Who can you learn from today?

“A Nation should not be judge by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones”
-Nelson Mandela

While journeying to South Africa, we (the zulu tribe) focused on the health status of the country and how it has been shaped by the apartheid. The apartheid government in South Africa treated its lowest citizens like animals. People were deprived of their basic needs for healthy lives and forced together to live on top of each other in poverty. It separated families simply as an interruption in order to demote non-white races. Through different townships, jails, mines and schools, it is evident that the apartheid had lasting effects on South Africa which includes an extreme conflict of health.

So a little history for those who aren’t familiar… Black children during the Apartheid were consistently discouraged from school due to the governments control over education. When the government took over black education, it created fees for materials and for attending school so many families could not afford to attend school. Furthermore, it only allocated for a limited amount of schools, so overcrowding of classes created problems for teachers and violence between students and teachers who tried to control their behavior. After the economic downturn of 1975, funds for schools were absent. The government took away the final year of primary school. This put education at a stand still for many children who had been invested in school for all of primary school. Then the Department of Bantu Education declared Afrikaans as the medium for teaching; a language that the majority of children did not understand. Students started failing class and boycotting. “To Hell with Afrikaans.”

In Alex we visited a school that we have had a relationship with for many years. We heard about all of the work that Elon has done for the school so far, and then had the chance to play with the student during their free break. As children swarmed us Americans and hugged us from left and right, I couldn’t help but notice open wounds on some faces or sores on arms that I have never seen before. I thought about my own experience of school growing up, when we would stay home from school if we had the slightest cough as to avoid spreading anything. Then I explored the school and visited each classroom to re-fill the first aid boxes. Most classes didn’t have a box, or their box was empty. Classes were filled with students so that many were sitting on the floors or standing in the back while the teachers were at the front. Some classes that I entered were filled with countless students but had no teacher present to lead them.

When devising a plan for what to do next for this school, my thoughts revolved around the health of these children. They study on top of each other with no structure for class. From the health aspect, this is exactly how disease spreads. A man i encountered in Cape Town explained that most children start using drugs around age 11, when they drop out of schools and join gangs for their own protection. From the health aspect, this is a death sentence for the underdeveloped brains of so many children. In the United States, we have had lessons out entire life about health safety and drugs starting from around the age of ten and continuing until college age. South Africa needs a way to teach children the severeness of health issues. When they come from townships in which they live in very close contact to so many people with limited water and very low sanitation practices, it is important that they learn about health.

This is not the only area that health problems stood out to me, but it is the most prominent because it is the children who are being neglected. In Robben Island and Number 4 in Constitution Hill, we learned of the absurd conditions that men and women were kept in – many of who were wrongly convicted. The architecture of buildings was purposely faulty so that rooms flooded or froze so that prisoners had to sleep on the ground on it. Men were forced to eat their meals alongside the toilets, exposing them to human waste that causes numerous disease. In the mines we learned about all of the diseases like silicosis disease and other lung issues that men developed while working there, the only place they could really find work. They put their lives at risk daily and tortured their bodies by working down in mines to support their families in the best way they could. They were stripped of any opportunity for higher occupational success.

My initial reaction to Cape Town – “This place is perfect.” I expressed my obsession repeatedly as we drove past beautiful wine vineyards, hiked table mountain, stayed in a beautiful hotel, and went on a bus tour of all the most scenic views of the city. I was judging South Africa by how it treats it highest citizens. Then we visited townships, starting with Langa where many South Africans claimed was their favorite place to live. My reaction to their living conditions was not perfect. I was caught off guard by how they lived, and it made me sad to think that they were initially forced into these conditions by the government. Then we visited a pre-school where children from the streets swarmed to get small lunch bags for themselves and their families. I couldn’t believe how many children were rushing to us for a small amount of food, and again I felt sad because they were put in these conditions. We went to jails where numerous convictions were unjustified, and I saw the torture that people went through if they responded to the wrongdoing of the government. I started to judge the nation by how it treats its lowest citizens, and I realized that there is something very wrong in the systems controlling South Africa. As we discussed our emotions in class, my perspective took a turn. Rather than feeling sad and focusing on the fault that the leaders of South Africa are at, I felt inspired. Although the township look and feel shanty, the people there have a strong community that they enjoy and get by with. The people we met are living, they are surviving just like the rest of us. It makes me realize how much we unnecessarily think we need. This change of perspective helped me further when we entered other townships so that I could empathize with the people there not by feeling sad, but by seeing the opportunity to take it all in and learn from the people there as well as provide some taste of hope with new shoes and food and a helping hand. I was inspired to keep doing good and helping people, and to simplify my own life in many ways. The next plan of action: health classes in South Africa.

Who can you learn from today?
I’m sure you have more options than you think.

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