Connor Fuller; My Service Experience

As a kid from New England, I came to South Africa without much of an agricultural background. Aside from a small tomato garden in my backyard, my experience in growing and tending to crops was quite minimal. Given my lack of qualifications, involving myself with the garden at Sjambok primary school seemed to be quite an arduous task. However, pushing myself out of my comfort zone forced me to learn quickly and adapt in order to facilitate a level of change for something that was a whole lot bigger than myself.

I chose to conduct my service at the Erasmus community, and my first week there was rather confusing and just plain frustrating. I knew I wanted to build relationships and find an area in which I could lend help, but I had such a difficult time committing to one task. However, after my first week of service I came upon the garden behind Sjambok primary. Though it was initially intimidating, I realized that I could potentially play a role in helping motivate the CWP (Community Works Project) laborers to rejuvenate the garden, and in turn provide the students with fresh and adequate lunches.

Initially, my first aim was to continue the composting project left behind by the Ubuntu 2014 team. They had devised a composting bin that was situated beside the garden, but it was not being used and had become quite overgrown with weeds. So, I decided to first research composting and its various methods, as it was crucial for me to educate myself on this field that was more or less foreign to me. After looking up the uses and methods that this process entails, I communicated with the CWP workers about the importance of compost when planting. Many of them listened to my words intently. Within days, the compost bin was cleaned, and they were working together to add material to the bin and ensure that within 6 weeks there would be rich, fertile compost to use on the soil beds. The more I worked with the CWP laborers, the more I realized that all that was needed to help spur improvement in the garden was through group empowerment. It was evident that they had merely been going through the motions of the workday- watering the beds, planting crops when necessary, and turning the soil. However, when I was given the opportunity to interact with them and speak about the potential that this garden had for the betterment of the community, their collective response was unbelievably encouraging. Since many of the workers are parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the students at Sjambok and the surrounding schools, it was inspiring to see how they took responsibility for the garden, which in turn made my job quite easy. In regards to my day-to-day responsibilities, I helped to sow the seeds, transplant the seedlings, turn the compost, and make sure that the daily schedules and duties of the workers were conducted properly.

Once I was confident that the system was working efficiently, I decided to start an after-school gardening program, wherein 10 students could interact with the workers and get a hands-on experience in the garden. I was initially concerned that the students would be disinterested with the program, yet their response from day 1 on was the complete opposite. They paid attention, asked informed questions, and spoke about their own impressive gardening knowledge. I soon came to realize that many of the students depend on their home gardens for food on a daily basis. This understanding struck a chord with me, as I became aware that this project was a lot more meaningful than I had initially envisioned. My relationship with these students became stronger as the weeks went on, and once I earned their trust we interacted and spoke about issues outside of the garden; I helped them with math homework, we played soccer, and sometimes just talked about issues at school and at home that were bothering them. It is certainly going to be painful to leave this community; however, after reflecting on what was accomplished, I came to the understanding that my departure will be bittersweet. Bitter in that I will not be able to see these students again, yet sweet in knowing that these kids will be successful in whatever goals they pursue in the future, as their optimism and resilience is truly inspiring.

Though there were inevitable roadblocks and frustrations during service, my experience at the Erasmus community gave me the privilege to immerse myself in a culture and way of life that has and will inspire me for years to come. The relationships I made along the way granted me a level of open mindedness and insight that I could have never developed in a classroom…leaving this place will be one of the most difficult things I’ll ever do.


Project Art for Hope- Shoshanguve High School School, South Africa

Soshanguve South Secondary School is a publicly funded school situated in Soshanguve, which is a township in Gauteng province, South Africa. Since its inception in 2009, the school continues to provide education to less privileged kids of the Soshanguve community, who in the past had to travel miles to attend school. From my immediate analysis, I will describe Soshanguve South Secondary School (Soshanguve S S ) as a school of ‘hope’.  Looking around, I can’t help but notice severe poverty, which is a global concern, but the manner in which it is deeply rooted in the community bothers me. As a young activist, keeping my silence goes against all my values. I saw an opportunity to join and help a community, but also an opportunity to learn and grow together with the community.

