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SFU Co-op Student

view of capetown, south africa
As I was riding the skytrain downtown a couple of days ago, I found myself sitting there suddenly in tears - this is very strange for a girl who fancies herself so tough as I do.

I am back in Vancouver safe and sound, with only a broken foot and a few photos to show for my time in Sub-Saharan Africa. I spent the last bit of my time in Capetown, South Africa, an amazing city which I already have plans to visit again. I had the opportunity to visit the family that adopted our crew when we were stranded in the desert in Namibia. They are the kindest and wonderful family that I have ever meet, a shining example of South African hospitality. One of the hi-lights of my stay in Capetown was cage diving with great white sharks, it was truly a bone-chilling experience. Out on a boat in the middle of a shark alley, I suddenly found myself in a metal cage watching these powerful animals glide through the water in front of me. They seem so harmless, that is until they smash into the cage with their razor-sharp teeth mere centimetres from your body, rattling the entire cage. It was what I like to refer to as an "in your face" experience!!!

Since arriving home, I have this newfound appreciation for so many things; the taste of food, the way that an organized public transit system works, and best of all, my own personal safety. In many ways, being back, I almost feel as though I was never in Botswana, but the lessons I learned will be with me always.

As I was riding the SkyTrain downtown a couple of days ago, I found myself sitting there suddenly in tears - this is very strange for a girl who fancies herself so tough as I do. It was not culture shock (I think that left me somewhere on the 50-hour bus-ride from Namibia across South Africa). Rather, it was an appreciation for being back in a place where I can actually get medical attention for my painful foot, and get four jobs without even batting an eyelash. It was the emotion of being welcomed back by every person I knew and being suddenly surrounded by people that I know and love, and overall, it was happiness.

Being in Botswana and seeing people living (and dying) from HIV was in many ways a mentally and emotionally exhausting journey all of its own. An experience that was heart-wrenching every single day.  But sometimes, once in a blue moon, something would happen that made it all worthwhile. For me, it was my second to last day there, when we threw a dinner to celebrate the retirement of one of the founders of the hospice. One of the patients, a man so thin that when I first arrived, he barely had the strength to stand. He needed a helping hand just to walk, so instead, he just lay on the couch all day in a state of semi-consciousness for most of the day. On the day of this celebration, he was nowhere to be found, that was until I realized that he was standing in front of me singing and dancing.

Many questionable things happen in NGOs all around the world - sometimes I think that corruption is a bigger part of the business than helping people.  Although, every now and then we catch a glimpse of a small success, a momentary snapshot that reminds us why we can believe that people that do this kind of work are heroes, humanitarians. If there is one thing I can take away from this whole experience, it is that the work I did in Botswana was not earth-altering in any way, I am no hero. What I am is human. I may not be able to cure HIV in a tiny country in Africa, but I can make someone smile, and I have come to realize that that might be the greatest feeling there is.

Much love,

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Beyond the Blog

SFU Co-op Student
SFU Kinesiology student Kayla Donnawell volunteered with the Students Without Borders program (SWB) in Botswana, Africa.
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Mar 18, 2011

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