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Service Learning Field Program Report #2

Service Report #2

Operation Hunger, South Africa

            Gazing out the bus window as I passed lush vineyards and sprawling suburbs, it was hard to believe that hunger or malnutrition were a big problem in Cape Town.  Even in my reflection of my visit to a township a few days prior I couldn't remember any obvious signs of hunger.  On that bus trip to my service visit, I didn't yet know that I had a big day ahead of me where I would learn more about the community and myself as well as come to understand that hunger isn't something that is necessarily advertised or recognizable.  Now I know that hunger is easy to overlook and a complex issue to address.  Reflecting on my experience volunteering with Operation Hunger, I am glad that I started my education in the issue of hunger in South Africa and that I helped implement sustainable solutions in the community I visited.

            After the bus ride through the countryside and suburbs, we arrived at the township where we would volunteer with Operation Hunger.  The regional manager of the Western Cape met with us in a high school auditorium to explain about the organization and what we would be doing that day.   I was excited to hear that much of the organizations framework had sustainability built in.  In the past, Operation Hunger had simply handed out food, but now, they focused on staring community gardens, monitoring health, and income generation.  That day we had a choice of cooking in the community soup kitchen, starting a community garden, or assisting the Semester at Sea media team document the experience.  I chose to work in the gardens because I felt that I would be most useful there.  I have a lot of past gardening experience and I already knew that I could do it from a wheelchair.  After lunch, the Semester at Sea and Operation Hunger team came back together to carry out a bi-annual data collection of key health markers in the childhood population.  Again we had a choice of what our jobs would be and I chose to work at the station where the kids would be weighted.  My friend Josh or I would help the child onto the scale, he would read out the weight, and I would write that value on the child's lower arm.  With all of us working at our stations, we were finished far quicker than I would have believed possible.  I had some extra time to watch the kids receive a special meal from the soup kitchen and play with some of the younger ones.   

            During the monotonous, yet satisfying gardening work, I had time to begin my reflection of how this experience would fit into my larger experience in the International Service Learning class.  The reading that stood out most as pertaining to the Operation Hunger service visit was the section on levels of leadership and the seven Cs.  This model divided experiences into the individual level, the group level, and the community level.  I felt that components of all of these contributed to making this service visit a rewarding and useful trip. 

            In the category where I was looking at myself, the individual, the sub-category "consciousness of self" stood out to me as being particularly relevant.  Consciousness of self means to be aware of my frame of mind and my motivations.  It is something this class has challenged me to think about in depth.  Previously I would answer the question, "why do you participate in service?" with a simple, "because I like to."  Now I see how plain and uninteresting that response is.  Probing deeper into my motivations, I start to be able to better articulate the "why" of what I do.  In the context of this trip, I find service visits to be highly education and an opportunity for cultural immersion I may not otherwise be offered.  I sometimes have trouble initiating conversations with people and a service visit would do that difficult task for me.  I also gain a strong sense of satisfaction when I work on a service project.  For example, it was very satisfying to see a ratty patch of earth turn into the beginnings of a community garden during the morning of the Operation Hunger.  I think it may be part of my culture that I enjoy working on and completing projects.  What I see as my primary motivation for participating in service was beautifully illustrated in the community I was working with as ubuntu; "I am who I am because of who we all are."  I want to be a part of setting the tone for a global community where we all give and need help.

            I was also a member of a group made up of Semester at Sea and Operation Hunger affiliates.  In this group level of leadership, collaboration and having a common purpose were very important.  The Semester at Sea field office and Operation Hunger had years of collaborating to best suit each organizations needs.  On the day of the service trip, we collaborated within our group on how to best go about doing our tasks whether it was how to turn soil or how to organize dozens of energetic kids.  We all were brought together and encouraged by the common pursuit of addressing the problem of malnutrition in this community. 

            The final category of community always seems to be the most difficult area of service.  This is the area where everything comes together, where I, as an individual am working in a cohesive group and together we join with the community that we serve.  This highlights the idea of citizenship, particularly world citizenship in this case.  As we sowed seeds with a new parent or mingled with the kids after their meal, the definition of "we" included all of us.  We were all confronted with the issue of malnutrition and we all wanted it addressed.   

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