Fordham University through its Ubuntu program provided me with the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Pretoria for 5 months. Part of my service learning component includes going to poor townships, community centers, and schools to lend a hand in various forms. I chose to help Soshanguve S.S.S  by using art, which is my passion. Art played a crucial role in my development as a young adult and a professional, it has helped me tell my story and sell my story to the world which has been the most fulfilling aspect of my life so far. Through Project Ubuntu, I want to use art as platform for these kids to communicate their stories, hopes, dreams and aspirations in life. This community is highly infiltrated by substance abuse, gangs, teenage pregnancy and extreme poverty, which have created an atmosphere of hopelessness. I want to find ways to keep some of these kids- some of whom are extremely talented- away from this societal menace. How do we keep these kids engaged in a productive and educational manner, but also, how we do help create a sense of worthiness and a sense of purpose in them?

For the past 4 months, the students have been engaged in painting and weaving and we now have 10 paintings and about 9 weavings, all of which is to tell their stories. They talked about their homes, family, friends, school and most importantly, they also talked about their dreams and aspirations in life.

Through the active involvement of community leaders, stake holders, and the University of Pretoria, at the end, I will hold an art exhibition for the students at the University of Pretoria, were important community leaders, local businesses and partners of Soshanguve S.S.S will be invited in an attempt to auction all the paintings to help raise funds for the high school. Exhibition date- June 13th.  All proceeds will be geared towards student success. They include, but are not limited to the creation of a scholarship fund for graduating students who have demonstrated exceptional academic, artistic and leadership abilities and have demonstrated despairing need for financial assistance. The funds also will be used to help students buy text books, uniforms and the like.

Knowing this project will help tell stories, a canvas of hopes and dreams and also facing their fears, gives me the ultimate satisfaction. There is no way we can help these kids believe in themselves if they already have a limited vision of who they are and through art we can expand their horizons of possibilities.

I will leave you with some wise words from Desmon Tutu – “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.


About two weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be able to go on a safari at Umlani Private Game Reserve (connected to Krueger National Park). Even on the drive there, I knew this was going to be a special few days – the views of Mpumalanga (a province in South Africa) were breathtaking. I stared out of the window the whole drive there! As we were pulling into Umlani, we saw all sorts of wild animals frolicking along the side of the road (baboons, zebras, giraffes – my first sightings of all of these animals!).

As soon as we got to Umlani, we were shown to the beautiful suites we would be staying in – all of our suites were set up to look like traditional huts from the outside but on the inside they were gorgeous and so luxurious. After we saw our rooms and dropped off ourselves, we went to lunch with the Provost, Dr. Stephen Freedman, and his assistant, Ellen Fahey-Smith. Dr. Freedman is so incredibly knowledgeable about this area of Africa and its connections with how humans evolved, and we all had a series of discussions with him about the importance of this ecosystem on the development of humans which was absolutely fascinating to learn about. He also offered us important time to reflect on the experiences we were having and how it connected with the greater experience of our time in South Africa, which allowed for the experience to be one of the most reflective times I have had so far here as well.

Of course, the highlight of the trip was definitely the game drives we were able to go on. We managed to see all of the Big Five while we were there! The Big Five (lions, elephants, water buffalo, rhinos, and leopards) got their name because, back when people hunted them, they were the five most dangerous animals to hunt. Being able to see all of them while we were there was incredibly special and something not nearly all tours are able to do. My favorite animals to see were the rhinos, which we were lucky enough to see two of (a mother and a baby). It was incredible because I have always loved rhinos, but it was also terribly sad in a way, as rhino poaching makes it likely that rhinos will go extinct in the near future. Of course, we also saw many other animals, including zebras, giraffes, and hyenas. Another incredible thing we got to witness was a fight between a pride of lions and a group of water buffalo. It was so thrilling to watch – at one point, a water buffalo head butted a lion and another lion had to hide in a tree from the water buffalo that were surrounding her! Needless to say, the water buffalo won this battle, but I have a feeling the lions will be back for revenge!

