Monday, October 21, 2013

Lessons I've Learned: Important Update

Three weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to attend Project Management Training at a retreat center just outside of Cape Town. While I learned a lot about project management itself, the lesson that stuck with me and that will stay with me as long as I live was bestowed upon me not by a facilitator, but by a fellow workshop attendee. After one session, Yolisa was asked to pray before we made our way to lunch. With three sentences, she changed my life. “Some people got food and no appetite. Some people got an appetite, but no food. Father God, you gave us both and we are grateful.”

I can take so many different meanings from this prayer, but the first thought that sprang to mind is just how grateful I am for the “food” that I’ve received in this opportunity to travel abroad and learn about another culture. However, even with all the blessings of this trip, I have decided, with the help of my office here and the YASC office in NY, that it would be best for me to return home rather than spend the rest of the year here. The decision was not finalized lightly and only came after prayerful and tearful conversations with everyone involved. However, I do not want to dwell on anything negative because this opportunity was once in a lifetime. Instead, I’d like to share with you just a small sampling of what I’ve learned and experienced in South Africa and the “food” I was given. The experiences I’ve had here pale in comparison to my life so far and I will never regret this journey. I’m so grateful for everything I managed to learn, even though my stay was not as long as initially planned.

I have learned that even the smallest contributions can make a world of difference. A small stack of boxes in my office in Cape Town was waiting for a natural disaster to strike. Each box was filled with about 50 packets of food, and each packet would feed about 4 people. Let’s do that math. The small corner of my office can feed 1000 people.

I have learned that poverty in America cannot begin to shed light on poverty in other places in the world. Until three weeks ago, every day I got off the train and began my walk to work, I passed the beds of homeless people. They had made a home on the sidewalks lining a parking lot just outside the station and hung their wet clothes on nearby bushes so that the spring sun would dry them. They slept on the concrete ground with a blanket below and above them if they were lucky. When I returned to the station at the end of the day, I saw them lighting fires in the shrubs nearby. This was their home, in the middle of a wealthy suburb filled with gated houses and security guards. And this was nothing compared to the poverty of neighboring suburbs and townships where shacks were piled on top of one another where Black people had been forced out to live during apartheid. The nation is recuperating, but the physical separation is still very prevalent because poverty is so hard to overcome once it’s hit a group of people. Three weeks ago, everything changed and the site began to show signs of construction. At the end of one work day, I walked by to discover that the beds and floors of the homeless “homes” had been replaced by jagged rocks that cannot be slept on. I’m not sure who asked for the rocks to be there, but there is no doubt in my mind that the rocks have points facing up as a deterrent for the homeless people who used to spend their evenings lying on concrete. I hope they’ve found somewhere that will accept their need to sleep rather than push them further into discomfort. How can poverty and homelessness be overcome if we continue to not allow these people the opportunity to live?

I have learned how much I personally value personal connection. With that knowledge in hand, talk to me. When you see me walking around, stop me on the street and ask me how my trip was. Tell me what is happening in your life so that we can, if even for one moment, share each other’s lives. If you and I can connect, then what’s to stop us from connecting with complete strangers in our daily life. WWJD? That’s what Jesus would do.

I have learned that the Anglican Church of Southern Africa is extremely committed to social development. There are programs that decrease unemployment and hunger as well as help with disaster relief when local natural disasters affect already impoverished communities. The team at HOPE Africa is filled with incredible people of all ages and genders and the office is filled with life and laughter whenever we gather together to take a break from the work. This office is a blessing to all those they serve and they have taught me more than I can even begin to tell you.

I have learned that in order for projects to be successful, they need to communicate with each other. The Masikhanye Food Garden, there to provide food and computer skills training to youth and adults alike in Khayelitsha, can cut a deal with the AIDS Action Group, Abigail Women’s Movement, and the St. John’s Pre-primary School to ensure they have food to feed their patients and children. When we work together, we really can change the world, one person at a time. Make sure you ask for what you need because you never know who might be able to help and how you might help them in return.

On a lighter note, I’ve learned that the best flavor of popcorn is fruit and chutney. I have learned that I can eat sushi and fish and chips without grimacing. I have learned how to say about four phrases in Afrikaans and I can’t wait to share what a beautiful language it is with you back home. I have learned that the quickest way to a South African’s heart is to present them with Jelly Belly Jellybeans.

Huskers, I’m coming home so keep those wins coming. HOPE Africa and Cape Town, sien jou binnekort. Totsiens to all, and baie dankie for everything.


  1. Brave Emily, thank you for your beautiful blog post. In my own experience, it is usually those unexpected things that happen in life that remind me God is in control. Welcome back to DioNeb! Godspeed. Noelle Ptomey

  2. I have always admired people who know how or when to leave and yet gain so much dede


Feel free to leave your reactions and thoughts!