I returned home from Mamelodi on Saturday morning. I’m still trying to digest the whole experience and put my thoughts together coherently, but in the meantime here is a photo account of the 10 days I spent in South Africa. Enjoy!
I grabbed a little online time tonight after our day ended to reflect on our first work day here in Mamelodi. When I mentioned in my last post that this certainly is not a vacation, I was not kidding. It was in the mid 80s here all day, blazing hot sun with little cloud cover, and I must have sweated off about 10 lbs today. I am part of our gardening team and spent most of the day outside working in one of the formal settlements in Mamelodi. To give you a short overview of this area, there are incredibly wealthy areas contrasted by drastically poor areas. The poorest parts of Mamelodi consist of two types – in the formal settlements, homes are usually built out of concrete blocks or corrugated-type metal. There is sometimes a fence around a “yard” made of chicken wire or perhaps proper fencing material (ran head-first into one today!). In the informal settlements, also known as squatter camps, “homes” are made of pretty much anything that one can find – metal scraps, cardboard, blocks, etc. Below is a picture of what one of the squatter camps in Mamelodi looks like:
As I’m sure this photo made you shake your head in disbelief, imagine what it must be like to live in a place like this on a daily basis. There are no garbage dumps, often there is no running water or electricity, and no plumbing. In addition to that, some of these homes pictured house entire families – often more than 5 people. There is nothing that can prepare a person to see something like this first-hand.
On Sunday, we took a tour of the Charity and Faith campus, which includes a hospice center, a school, and an orphanage. The school has about 350 students that attend, and the orphanage can house up to 16 children. The hospice center has both a men’s and women’s ward, and there they care for patients with TB, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. The design of this campus was essentially to care for people from cradle to grave, and it is truly a blessing to the community it serves.
In the neighborhood we combed today, we planted approximately 6 gardens in the morning. Then, in the afternoon our team made home visits with a government hospice worker and a hospice caregiver from our partner church, mostly to AIDS patients. I did not think this would affect me as much as it did, but the folks whose homes we visited invited us in wholeheartedly and just wanted to be loved and prayed for. It blew me away that these men and women could be given so much happiness with such a simple gesture as a personal visit. It made me sad to think about how petty some things are that anger me after seeing this.
To give a little information about AIDS/HIV in South Africa, about 1/3 of the population suffers from HIV or AIDS. In fact, the woman at the first house we planted a garden at informed us that just day she had been diagnosed with HIV. There is a belief among some people here that if a man who has AIDS has sex with a virgin, he will pass the disease on to her and be cured himself. Typically when a person here is diagnosed with the disease, he or she is shunned by their family, as it is shameful to them. Because of this, many people do not get tested for fear that they might test positive. It is an epidemic in the country. We have a medical team here this week seeing sick people, and just today they saw over 300 patients, many of whom arrived at the makeshift tent clinic as early as 4am just to wait in line to be seen.
I have learned today that there is nothing like being able to see, touch, and experience true poverty to make your heart reach out to those in need. Reading about poverty-stricken countries, watching TV programs about them, or even sending money somewhere in the hopes that you make an impact cannot match what it feels like to see it for yourself. Standing in the home of a 56 year old woman who lives with her grown children, one of whom has AIDS, and who herself does not have a job because she cannot find employment, but hearing her ask for prayer not for herself but for her family’s health and financial situations, will strike a cord in the hardest of hearts. I understand now the purpose of bringing so many people on projects like this. Seeing for yourself the contrast in lifestyle between Cincinnati and Mamelodi is a sight that can never be forgotten. Being able to share the accounts of participating in a project like this with others helps to bring awareness to those we know. With that awareness comes sensitivity to the problem, and in that sensitivity, more can be done to help alleviate the suffering.
The remainder of the week will be filled with more gardening, and I understand that a special Thanksgiving day celebration is in store for us on Thursday. It will be wonderful to share our traditions with the people here. They’ve already given me much more than I could have ever dreamed of…stay tuned for more!
