Unfortunately my commitment to the people of South Africa may be over but I hope to carry their lessons with me. Not in a scrap-book for myself, but to be shared with others and remind us of the efforts necessary to build the communities we desire.
What will I tell people about this trip when they ask me? Will I discuss the beauty Table Mountain being blanketed by clouds during a smoldering sunset? Will I discuss the natural beauty of the safari, watching some of Africa’s Big Five prowl their expansive sanctuary? Or will I tell people about the educational challenges, health-crises and socio-economic puzzles of Johannesburg.
Experiences like this trip to South Africa challenge your perception of the world. At the same moment you are reminded how similar and different we are. South Africa is fighting for the same justices we are here in the United States. Access to education, the right to live wherever one chooses, the ability to provide for one’s family. South Africa is also struggling for things we take for granted. Access to electricity, the right to healthcare, the ability to drink clean water.
What is my responsibility to South Africa after this trip? After meeting not only with business leaders in the community, but also many members of those communities, do I have an obligation to continue to assist them when possible? Are these people and experiences destined to fade into distant memories, to be collected in a scrapbook, or referenced on a resume/interview for my own personal gain?
I worry this trip will be similar to conferences about social impact. After these conferences attendees burst out riding a wave of passion for activism and desire for change. Often by the next week this wave has crashed into the fortifications of our realities. Many of us live in affluent neighborhoods, are educated and attending collegiate programs, or are striving for success in our careers by working the majority of our days. Out of sight, out of mind is the reality. Without direct interaction, reminders or visibility to these critical issues it can be easy to become absorbed in our own realities.
Which is why I struggle with how I should portray South Africa to my family and friends. Like being asked “how’s it going” the socially acceptable response is to say “I’m good”. The socially acceptable response to this trip is to assure everyone of Cape Town’s beauty, that South Africa is advanced for an African country and that everything is awesome. Responding in this way puts the very issues the trip was based around out of mind.
Therefore I believe I have a responsibility to South Africa to depict the trip in a balanced manner. Cape Town really is beautiful, but Johannesburg can be equally ugly. Giving a genuine response has resulted in some awkward responses and some eyebrows raised about why I chose to do this. It has also led to curiosity about what the Social Impact program is at BU, and about what I’d like to do with this degree.
These conversations may never help the people of South Africa which is unfortunate. These conversations have sparked discussions about our own communities and some of the similarities however. Unfortunately my commitment to the people of South Africa may be over but I hope to carry their lessons with me. Not in a scrap-book for myself, but to be shared with others and remind us of the efforts necessary to build the communities we desire. The only way to do this is to ensure that they aren’t out of sight and mind but are part of the story of Africa I share.