Monday, June 26, 2017

Cape Town, South Africa 2017!

Today begins my second week in Cape Town, South Africa. It's finally sinking in that I'm really here. I'm really in Africa.

I will be spending 8 weeks in South Africa to intern with a nonprofit organization via an international program, IES Abroad. Last Spring I was the recipient of a $4,500 scholarship from my university's Study Abroad office and this allowed me to participate in this amazing experience. I am beyond blessed to have this opportunity and intend to make every moment count.

The nonprofit organization I am interning with is PASSOP (People Against Suffering, Oppression, & Poverty). It assists undocumented immigrants in South Africa appeal for residency in the country as well as advocates for members of the LGBTQI community. While here, I will be working specifically with the organization's Gender Based Violence Program. South Africa's rate of sexual and violent assaults against women and members of the LGBTQI community is alarmingly high and Cape Town is no exception. Oftentimes these assaults go unreported because victims feel ashamed for the attack. Undocumented individuals are even less likely to report an assault due to fear of being arrested. Refugee or not, all victims of assault deserve the right to report their cases without the fear of persecution. I have been challenged to create a fresh initiative to combat this issue and spread awareness of the prevalence of violence in Cape Town. In addition, I plan to empower survivors to share their stories and use them as tools of prevention for others.

When I first arrived to  South Africa, I felt as if I were in a real-life Sims game. (If you're familiar with the game, you'll understand this connection.) For so long, Africa has been this mystical place in my head, a generalized area full of people with the same backgrounds, ethnicities, personalities, etc. I didn't fully grasp that African countries are as diverse as the States until I arrived here and started talking to everyone around me.

They're real people.

With real personalities. Lives. Various backgrounds. Different stories.

They're as individualized as we are in America.

For some odd reason, I subconsciously thought that everyone here would be devoid of humor, style, spunk, class... I didn't think there was much I could relate to them on besides being from the continent. But I have come to realize how much I've generalized Africa and stereotyped natives in so many ways. I feel embarrassed for doing so but I realize that this is just the impact of America's public educational system. I was never fully informed about each African nation nor encouraged to do my own research until just recently (in my undergraduate experience). For years, 'Africa' has been lumped together as one large area with nothing peculiar nor spectacular about it. And now I have seen the truth for myself.

I am naturally a people-watcher but it's become even more intensified since I've arrived here. I find myself getting lost in the conversations of others several times a day. On the public bus, in the cafe when I'm buying lunch, on the street when I'm shopping... I don't always understand what I'm hearing but I still enjoy watching their faces, learning their expressions, their norms... It's amazing to see people who externally look just like me but once in conversation, we are worlds apart. I enjoy the diversity and I thrive on it while here.

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