We keep thinking about the lessons we learned during our visit and how the people we met enriched our lives. In this township, there was much optimism for what can be accomplished under the “new South Africa.” We were touched every day by what was and is possible. Among the lessons we learned:
· Persevere . The teachers had grown up under apartheid yet had risen far beyond the limitations that system tried to impose. When Bella, a second-grade teacher, was asked how she learned to speak English so fluently, she said, “You must empower YOURSELF.” Principal Thambo, a very impressive leader who was born in the township, emphatically stated, “When they imposed the yoke of apartheid upon us, they didn’t know they were only making us stronger. We learned how to persevere against all obstacles.”
- Be open to new ideas. Because every new idea was an opportunity for personal growth, the teachers were very open and willing to try new ways of doing things. They felt they were good teachers before, but also saw that new strategies could be a way of helping children from the townships be more successful. We saw no cynicism or “been there, done that.” We were lucky enough to be in the country on Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday, and his impact on South Africa and on the world cannot be overstated. He urged children to be “descriptive writers” of their own destiny, and these teachers are helping make that happen.
· Family, family, family. There is nothing more important in the Xhosa culture than family. On the trip, we became “The Kugler Family,” rather than 3 individuals. It made us appreciate traveling together even more. When the teachers gave us school t-shirts as gifts, they made sure to include a shirt for Sara’s husband and for our son/brother and his girlfriend, even though they had never met them. They are family after all.
· Everyone should sing every day. Singing and dancing were not reserved for concerts or special occasions at the school. Each day started with rousing singing from the students to get their blood flowing and there was no such thing as a wrong note! The teachers sang as they went off to class, as they drank their tea during break, as they went home. After our farewell party, there were delicious refreshments, but the teachers spent most of the time outside singing and dancing. Oh, how we will miss them!
· Friendship crosses all boundaries. True friendships form across national boundaries, across races, across cultures. They form when there is mutual openness, respect and caring. We could not have imagined the friendships that formed over three short weeks. We smile every time we look at the pictures.
We started this site as a way to keep in touch with our family and friends during the trip. We’re hearing from friends and colleagues that the site, like the trip itself, has become much more. We hope it inspires you to go beyond your comfort zone – or as they say, do something that scares you every day! We certainly had our moments of doubt before the trip about what we got ourselves into. But, as is clear, this trip exceeded our expectations in every way. And we hope it inspires you to think about getting involved, with South Africa or something else that touches your heart. Our hearts will never be the same after this trip.