In my opinion, one of the worst things is to look back and know you had the opportunity to do something, but didn’t. When I started college, my sister wrote me a letter and the last line was, “don’t squander your time.” It was one tiny line in a heartfelt letter, but I think back on it constantly. There are two things that make me feel like I am productive and not “squandering my time”: doing things for me- things that I enjoy and love, and giving back- whether its volunteering or just helping someone in need.
That’s why this trip to South Africa seemed to be a perfect mesh of what I was looking for. Not only would I get to do outdoorsy activities that lift my spirits like hiking Devil’s Peak, Abseiling Table Mountain, Shark Cage Diving and Geocaching, I would also be working at St. Joseph’s, a home/hospital for students with chronic illnesses. South Africa has a rampant pandemic of HIV that is just now starting to be controlled. However, 30% of the children at St. Joseph’s are diagnosed as HIV+, 20% of them have cancer and the rest have been in severe accidents or were born with some deformity that debilitates them.
I was at first quite nervous at working at St. Joseph’s. I had arrived in South Africa only a few days prior, had yet to orient myself and at that point was still unsure as to what I was doing in my job. I wasn’t sure if there would be a language barrier, if I would find my time fulfilling... there were hundreds of thoughts running through my head. When we got to the facilities, we were treated with incredibly warm welcomes and smiles by all the staff. I started warming up to the Home faster than I thought considering my previous hesitations. It is a great opportunity to be working with the patients here and the therapists to really get a sense of the serious public health structural issue South Africa is facing in terms of health care.
However, these patients are still KIDS. St. Joseph’s primary philosophy is to “let children be children”. We see them running around every day, with a big smile on their faces; we can’t even tell they are sick. On our first day, we went into the Sunflower Ward, a part of the home that houses babies 0-2 years of age who are HIV+. As soon as we walked in, all the babies stopped what they were doing, dropped their toys and looked up at us. You would not believe the sight! Imagine about 20 babies all racing towards you running on their hands and knees because they are still too little to walk. It seemed like a herd of wildebeest was stampeding towards us (except in this case they were babies looking for love). This is when I knew I had a great internship. Along with that, the children just wanted to play, to braid our hair to be picked up and held: to be shown love and attention.
Two months in a foreign country doing emotionally wrenching work is hard. Almost every day, I have serious conversations about severe illnesses, death, abuse, rape and neglect. There are days I feel homesick and miss little things like talking with my boyfriend or sending funny pictures of myself to my sister (doesn’t help with the spotty wifi). However, if a day is particularly rough, I do tend to vent to them and am returned with funny anecdotes or an even funnier snapchats to help spark up my day a bit (as do the other AWESOME people on this trip).
Here are a few examples:
|His Most Attractive Face|
|Her Natural State|
They help remind me why I want to be here.
As cheesy as it sounds, seeing the love all the nurses, therapists, nuns and administrators give to the children fills my heart with so much happiness. There is so much They treat not only their illness but also focus on the mental, emotional and spiritual health of the patients as well.
But no matter what, its always important to remember life is BEAUTIFUL. Although it can be ridden with sadness, there is so much to behold, more mountains to hike more children to make laugh. If you focus on the good and seek the positive in each moment, it will never feel like you are squandering your time.
|Me and Jahvani from the Lilly Ward (SHHH don't tell anyone that he is my favorite)|
|Beautiful Sunset over Noordehoek Beach|
|Rienna and I after we had our hair done in the Lilly Ward.|
|I have a thing for mountains.|
So, I’ll hikes Table Mountain dozens of times, mountain bike through the peninsula and come face to face with sharks. I’ll feed fussy babies and make sure toddlers are getting their needed play time. And, I’ll do it all with a smile.