I couldn’t believe it when I received the email to say that I had got the scholarship to go to South Africa. I really and truly applied by faith. I submitted my application at the very last minute. I was so nervous during and after my interview, that I thought I messed it up and wouldn’t get it. But to my surprise, I was chosen and I am glad that I got to embark on this adventure…
Out of my friends, I would say that I am the one to take chances, try new things, and make the most out of my university experience. Trying to juggle too many things at once may have cost me last academic year, but this year I made an investment not only in my education, but in my personal development and my future. “Experiences” are priceless and impact on us mightily as individuals, and for that reason I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity.
Before I go on, I’d like to say a MASSIVE thank you to Dr. Annie Hughes, who has been incredibly helpful, supportive and went above and beyond for us throughout the process. Peter Garside, for being helpful and entertaining thought the trip. Cecilia Cappel, who challenged me many times to come out of my comfort zone and think critically about my place in the world and Saffrina, who has inspired me to become even more active in the union and pro-active as a student. I would also like to thank all the funders, and everyone who played apart in putting this scholarship together. Working in the Alumni relations department and as a previous student caller I can only thank you for being touched enough by peoples stories and projects like this enough to give.
I was able to visit Cape Town for 10 days, with my lovely co-scholars, Mariam, Bria, Sonia and Huda who made the trip so memorable, due to amount of jokes and laughter we shared. We also went with the third year Geography students who were a jolly and adventurous bunch!
We arrived in Cape Town from a 12 hour flight and went straight to Table Mountain. I couldn’t believe we were actually there! I mean wearing my airport attire (thick-grey-tracksuit) in the summer heat made it feel a tab bit more surreal. The scenery was so beautiful and so breath-taking. I thought to myself that, people who live here are so lucky to have such a beautiful landscape to wake up to everyday. That type of view would give me motivation to keep going! There’s no way people could be unhappy living in such a place like this, you’d think. On our way there from the airport we saw beautiful homes and restaurants but right on the other side of the road were homeless people and shacks. A strange dynamic…little did I know that, that would be a reoccurring image I would see throughout the trip.
On Sunday we visited District Six. Our tour guide was Joe Schaffers, a man who grew up in District Six in the 1960’s. He told us about the history of the area and that the government demolished the area in order for white people to build new buildings and property. People were relocated and some displaced and not fully compensated. As a result there were a lot of social issues such as poverty, depression and racial division. People’s ways of life were affected and a lack of recreational activities also formed idleness and therefore, gang cultures and crime. As we walked along the roads, Joe, narrated what life was like back the and I could envision what these areas would have looked like in the 60’s. After the tour, we explored District Six Museum and its artefacts, memorabilia and photographs submitted by District Six’s very own residents.
Robben Island had an eerie yet peaceful vibe to it. It was as if the spirits of the prisoners were present but now at peace Our tour guide, Ishmael, was an ex-prisoner on Robben Island and his words left me astounded because he was incredibly positive, even whilst telling us about the terrible conditions he faced in the prison. He told us that prisoners were stripped from their normal everyday routines, had to eat rationed food and were under surveillance at all times. I commended his forgiving nature and perspectives because I could tell that although he went through a tragic ordeal in those cells for many years, he truly forgave his oppressors.That’s the type of forgiveness I aspire to have in me.
On our way to Robben Island, we were picked up by a tour bus and the lady told us about each of the buildings and sites on the Island. I learnt that there were so many other men, aside from Mandela who fought hard for freedom on Robben island…
Although I heard two opposing perspectives from Ishmael and Joe that day, I learnt that change comes after hardship. Although there are a lot of things that need to change in South Africa, things are not how they used to be. What the nation needs to focus on is the in between and closing the gap of inequality, poverty and racism its still yet to deal with.
On Tuesday, we visited the Tshisimani Centre, an activist education centre that offers short courses to provide information and work in social justice, crime, security, activism, sanitation, water and low BME attainment. Paula and Dinga, the two main leaders at the centre were very active in protests in the past. We heard about what they do to support students in terms of expression that are fighting for reduced fees and a more equal curriculum. We debated whether the ‘rainbow nation’ was an illusion, factors that contribute to the low BME attainment amongst poorer black people and educational attainment both in the UK and South Africa. We found that the perception on the rate and amount of social change in South Africa since the end of apartheid differs greatly between the older and younger generation. They also gave us more background and historical information about how people were identified during the apartheid which helped me learn that it was deeper than just black and white people, but ‘coloured people’ such as Indians, Cape Malayans were also discriminated against too. Overall, I think it was an important conversation we had with them because we got to learn new information and pick up tips on how to be an activist. It was great to see that this type of dialogue (along with action) can spark a change for oppressed people to rise up.
