Name: Gregory Zane
Type of Project: Buck-i-Serv Trip to Cape Town, South Africa
During May 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa on a Buck-i-Serv Trip. We worked primarily at a local community outreach organization, called Sakhulwazi, which works to solve the critical problems that the township of Philippi and its citizens face each day. Specifically, the Buck-I-Serv group worked alongside members of Sakhulwazi through their sustainable agriculture program which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the community at affordable prices. We also had the opportunity to visit cooperating Educare centers to learn about the school systems in the Western Cape and interact with kids ranging from 0-6 years of age. When we weren’t participating in service, the Buck-I-Serv group traveled throughout Cape Town and the surrounding areas to learn about the history of South Africa, Apartheid, and the many languages that exist in the Western Cape.
Through personal experiences and interactions with others, I have been able to better understand how my identities shape the interactions and privileges I have within the paradigm of the United States. While I have had the opportunity to travel to Europe, this understanding had remained fairly constant until I stepped foot in South Africa. Until recently, South Africa was a racially separated country due to the segregation laws known as Apartheid. With radical laws that ripped families apart and forced individuals to live in townships that lacked basic infrastructure and opportunities based on the color of one’s skin, I quickly realized that my identities took on a new meaning. As a white male, my identities were similar to those of the politicians and soldiers who enforced the inhumane laws on any non-White South Africans. Understanding this, I actively observed how my interactions with locals were shaped and spoke with as many people as I could to understand the new paradigm I was in. This challenge provided me with a greater ability to reflect upon myself which I have carried back to the US to continue understanding my role in society.
After coming back from South Africa, I’ve become much more aware of the views that Americans have on both the country of South Africa and the continent of Africa as a whole. In many instances, I’ve been faced with questions like “Did you see lions in the street” or “Is it true that everyone is poor”. While I understand that these questions come from basic ignorance, I can’t help but get irritated at how Western society views the idea of “Africa”. I was able to witness first-hand extreme poverty, but I also ate and shopped in areas that are more affluent than even the wealthiest places in the United States. The people that I built relationships with came from different backgrounds and all experienced life in a different manner rather than following stereotypical Western notions. I believe that, through the culmination of my experiences, I’m better equipped to slowly change the American view on Africa to one that is much more open and understanding of the true diversity which exists rather than the single story our society blindly believes.
One of the things I am most grateful for about the Buck-I-Serv trip was the amount of activities we were able to do during such a short time period. Specifically, the opportunities provided by Sakhulwazi and the amazing people there who I look up to as role models for the way I want to live my life. Every day, Sakhulwazi faces struggles that most Americans wouldn’t even be able to comprehend like lack of clean water and inadequate funding, however, they continue to be a stable heart for the community. Listening to how resilient many of them were, even in the face of extreme adversity, made me take a step back and rethink whether the trivial worries I have on a day to day basis are worth getting upset about. I hope to have half the strength that the Sakhulwazi staff show each and every day.
Other than the service portion of our trip, the most impactful part were the visits to museums and our education sessions about Apartheid. The District Six Museum, in particular, was extremely impactful. During the 1950’s, the Group Areas Act was passed which assigned racial groups to different residential sections in cities like Cape Town. Prior to the 1950’s, the area of Cape Town known as District Six was a diverse neighborhood filled with families ranging in racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. After the passing of the Group Areas Act, the South African government expelled any non-White citizen from the city to surrounding townships and destroyed nearly the entire neighborhood. While the museum commemorating District Six was relatively small, Noor, a guide for the museum who originally lived in the district, was able to share his experiences about Apartheid in ways that continue to impact me and allow me to question how identities impact our opportunities in life.
I think the reason the Buck-I-Serv trip was more impactful than a regular “study abroad experience” was due in part to the group I was with. Even though we were only together for 2 weeks, I found a new family that helped me to grow through reflection and by pushing me out of my comfort zone even more than I would have on my own. Having other people around allowed me to question the things that I didn’t understand in a group that would help navigate me to find an answer. Without them, I truly don’t think my transformation would be as deeply rooted as it is now.
My Signature Project has provided me the opportunity to step out of my boundaries and go places that I never thought I would be able to go while at The Ohio State University. As I am a Public Health major, it’s my goal to eventually work in the field of Global Health and make impacts in communities similar to Philippi. I believe that, through my experiences, I now have a more realistic understanding of what this actually entails and it’s made me much more passionate about my academic and professional goals. This passion has already begun to translate over to deeper involvement in on-campus organizations as well as helping me take a closer look into graduate programs that can accelerate me into the field of Global Health. As I set forth now into the next stage of my academic career, I have my experiences from the Signature Project to guide me to my future.