We were also all able to have the incredible experience of sleeping in a treehouse in the bush. Umlani is one of the few nature reserves that allow this to happen, and it was definitely an experience I will never forget. We slept right next to a watering hole, and right before we went to sleep, we were woken up because an elephant was drinking out of the watering hole! It was a little bit terrifying at times, but I am so happy I did it. All in all, the safari was absolutely three of the best days I have ever had – I will definitely be telling stories about it for years and years to come! – Kara





Sjambok Primary School

For the past few months, I’ve been working at Sjambok Primary School in the Erasmus community as my service learning project. Sjambok has grades R (kindergarten)-7, and has about 1,000 students. Most of my work has been in the library, which Ubuntu students helped to create last year. In the time since they left, the library had become disorganized and was not being used much by students. In our time there, Kara, Shannon and I have been working to get an easy check-in/check-out system in place, and have been lending books to students.

My favorite part of our work at Sjambok is the afterschool program that we run twice a week. We work with a small group of grade 7 students doing a variety of activities, from learning activities like math help, geography games, reading practice, or trivia days, along with some purely fun days, like a group birthday party or an afternoon drawing or playing soccer. Connor also runs an agriculture program after school for a small group in the school’s garden, and Rachel and Rich help with the afterschool program when they’re available. We’re excited to bring our afterschool group for a visit to the University of Pretoria in May, and hope that it can show them where they can end up if they continue to work hard- college prep work is lacking in secondary schools, but hopefully this experience can stick with them.

We’ve had a great time working at Sjambok- the kids are great and really helpful, and the administration has supported us with our work. We hope to use some of our fundraised money to add more age-appropriate books to the library. At Sjambok, the students are called ‘learners’, and we hope to be able to leave them with a fully-functioning library, that can continue to help grow their love of learning.

-Erin MacDonald

The World(s) of Post-Apartheid South Africa

When we first arrived in South Africa, I was not sure at all what to expect. Driving from the airport in Johannesburg to our house in Pretoria, we saw zebras along the side of the highway in a nature preserve where we would later go hiking. Maybe this would really be like The Lion King? Although we did get to spend time petting lions and giraffes, I quickly found out that, with 11 official languages and at least a dozen distinct cultures, there was far more to South Africa than the amazing animals and beautiful landscape.


Countless people have told us that there are two South Africas: a wealthy, urban and suburban South Africa and a more rural, incredibly impoverished South Africa.

We live in Hatfield, a section of Pretoria comprising of the University of Pretoria and the surrounding area. We stay at a bed and breakfast with beautiful gardens and a pool, and we work out at the facility where the Argentinian soccer team trained and stayed during the World Cup. Our neighborhood is notably safe and is home to dozens of shops, bars and restaurants.
In our free time, we have gone to a blues festival at a world heritage site, joined a drum circle, visited a Buddhist temple for Chinese New Year and enjoyed many of the other fun things that Pretoria and “Joburg,” an expression for Johannesburg, have to offer. As part of our itinerary in the coming months, we will go on a safari, whitewater raft in Swaziland, hike Table Mountain, explore Cape Town, hang on the beach in Durban, camp in the Drakensberg Mountains near Lesotho and road trip through several countries in southern Africa to cap off our semester.

Our program has all the makings of a traditional study abroad experience: traveling, great food, nightlife and cultural experiences. However, every country has good parts and bad parts. The tourist-friendly areas and areas where the gritty realities of everyday life are far more apparent. The Ubuntu program has given me the unique opportunity of fully engaging with both.