University of Cape Town
Going to visit the University of Cape Town was a amazing! I was blown away by the beauty of the campus and couldn’t stop taking pictures of it. We toured around the campus, the student union shop and bought ourselves some books and souvenirs. Looking around, I saw a board with many quotes and images inspired by the Rhodes must fall protest in 2015. Students were unapologetic in their expression and that really impressed me.
Shortly after we met with two young brave and beautiful black women, Shola and Mmone who told us first hand about the reality of being a back student at UCT. They explained to us that poorer (mainly black) students had a tough time finding accommodation near campus because white students from Cape Town who could afford filled up all the rooms, whilst some of the poorer students have commute up to three hours. They continued to tell us about their struggles, not being heard and all the inequalities they faced only in their first year of uni.
I felt like, we as students in the UK must have a passion for change (when we see things aren’t going the way they should), our people, love ourselves and be the change we want to see. I believe it is a basic human right to have access to education. One of the girls raised the question (paraphrase): “Why do I need to prove I’m good enough, don’t my grades prove that already? Why do I need prove I am worthy enough of higher education because of my skin? What is the point of allowing black students to study at a top university but still have to deal with racism?”
It’s obstacle after obstacle for these students. But gladly, they have a close-knit union and share their pain and experiences with like-minded students who face similar issues that they do. Their union is intolerate of xenophobia, homophobia, racism and sexism and makes sure it’s a safe space where everyone is clued up about each others experiences. It struck me that these girls had no ill feelings or contempt towards their white counterparts because they understood and accepted that society has been socialised to believe ‘black is bad’. Black people included.
On the surface, change seems like it has happened. But the discrimination, hate and injustice is still prevalent, overtly and remains deep rooted in society. From my observations I could see that this was true. Blacks people did all the labour work and majority of the homeless people we saw were black.
It got me thinking that the complacency UK needs to be shook up of the ground. We are too content were we are , despite living in London a multicultural society, inequalities still occur based on nationality. When I realised that these students literally FIGHT for a right to education and low fees change gradually happens. It got me thinking that maybe we need the ‘Trump’s’ to wake us all up from this bubble. We are young, but we will be the next generation of politicians, MP’s – so we need to stand up for justice, NOW.
I reflected and realised that I have taken my education for granted. I complained in first year about getting up early for lectures when it was only five minutes on the uni bus. As I mentioned in my application, I knew there would be an opportunity to meet with people who go through hardships and hearing their stories first hand. I could definitely relate when one of the girls said that black students don’t feel confident in themselves because they are faced with so many obstacles from the jump. It made me hunger for their knowledge of their roots and resilience because they fought for all they deserved . At times, I times don’t have the boldness to make statements and express myself and call out what’s wrong. It made me feel like I should never take my education for granted and that I can impact another individual by being transparent about my experiences. I can definitely say, university makes you “woke” and it makes you realise what you do have and what you don’t have. I almost shed tears listening to the girls speak. This experience has planted the seed and I think this will change me as a person. I am more cautious of how I use my money, not waste food, whenever I feel like this is too much to be more mindful and put myself in these ladies shoes and use my education to make a difference. I want my degree to know and be proud on the fact that I worked hard fro my degree. Earlier, I made the statement that most that live here surely can’t be depressed but the ladies truly proved me wrong from the stories they shared about students they knew.
Visiting Village Heights was really emotional for me. As soon as we arrived and stepped off the coach, I wanted to hop right back on it again. I was scared. I sensed danger and I thought this wasn’t a place where I wanted to be. But, I soldiered on as the dogs (I have a huge fear of dogs) roamed the streets and the locals stared at us like a bunch of foreigners. When we got to one of the homes, the locals were so welcoming. They cooked us an amazing meal and the work that they were doing was outstanding. I was warmed up by their positivity, one ladies entrepreneurialism and desire to keep their community safe and young men off the streets. I had a great time playing with the kids and even bought a knitted tortoise key chain. It felt great to help out and donate some of the shoes we had all collected, right their on their doorstep and see the gratitude and happiness on their faces.
On the same day, we visited Green Point Park, just near the Olympic stadium. I was impressed to see that the owners and keepers of the park emphasis on sustainability and opened it up to locals for leisure purposes. Although, it cost about 3 to 4 thousand rand to maintain a month, they use water from the mountains to water the garden and do their best to limit waste and increase biodiversity.
