What I’m Doing in South Africa

I finally wrapped up my Barcelona posts and, for the most part, my around the world trip posts. I’m ready to forge ahead and share more about my adventures in South Africa now. I’ve been journaling like a madwoman, and I have so many fun and ridiculous stories to tell that I don’t even know where to start! I’m currently on a luxury safari, but it’s probably best to take you back four weeks ago when I landed in South Africa.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’m working in South Africa just for the summer. I’m working for a company that takes college students and young professionals to rural Kenya and South Africa to teach and create future social entrepreneurs through field experience. My role is advising six students and facilitating the curriculum for the institute. The curriculum is centered around asset-based community development. A traditional needs-based development model goes into an area and points out what the area is lacking- no school, no clinic, not enough water, etc.  We take the opposite approach and look at what resources and skills a community has and turn those resources into social businesses. There’s also a very practical component of human-centered design thinking.

During the first week of the program, the students are immersing themselves in the community. We value shared austerity, which is why the students live in homestays and eat and live like locals. How can one design a business with a local if they don’t know the ways of the locals? Through a series of activities, they learn about the community, the way of life, and meet as many people as possible. After, the students spend a few days focusing on themselves and their own skills and then decide on community partners. They will have five weeks to work with the community partners to brainstorm micro-enterprises, create a prototype to test the market, and refine their ideas. We bring no monetary aid, which is why it’s important that the idea leverages local resources and is an idea that ultimately comes from the community.

I came to South Africa a week ahead of my students. I did a few days of in-country training followed by five days in the village to learn the area and find homestays for my students. I’m not gonna lie- it’s been a bumpy ride thus far. My leadership skills have been tested, and my patience has been put on the chopping block. In total, there are 22 students on our South Africa program. Get 22 really diverse and rowdy college students together, and you can only imagine the challenges. If I felt like my strengths and weaknesses were in the gray area before, I see them very black and white now. I’m only halfway through my stay here, and I can’t even tell you how much I’ve learned in just four weeks. My personal goals for the trip were heavily focused on the social entrepreneurship aspect. While I have gained a lot of field knowledge, I’ve also grown leaps and bounds in the leadership department and seen what works and what doesn’t. I’ve dealt with issues that I never even dreamt of occurring.

But when it comes down to it, no one really wants to read about the job, and quite frankly, my tidbits of randomness about village life for an American girl in South Africa are really far more entertaining. Now- do I begin with the story of the chief telling the village not to fondle my breasts or about my recent win in a kudu poop spitting contest?

14 thoughts on “What I’m Doing in South Africa

  • Sounds like an awesome trip! Although I’m not so sure about this poop spitting contest you won…. I’ll have to pass on that should I ever make it there! Can’t wait to read more about your experiences!

  • I actually DO want to read about the job part O:-)

    But how can I pass on learning about poop spitting contests and your conversation with the chief? No matter which one comes first, you gotta tell them both.

  • Both sound good to me, but as with Heather, I was loving your intro to the leadership stuff. Does that make us nerds. Probably. It’s also probably something that strikes a chord with me because I’ve never been able to gain people’s respect as a leader. :)

    Anyway, sounds like a great journey. Almost like on American idol and so you think you can dance… One of those types of journeys, but not so much of a cliche. And the judges are the kids. And the audience is the village. Anyway, that’s not even sensible.

    More please!

  • Hey girl, sounds like you had a lot learning and stories to tell us about this trip. How did you find this program? And what make you decide to do this. I’m so proud of you for doing this with the college kids.

  • That sounds awesome! I’ve been soo excited for your South Africa posts. I was worried I was going to have to wait longer. What a challenge!

  • What an exciting program you’re working on! Looking forward to reading your stories from the villa – how could I not after that last sentence? =)

  • Thanks for everyone’s input! I’m on the cautious side of discussing my job due to obvious privacy issues but will definitely write another post about that aspect in a few weeks. It’s been challenging and when all is said and done, I hope to say that it was all worth it!

  • What a great thing you are doing, you are going to gain great experience, not to mention have so much fun (I mean I’m sure you already have).

    Can’t wait to hear more stories :)

  • Sounds like a great program and experience for the students. I cant wait to hear more of the stories you have. Love the photo with the little girl and her upside down glasses.

  • I DO want to read about the job! Seriously. I think micro-entreprises are one of the most fascinating ways that Africa could be brought out of poverty. I always believe in helping people help themselves. What an awesome thing you are doing. Keep writing about it! PLEASE!

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