magical way. I feel so connected to this group of kids and I have learned so much from the people we have met so far.

Maddie: This trip has been awesome and is better than I ever imagined. I've learned that even though people have next to nothing, they can still be happy and extremely friendly. I love teaching the kids American games; its truly amazing to see the simple things that make them happy. Our group's chemistry contributes to making every aspect of this trip outstanding.

Allie: I'm enjoying every moment of this trip. I especially love meeting so many people - from kids to artists to the students and leaders on this trip. I have learned to take every day as it comes and appreciate it.

Maia: My trip has been amazing so far. I've really enjoyed getting to know some of the people here and learn how they do things. It's also been amazing to see how happy the kids are to see us and how appreciative they are.

Ryan: My trip has been supafly so far. Everyone in the group has been amazing. I've learned a lot about South African language and culture but I still have much to learn.

Josh: This trip so far has been amazing. The group itself has made it even better including Thatcher and Sarah. I have begun to realize how thankful I am for where I live. The people here are super nice even when they are living a rough life. The trip is so organized and makes the experience a whole lot better. I feel I am changing as a whole.

Winnie: The trip is awesome so far and I cannot wait for the adventures that will come in the next few weeks.

Freddy: My trip has been great. I have seen so many new things and have been impacted by a lot of of the great people in South Africa. The people here are so friendly and have made me smile. The people in my group are fun to be with and it is going to be a sad day when the trip ends.

Toni: I'm enjoying my time here in Africa. I met a lot of new faces and big smiles since I have been here. My group is wonderful and I couldn't ask for better. Our everyday trips are great. From trips, like those to the museums, I have learned a lot about South Africa's history. This allows me to see how far they have come. I'm happy to be here and can't wait to see what's next!!!

Jazmyn: The trip so far has been amazing. The kids have personally changed my point of view and it has only been 7 days. I look at things with gratefulness for what I have. My group is also amazing. I get along with them all so well. We can never stop laughing. The most moving thing this far was when I met a little girl named Boomi... all she wanted was to play and nothing else, even though she deserved so much more. I am looking forward to the rest of the trip.

Clara: On this trip I have learned to take advantage of every moment: be helpful, open minded, and nice with people. I've improved my English and made lots of friends. I've learned to share smiles with kids even though we don't speak the same language. Ive seen how families live in South Africa and Swaziland and learned some of their language. I've probably learned more this week than I have in the past year and I've had lots of fun. We have learned to work as a group.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Update from Soweto

Greetings from the Soweto township!

Our students are sleeping in their beds and staying warm and healthy as I type this email at 11pm Thursday night. We have had an action packed week filled with amazing community service, experiential education, fantastic meals, and a truly fabulous group. Let me recap the week with in a few short notes:

We drove 2 hours outside of Jo'burg to a town called Klerksdorp where we met with our contact Nancy. Our first stop was a "day care" type facility for children who have lost parents in the HIV/AIDs crisis. We played games and heard some amazing songs from kids mostly aged in the 4-8 age range. Our students instantly jumped in and were amazed at all the smiles they saw on children who have faced a great deal of challenges in their lives. The afternoon found us engaged in an amazing discussion and lecture with a South African doctor and United States MD/PHD involving Tuberculosis and HIV in South Africa. Sarah and I were both amazed at the breadth of knowledge your children already had about such a pressing issue and the amazing informative questions they asked. We all learned a great deal!

We visited the Constitution Museum in downtown Jo'burg and toured the prisons where political figures were held during the Apartheid era. During the afternoon we had a juggling workshop with one of our local contacts back at our hostel.

We woke up early, packed our bags and headed out to the Soweto Township. Soweto is the area where the beginnings of the youth resistance movement began which helped bring an end to Apartheid. It was also the home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wednesday morning we visited the Hector Pietersen museum and learned about the history of the youth resistance in the Orlando West neighborhood. Wednesday afternoon we worked at the Umbuyisa School of Art helping create art with a large group of children ranging from 5 all the way up to 15. Our students were the talk of the town as we worked with a giant group of local artists to help the kids create their own masterpieces.

We woke up this morning and headed to Nelson Mandela's house to take a tour. We then took a walking tour of the township and saw Tutu's house as well. The weather was perfectly clear and warm throughout the day (it has been quite chilly at nights and in the AM). This afternoon we worked with the kids at the art school again and put on a giant poetry slam with several of our students performing their own poetry and songs!

Our group continues to amaze all those who we encounter. Sarah and I have each been pulled aside numerous times as people are shocked at the cohesiveness and talents of our group which has only been together for about a weeks time. We have endless energy and ideas and our students seem to feed off the energy of the young people we work with. Tomorrow we are wrapping up our time in Soweto as we screen print our own tee-shirts and help the younger children to create art work, then we'll have some sort of send off activity in the afternoon.

We are looking forward to heading to Swaziland on Saturday and hope all is well back in the States!

Much love from Soweto,

Bridge Southern Africa 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Greetings from Johannesburg!

Greetings from chilly Joburg! I (Thatcher) am writing this update Sunday night after our first two days together as a group. Saturday morning went amazingly smooth at the airport as all of our students safely arrived (2 were not on the group flight and found us quickly at the airport). We exchanged our currency and headed to the Shoestrings backpacker hostel which is quite near to the airport.

Saturday afternoon found us sharing a quick lunch at the hostel and then heading to a nearby park for some "ice breaker" games, a bit of frisbee, and a few meetings covering basic safety guidelines and general logistics of the program.

Last night we held our first evening discussion and ate a delicious meal of spaghetti, salad, brownies, and ice cream! Everyone was tired and stuffed so we called it an early night and turned in around 9.

Today we headed to the Apartheid Museum and spent a few hours learning about the struggles that South Africa faced and the resistance movements and ultimate end of the oppressive system. I think that each of our students learned a great deal and we had a wonderful chat over lunch back at the hostel as we de-briefed the morning in its entirety.

This afternoon we made our first group shopping run as we split into our cooking teams. Your lovely children are currently preparing a delicious curry, rice, and vegetable dinner while the others are engaged in a heated card game of "spoons."

The group is forming tremendously quick and we feel lucky to have such an intelligent, inquisitive, and compassionate bunch. All are happy, healthy, and learning by the moment!

Cheers from South Africa,

Thatcher and the BSA Group 09

Saturday, July 4, 2009

And They're Off...!

Our Bridge Southern Africa group took off from JFK yesterday and landed in Johannesburg at 8:52am South Africa time (that's 2:52am our time!). Once there, they met up with co-leader Thatcher and two fellow campers who came in on separate flights, Winnie and Ryan - now the group is complete!

Today the group will get settled into the Shoestrings Airport Lodge, make their first call home, go through the educational process of exchanging their American money into local currency, play get to know you games, and begin adjusting to the time difference. Over the next few days the group will explore the Johannesburg area, visit the Apartheid Museum or the Constitutional Court Museum, spend time in the Klerksdorp hospital (discussion of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, tour of hospital), and have a juggling workshop with a local Clowns Without Borders member. What a diverse, interesting, and fun way to kick off the trip!

A picture of South African Airways flight 204 as it was taking off from JFK (courtesy of Kay Van Der Horst - Ben's dad)