Twice a week, I travel about 40 minutes outside the city to Sjambok primary school in the semi-rural village of Erasmus, a place where these gritty realities are ever-present. Erasmus’ location leaves it outside of any city’s jurisdiction, which means the village does not benefit from public services such as waste management or a police department. All matters go through the village’s leader, who makes the ultimate decision for the community. Many of the people who live in the village rely on job opportunities provided by the federal government and on government welfare income.

The students at the primary school receive a small meal in the mid-morning, which for some is the only meal they will eat that day. Due to a shortage of teachers, the students are often left completely unsupervised and instructed to complete a worksheet or read silently.

Studies have shown that despite higher education funding and better trained teachers, South African students perform significantly worse than students in many of their neighboring countries due to this lack of teacher presence in the classroom. The issues of poverty, unemployment and inadequate education visibly manifest themselves in the Erasmus community.

It is often incredibly difficult to reconcile these two starkly different worlds. The inequality is obvious, both visually, as you drive from the city and suburbs to the townships to the rural areas, and statistically, given that South Africa has the highest Gini coefficient (a standardized international measure of inequality) of any nation.

Though observing such inequality and segregation is uncomfortable — one of our professors told us a story of one time it made her physically sick — it has made me reflect on the United States’ own issues with division, inequality and segregation. I have been told that being in South Africa is like looking at the U.S. in a mirror. It is easy to note the differences while studying abroad, but I have found that noticing the similarities can be just as eye-opening and rewarding.

South Afri-Can You Believe It?!

Howdy Y’all!

Well we made it. One 15 hour flight and a 7 hour time difference(10 from LA) later and we have finally made it and settled in to Pretoria, the place that we have been dreaming about nonstop since October. Let me tell you, it certainly exceeds all of my expectations and I’ve only been here for 2 days. We showed up to the airport and were immediately greeted by smiles and hugs and as we were driving in we saw ZEBRAS from the freeway, could anything be cooler? Being the first post I guess I should start with the basics, like what are we doing in South Africa exactly? Well, we are Fordham’s Ubuntu 2015 program, a program where students study in the University of Pretoria while also working in service sites in or around Pretoria(which is just outside of Jo-burg). While we are here, we live in a bed and breakfast that’s about a 20 minute walk from the university and we have host families that we get to spend time with as well. In our first week, we have spent the days adjusting and getting to know our knew city; we’ve toured Pretoria and the university, met with all of our mentors and the people that will be working and living with us, visited our service sites, received a class schedule and the first night we were welcomed with a braai, which is a South African barbecue.


The Old Arts Building at UP

The braai was beyond incredible, we ate wonderful food, danced to South African music(poorly in my case), and got to know each other as well as the South African extension of our Fordham family. Basically, this place is awesome. After a couple days in our new home, we went on a retreat to better get to know our reason for coming to South Africa as well as getting to know each other. The retreat was something I was not too excited about at first because I thought it would be overly religious, but it really gave us a chance to get in tune with ourselves and the reasons why we came here. The service sites were really fun to visit too, the schools in particular. At the high school we were treated like celebrities; we went from room to room, introduced ourselves and were applauded and thanked by each and every student we met. At the primary school we were chased by some of the children who refused to let us leave the campus.


Soshanguve Secondary School

Me and Becky with 12th graders at Soshanguve Secondary

Me and Becky with 12th graders at Soshanguve Secondary

After visiting the service sites I became not only incredibly excited, but also incredibly grateful. Without even really staying in each site for too long, you could see the struggle that the children and teachers were going through with their limited access to sufficient materials. I left the service sites with an intense drive to make a difference and I know it will be a challenge, but I really hope I can make a positive impact on someone’s life while I’m here. Thanks for taking time to read this post! I’m really excited for this incredible journey I am about to embark on and I feel so lucky to be able to share it with not only the people here in South Africa, but the people who want be updated by reading this while I’m away from home. I hope you enjoy it 🙂