On the first day when Michelle and I arrived at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center in a township called Masiphumelele, Dante our supervisor encouraged us to “build connections.” At first, I didn’t understand how important his suggestion was. Our first day was difficult. After a short tour of the Youth Center and township, we were left by ourselves, no directions or projects for us to continue. We were also too shy to chat with the other interns. As I sat down comfortably in the computer lab with nothing to do, I soon realized how short six weeks is and how fast it can fly by without noticing.
Afterwards, Michelle and I began to step outside our comfort zone. We started off with simply conversations, asking people how they are while trying to remember their names. By the end of the first week, we found out that a lot of youth report to the health clinic for toothaches. So, we did a short dental hygiene workshop the following week teaching youth proper brushing techniques. It was an amazing experience because 29 youth showed up that day and some of them even came up to me after the workshop just to say, “thank you” and “it was helpful.”
Our relationships with the interns only got better and better. We were asked to help make them posters for their individual projects. I felt I was treated as a reliable person and gained a sense of belonging in the community. We also learned about some of the intern’s past stories and future plans, even their dating culture too! By the end of our six-week internship, we initiated a cooking and scholarship program that hopefully will bring new opportunities to the youth and interns.
Six weeks is not long enough to make an impact, but it is not too short learn and talk to the people around you.