Audet – Griffin ,Emma Currie ,Helena Kruger
The first week flew by faster than anyone could have imagined. The 17 hour plane ride left us feeling jet lagged and exhausted. The first official day consisted of waking up at 7 am, and early morning rises have continued regularly. Although we were all exhausted, it was exciting to be in a new environment with different people, social norms, and lifestyles.
On Tuesday January 17th, we participated in a tour of Soweto. This gave us a brief overview of the different lifestyles of local residents. Our day began with a tour of the Regina Mundi Church, which is the largest Catholic Church in Soweto. It seats approximately 2,000 people and has a strong historical background. It has been visited by many influential people, including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. When the Soweto uprisings occurred on June 16, 1976 students took refuge in its safety. Sadly, the police fired ammunition at the Church so we were able to see numerous bullet holes through it. There was also a photography exhibit depicting the struggles of Apartheid as well as the progress of equality in Soweto. After the Regina mundi’s church we went on to tour the Nelson Mandela's home as well as the Hector Peterson museum.
The following day was an eye opening experience, which shocked many of us. We took a tour of Kliptown, which is the most impoverished part of Soweto. We were astounded to see sewage running through the middle of their dirt ridden streets. On top of the sewage there was little access to sanitary water and electricity was not affordable for many. However, the settlement we walked through is not recognized by the government but they used funding to build a ramp to "prevent" people from crossing the railroad tracks. In our opinion, this seems like an improper investment when there are people living without basic needs such as water and food. It is hard to comprehend why the government would spend funds on a walkway when the money could be spent to better the lives of many people.
The rest of the first week consisted of various different speakers, ranging from the Democratic Alliance, to the ANC, and the South African Council of Churches. It was fascinating to hear many different opinions on the history of Apartheid and where the speakers see South African developing in the future. We wrapped the week up with home stays throughout various parts of Soweto. For us, this was the most exciting and best way to learn about the culture of South Africa. We were able to communicate with individuals and hear their opinions ranging from gender issues, to political issues, and the cultural importance of food. It was clear that sexism is still rampant and men are viewed as superior to women. Despite this, everyone we met welcomed us into their homes and was happy to have American guests. From the home stays it was apparent that there are strong moral values that guide positive action and the large sense of community.
All in all it was an amazing first week with countless new experiences. We are looking forward to what the rest of the trip has to offer and growing to understand different aspects of people's cultures.