New Youth. New Perspectives. New Wisdom

As you may know, I am in South Africa, working for Good Work Foundation (GWF).

The mission statement of Good Work Foundation is “to digitally empower rural South Africa by providing a world class education.”

The foundation currently has three digital hubs, in which it welcomes students of all ages. Preschoolers, fourth graders, and eighth graders attend the center weekly to practice mathematics and learn English through apps on tablets and computers.

Students in other grades can expect a cart of tablets to be wheeled into their school weekly as well. Adult students (age 18+) can attend classes daily at a GWF campus to earn a certificate in English, a certificate in Hospitality, and an International Computer Driving License, as well as basic Social Media best practices.

Through my travels here, I noticed that many people do not wear shoes. Shoppers in supermarkets, students in schools, diners in restaurants, pedestrians walking down dirt roads… Many people don bare feet. At first, I thought to myself “where are all of those organizations that say they provide shoes for these people?” mostly because I couldn’t imagine walking around anywhere without shoes on my feet.

Seeing so many people barefoot almost made me feel guilty for using such “luxury items” (tablets and computers) with the learners at GWF. I felt like, if I am going to be here, I should be making a difference— I wanted to buy all the shoes in the world and bring them to all of the barefooted people I saw around town and in the villages. Luckily, I have no money so I didn’t immediately place an online order for boatloads of shoes.

After spending almost one month here, I’ve begun to realize a few things:

1. Buying shoes for a person really doesn’t do too much for them. In our American mentality, we think “it’ll give them dignity; it’ll protect their feet; it’ll make them more comfortable” but in reality, it’s just something we can physically provide to feel as if our presence here has a purpose.

2. Most of the barefooted individuals I mentioned actually have shoes and just don’t want to wear them (and that’s okay).

3. Shoes are ephemeral. They break, get lost, maybe they’re stolen… Even if kept in perfect condition, a person is bound to outgrow a pair of shoes. Giving people the opportunity and means to learn the two most important languages of access in the world (English and technology) is permanent. The most beautiful thing about an education is the fact that no one can take it away from you— I think our education is one of the only things we can ever truly own in this world.

In the end, I didn’t buy any shoes. After working longer and talking to countless people here, I realized how unnecessary it would have been. However, I did assist in providing that world class education to the learners at Good Work Foundation. Carmen and I have led workshops, started conversations, tutored during lunch breaks, delivered presentations, taught classes, and provided training for GWF facilitators. Believe it or not, our mark will be left here even if no shoes will.

I’m not sharing this story in hopes of receiving praise for what I’m doing here in South Africa. I’m sharing this story to let you know that there’s been much more to my experiences here than the animals and waterfalls I see on the weekends.

I’m sharing this story because even after reading countless articles about the damages of international service learning, I still had my own “white saviour complex” when I started here in South Africa. I’m sharing this story in hopes that it’ll make you think twice about all that you can “give” a place upon your arrival, based solely on your own perception of that place’s needs.

I’m sharing this story in hope that it’ll inspire at least one person to stop making assumptions, start truly listening to the needs of those around you, and asking lots of questions. After all, without doing those things, how can we really expect to learn?

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Erin Bruce(Back) takes stage under digital baobab tree with the Bridging Academy students of Hazyview Digital Learning Campus.

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Carmen Piedad held up a board with the word “Important” which emphasised the importance of  the youth of Africa.

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I’m sharing this story in hopes that it’ll make you think twice about all that you can “give” a place upon your arrival, based solely on your own perception of that place’s needs.

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Giving people the opportunity and means to learn the two most important languages of access in the world (English and technology) is permanent.

Written by USA Volunteer from Wheelock College Erin Bruce.

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