In May and June this year, seven Cal State San Bernardino students, university President Tomás D. Morales and faculty director Tiffany F. Jones visited numerous historical and community sites in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa.
The three-week study abroad program focuses on understanding contemporary South Africa through visiting important sites such as the District Six Museum, Robben Island, Llandwle Migrant Labour Museum, the Slave Lodge and Soweto, to name a few.
Students also welcomed guest lectures from individuals such as Antoinette Sithole, whose brother, Hector Pieterson, was killed during the 1976 Soweto Uprising; Amanda Esterhysen from the University of Witwatersrand’s Origins Museum; Manfred Jacobs who worked at the former Victor Verster Prison where the late Nelson Mandela spent his last year; and Christo Brand, Mandela’s former prison guard on Robben Island. Many of the guest speakers spoke of the importance of South Africa’s past, reconciliation and paying it forward.
The highlight of the trip for many of the students once again was the visit to the Othandweni Family Care Centre in Soweto. With funds donated by community members, President Morales, university staff, faculty and students, CSUSB donated $2,000 worth of diapers, formula, toiletries, school supplies, rice and maize meal. The last time CSUSB visited the center was before the COVID-19 pandemic, in July 2019. At the time, the group, led by Kelly Campbell, donated approximately $2,000 in diapers and space heaters.
This year, because the pandemic has impacted the country significantly, and the local economy was deeply affected, in addition to diapers and wipes, the center was also in desperate need of food items and school supplies for some of the older children.
“We focus on providing the center with items they specifically request in order to ensure that they get exactly what they need,” said Jones. “The children in the center often are orphans or come from abusive homes, and what little we can do to help the center provide for them is always an important part of the study abroad experience.”
Unfortunately, there are many orphans in South Africa due to HIV/AIDs, TB and Malaria. COVID-19 exacerbated the orphan crisis, with South Africa UNICEF calling on the whole of South Africa in 2022 to care for the additional 150,000 children who were orphaned due to COVID-19. Othandweni, which means “Place of Love,” is a center sponsored by Joburg Child Welfare that provides care for 30 babies and toddlers in its nursery, and offers a home to approximately 60 school-aged children and teenagers up to the age of 18.
Part of the visit always includes students visiting the nursery, but this year, the program tried to engage more with the older children. Jones’ daughter, Rowan Jones-Heal, a Great Y Circus member, brought her balloon pump with her and made balloon animals for the pre-teens, while some of CSUSB students freestyle rapped with the teenagers.
As Dahrien Trotter, one of the CSUSB students who participated in the trip noted, “Our trip to the orphanage is something I will never forget. Being able to help donate things that were needed warmed my heart more than I expected it to. I had never seen so many infants in one room. And to see the scars on some of their faces from their past was heartbreaking.
“However, it was also refreshing to see all of the older kids. It was so cool meeting Johnny because he freestyled for us and had a great voice. I know that freestyling is popular in America, but I did not expect it to also be across the world. The experience definitely showed me how fun and healing giving donations can feel.”
During the trip, students also conducted their own research projects, participated in a community-based safari, and learned about the multi-cultural nature of South Africa, dispelling the myths of a monolithic Africa.
“The study abroad experience to South Africa is a life-changing experience for many and offers students an incredible experience that far surpasses one they can do on their own,” Jones said. “I love reading the students’ journals at the end of the trip where they reflect on the significance of it in their own lives.”
One student, Shaquala Harris, noted in her journal, “My experience abroad opened up my world to the struggles of others in different cultures. It makes me think of how I can make a difference in the lives of my people not only in America but also in Africa. It encourages me more to take my life into my own hands and live a life worth living; to live a life of service and create things that can change lives all over the world. It also made me realize that I want to explore more of Africa, to build a community of my own there and have a real connection to my homeland.”
Next summer, Jones hopes to run a new African study abroad program, but this time to Tanzania and Zanzibar.
For more information about study abroad programs, visit the CSUSB Education Abroad webpage.