Exploring South Africa

Three University of Saint Francis students, their activities director and Office for Service and Social Action Director Katrina Boedeker traveled to South Africa in May to expand their global awareness and perform missions work.

Senior education major Meagan Scott, senior nursing majors Jenna Burke and Kendra Kremer, Director of Student Activities Meghan McArdle and Boedeker joined students and chaperones from the University of Georgia and fellow Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities member school Sienna College in a trip to Johannesburg, Durban and Rustenburg, led by Brother Paul O’Keefe, a Franciscan friar who has worked for Franciscan Mission Service.

A native guide traveled with them the entire time, and “we came to know and love him as a friend and brother,” Boedeker said. “Molefi gave us a unique perspective of the history of apartheid and South Africa today(he was a freedom fighter against the system of segregation). We also spent considerable time with a young Nigerian priest, and young South African men and women from a local parish.”The university group focused on apartheid and HIV/AIDS in South Africa and practiced the “ministry of presence,” entering the culture to be seen and known by the people and get to know them in return. They also served at two orphanage-communities and talked to many students at various schools and education centers.

“We learned a lot about apartheid, and found that it is really not entirely over. Similarities to the civil rights movement in the U.S. and even the Holocaust in Europe were amazing and sad,” Boedeker said. “It was eye-opening to be the minority race, especially since until we opened our mouths, it was assumed we were Afrikaners (white South Africa natives of Dutch descent). When folks found out we were from America, everyone wanted to talk to us, take a picture and learn more about our lives. Hospitality was amazing, always.”

The group found South Africa a grim statistic in terms of HIV/AIDS, with 60 percent of young women ages 16-25 infected. They also visited Botshabelo, an orphanage, school, animal shelter and community made the subject of a 2007 documentary. Established and operated by an Afrikaner family who left wealth and privilege behind to serve black Africans in need, it has an immense impact on marginalized people.

North of Johannesburg in an area known as a trouble spot, they visited St. Anthony's Education Centre, where students can learn the basics of education, finish their high school degree or receive vocational training.They also visited Topologo hospice, an outreach program for shantytown settlements around the mines.

Other high points? “Eating South African food, going to a real Zulu village and meeting their head man, traditional healer, and women and children and seeing their homes,” Boedeker said. The final day took them to Pilanesburg National Park to view the native animals.

“It was truly one of my top life experiences,” Boedeker said. “I hope we are able to get more funding for these trips, such as the Brotherhood Mutual scholarships that helped this year’s students, as the students ranked it as a life-changing experience.”

As an education major, Scott was intrigued by the interest shown in U.S. education by the South African residents. “It was really different because we were in the minority, and they wanted pictures and to know what education is like in the United States. They were very interested in our lives,” she said. She also pointed out the lack of education contributes to the transmission of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, especially in mining settlements.

Coming home brought a mixed bag of emotions. “Seeing all you have and the little they have, you want to give back. I would like to see other students go on this trip,” Scott said.

Kremer saw a vast disparity in healthcare options for black South Africans. “It was shocking that the elderly who are sick go to the hospital and are turned away,” she said, “That’s hard to see, because we do anything to prolong life.” HIV/AIDS has taken a major toll on families, she said. “You see kids taking care of their dying parents.” Health education is needed, she said. “Everybody smokes. The life expectancy is 54. That’s so young.”

The trip increased her appreciation of life in America. “The simplicity is unbelievable there. They live in a little shack and have each other and are happy with it. Americans have so much and still complain a lot. It makes you appreciate what we have here,” she said.

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