Century City & University of Cape Town
Century City is a beautiful area, no doubt. Grand malls, beautiful houses, amazing scenery. It’s a small town within the town. To some, it may be their dream environment and by the facts and figures the property developer told us, it’s a very desirable and sought for area to live in. The developers saw an opportunity to build on old marshlands and they did just that! I loved that there was a significant effort gone into building an eco-friendly town and Intaka Island (a bio-diverse and ‘green’ Island). It seemed too good to be true! To an extent, it really was because although this beautiful complex was built for its residents and they enjoy a nice and convenient life, it was quite a disturbing thought that they don’t see much of what happens outside of Century City. The property developer that spoke to us didn’t find it controversial that they live in a “perfect world” of their own whilst a mile away on the highway people are living in shacks in the worst poverty.
McGregor & The Breede Centre
We arrived at the Breede centre, which trains local people and allows them to build practical skills to build themselves a better life. In groups we took it in turns to paint the building, create candles, do some wood work, play with the children and cook for them. I really enjoyed working together with everyone to decorate the centre and get stuck in with the activities.
On the second day at the Brede centre, Pieter, the founder gave us an inspirational talk about why he started up the centre. He wanted to give young children and adults the skills they need to be independent and start their own businesses. He also gave us a tour of the centre, showing us the kitchen where cooking classes are taught, the computer room, t-shirt printing room and also the wood works workshop.
I’m glad we had the opportunity to help the children, give back and be part of such an amazing job Pieter is doing, along with the workers in inspiring a new generation.
I enjoyed staying at the Onverwacht cottages much more than I thought I would. We lived minimal. We ate meals at the table. We were made to spend quality time with one another which is something you don’t always get to do in London because of our busy lifestyles. But I realised you can always make time to do what needs to be done. It’s just a matter of priorities and how much importance you place on certain things.
Last Day/Going Back To London ✈️
On the last day we did a lot of touristy things like go to the beach, see the penguins, taste some good ice cream and visit markets. I was so sad to leave and we all said that we could have easily lived in South Africa for another week! I truly enjoyed my time in Cape Town.
At times I would find myself completely quiet on the trip, especially during our morning reflections and hearing about what the girls learnt the day before, simply because I couldn’t believe that I was in another country experiencing something completely new. I was truly grateful to have the chance to expand my knowledge and that Annie and the rest of the team, were willing to give me that opportunity.
Here are a few things that I learnt and will take back with me:
- Always to have confidence in myself and my beliefs as a young black woman. Don’t be too bothered with what people think or say about you. You are who you are.
- Get to know my roots.
- Make investments in myself and use my gifts, skills and knowledge to help others.
- Know where I came from so I know where I am going.
- Learn to humble myself and appreciate all I have
- Listen to my gut instinct if I want to bring extra clothes on my travels. I’ll never use up 23kg worth of luggage travelling solo!
- Take care of myself, inside and out.
- Be a good person and supportive of people who are trying and struggling. Be an encourager – the one you wish you had.
- Speak up when something is wrong. You’re not crazy or extra for doing it. You’re taking a stand.
- Don’t believe everything you hear or what you see at first glance. Question people and what they do. In terms of my education, I’ll no longer be passive but active in my learning, speak up and be glad I have the opportunity to study and learn and change my community, impact minds, change lives and ultimately the world.
- Appreciate and be grateful for what seems basic here, because it’s a commodity in a place like Cape Town. Before I think about wasting food, remember those who don’t have any, preserving energy & water because these resources one day will run out.
- If these people can live on 200-300 rand a month I can live well but comfortably too. Put more into savings and projects to help the less advantaged.
- Understand not everyone is like me or thinks like me.
- Appreciate family more and spend time with them because life is short. Those who didn’t have much money were so happy which that proves money doesn’t bring happiness. It’s your outlook ion your situation.
- Pour out. Be a giver.
- First world problems are nothing compared to what I’ve seen in South Africa. A real life struggle to survive. It made me realise everyone has their hardships but the way you deal with it ultimately matters.
- The trip also made me more determined to be me unapologetically; Dream big and express myself authentically in all aspects.
I wrote down in my application, my goals for this trip were to grow as a person and experience some things that were going to change my perspective on the rest of the world, challenge me, get me out of my comfort zone and spark a change in me that would overflow onto my work, my relationships and others and my lifestyle. I vaguely had an idea of what to expect, but what I experienced was completely different…
For those wondering why scholarships like this exists or why universities should continue to fund projects like this is because you’re investing in an individual that could possibly change the world. How would greats be greats without mentors, without investment and experiences. Academia is one of, but not the only way to stimulate thinking. Seeing the real life world is and how we can make a change does because it has long lasting effects. Investing in those who wouldn’t normally get an opportunity to travel is a great investment because the gap of inequality is gradually being closed. It’s showing these people that they are capable, it gives them confidence in themselves and shows them that they can achieve better. We all deserve the opportunity to grow and make a greater impact than the last generation.