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–By Alseny Frederick 

Conquered South Africa’s largest zip line

As a public health major at Syracuse University, we are required to have a Global Experience course. However, due to my need to fulfill my pre-med requirements, for a long time it had not been feasible for me to spend an entire semester abroad — that is, until last summer, when I went to Grahamstown, South Africa.                                                    

I participated in a short-term study abroad program in Grahamstown from May 26th to June 18th. The program was three weeks and it was undoubtedly the most enlightening experience that I’ve ever had to date. I worked with students at a secondary school enrichment program called Inkululeko, which aims to provide the township youth with the skills, guidance and support they need to attend and succeed at universities.

Posing with a student 

I worked collaboratively with students to identify their stressors and designed healthy ways to manage them. These youth came from poverty stricken communities where alcoholism, drug-abuse, sexual-violence and HIV/AIDS were a few of the hardships that they faced daily. Some of the students were the head of their households at 16 years old due to their caregivers being substance abusers, neglectful, chronically ill and disabled, or even deceased. These factors led to students having high stress levels, poor physical and mental health, conduct issues and trauma. As a result, students’ academic performance began to decline. And this decline, for most, determines their quality of life, which is where Inkululeko come in.

Cape Town

Inkululeko means a lot to these students because it provides everything that they need to be successful academically, while also providing a family of people who care; a community. Reflecting back on my experience I realize that the students I worked with in South Africa aren’t much different from the students in my community. Although the level of poverty is different, we face similar struggles and the only solution is education.

Lil boat, no yacht 

This experience has also made me realize that most of us take our education for granted when it is in fact a privilege. The most significant lesson I’ve learned throughout my time in Grahamstown, South Africa is “Ubuntu,” which is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of community. It directly means: “I am, because of you.” This philosophy has impacted me so much that I decided to get it tattooed on my chest. In doing that, I will never forget that I am a product of my community and it is my duty to give back.

The curriculum here is far more rigorous than anything I have seen growing up in the US

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