These last two days have been soul-resounding experiences. We spent the first several days engaging with spaces, information, and stories of the past that are still echoing today. Yesterday and today, however, we spent engaging with people.
Monday, we went to the University of Johannesburg to dialogue with UJ students and NYU students on the topic of kindness. We heard a keynote address from Dr. Adekeye Adebajo on Pan-African thought and the role of South Africa on the African continent. He drew parallels between South Africa and the United States histories and our self-conception of national exceptionalism.
NYU students put on a Stone Soup-inspired skit on the role of kindness in helping us realize and meet the need of others that we may see only as different than us, blind to the similarities. Two UJ students gave very articulate presentations, posing questions about what kindness means. Finally, our Rutgers group facilitated small group discussions on kindness. Each group was assigned to talk about what kindness means and how we can increase kindness in our relationships at specific levels–international, national, community, and interpersonal.
These events took place in the top level of the 6-story UJ library, a room with an incredible view of Johannesburg out one bank of windows and of the campus out the other. On our tour of the library, we learned that several months ago when they had to evacuated the library, 15,000 students were inside. As many as 80% of the 50,000 students commute and many of them use the library as long as it is open (from sometime very early until 10pm). There is one 24-hour study area and a computerized waiting system students must use to get a 45-minute turn to use one of the many computers. Rarely, apparently, are there any open seats at the library. The volume of students that pass through on a daily basis is overwhelming!
Today, we celebrated the Nelson Mandela Day of Service. Observing this annual national holiday involves committing to 67 minutes of service. We did that and more today at our service learning site, Nkosi’s Haven. Nkosi’s Haven is an NGO that serves as a home and community support system for impoverished mothers with HIV/AIDS and their children, as well as many children who orphaned due to that same disease.
The children we worked with today were about 7th grade-early 20s. We began our morning by administering a brief version of the True Colors Personality test and then breaking up into groups by students’ dominant personality color. I facilitated a discussion for the group of about a dozen students who had a tied score–indicating two dominant personality types (that’s me, too!).
First, we talked about what each color type indicated for personality traits. Then I asked them to brainstorm some careers that might be interesting to people of each personality type. The kids all said what they hoped to do for a career, and we talked about skills or education needed to achieve those goals. We followed with a brief discussion on internet safety, use of social media, and how to present yourself in a limited or professional way online. Ask yourself…would you want a perfect stranger to know this about you? What about a potential boss or someone who was going to interview you?
After identifying their unique gifts, talents, and dispositions as individuals, we played some icebreakers that reinforced our commonalities and our connectedness, as well as supporting one another in our goals. A high school aged girl gave us a tour of the little “village” that made up Nkosi’s Haven. Mothers have rooms with their children, while orphans live in group houses by sex and age. Those without parents each belong to a “college” of 12 children of various ages who are cared for by one caretaker. There are classrooms for learning English and Afrikaans, rooms for therapy, art and music rooms, a playground, and a main building with the kitchen, dining, living, and dance rooms (yes, I said dance room!).
Working with fellow graduate students from other institutions and with the children/young adults of Nkosi’s Haven was an incredible way to learn more about South Africa from those who live here. Tomorrow, we fly to Cape Town. Later this week, we will visit the Cape Town campus of Nkosi’s Haven. I look forward to see how they are similar and how they differ.