(written Saturday November 22nd)
I have now been in South Africa for about 24 hours. We arrived in Johannesburg around 4pm local time (time zone is +2), after approximately 26 hours of traveling, to a fantastic welcome from our friends from Mamelodi. We then piled onto our buses and headed off to the first hotel we were to stay at until moving on to Pretoria (tomorrow). However, the trip really began before it even started…
Our departure time to head from Cincinnati to Dayton to catch the first leg of our flight was a bright and early 5:15am on Thursday morning. We arrived at the Dayton airport for a 10am departure to head to the Washington Dulles airport (IAD). With a 6-hour layover in Dulles, we meandered around the airport, checking out stores, exchanging our dollars for South African rand, and I personally settled on a nice little sushi place for lunch. We finally boarded our airplane – South African Airways Airbus 340-600 (the big dog) – for a 5:40pm departure. This was one BIG airplane – I’d say we had about 350 seats on the plane, and just about every one of them was full! Keeping in mind that there were only about 1/3 of our entire crew of 200 on this plane, I heard later that one of the groups that flew out of Atlanta actually got to have former President Jimmy Carter on their flight!
We settled into the cattle car (economy) for a short 14-hour hop across the Atlantic, crossing over some of the western African countries before heading over water again to come back on to the continent in sub-Saharan Africa. From the sky, it didn’t look much different from the American West. Once we hit the ground though, I knew we were worlds away.
You can definitely sense the European and Western influence in South Africa. Cars drive on the left like in the UK, and there are plenty of European cars on the roads (Citroën, Mercedes Benz, and Volkswagon to name a few). City and town names, such as Randburg, Gordonweg, and Johannesburg, definitely reflect the presence of European influence. And of course, American companies have a major presence here as well – Lexmark, Nashua, ReMax, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, etc) There are 9 different languages spoken in this country, and most people speak at least 4 of them, putting us Americans to shame!
The first place we went to was a hotel called the Kopanong, just outside of Johannesburg. A very nice hotel, and our home for the first night of our visit. This morning (Saturday) we visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and then we took a bus out to Pilanesberg Game Reserve to take a safari drive. (Yes, I really took this photo on the drive, and yes, the zebras were that close to our vehicle – many more photos to come!)
You may be thinking at this point, I thought you were going on an aid trip to help others, not to take a vacation! Trust me – this is no vacation; there is a reason for us participating in these activities prior to beginning our work. I’ve always believed that the best education a person can receive is through their own personal experiences. We have all participated in pre-trip educational opportunities to learn about South African history, culture, wildlife, the effect of the apartheid, etc. But without being able to see it, touch it, feel it, experience what this country is all about firsthand, I believe we cannot begin to understand what the people we are here to help could possibly need. It was the request of Titus Sithole, the pastor at the Charity and Faith Mission Church, which we’ve partnered with here, that we receive the beauty and history that South Africa has to offer in addition to the work we will be doing. He believes that by gaining a little bit of understanding of the country, we will gain an understanding of the suffering, the poverty, and in general the need that we are here to help meet.
The visit to the Apartheid Museum rocked a lot of people. In fact, while we were on the plane, there was a white South African man sitting behind me and he told us that mentioning the word apartheid in the country is still a bit of a taboo. It is still an incredibly painful subject for many. To have visited the museum and learned a little bit about the history of the segregation in South Africa makes one really think about how evil people in general can be sometimes. I’m grateful for the learning experience.
Tomorrow, we will make our way to Pretoria and Mamelodi, and we will all be staying with host families in Mamelodi tomorrow night. Over the course of the week we will begin our various tasks involving construction, gardening, children’s activities, and technology. Thank you for taking an interest in this project, and make sure to check out the video blog from our team on www.gomamelodi08.com
Filed under: GOMamelodi08
Well, I’m down to 24 hours before I leave for South Africa! I’m obviously excited about this trip, and I am looking forward to whatever experiences may come my way while there. My intent is to make some blog entries here while I’m in South Africa. This depends, of course, on internet access but at the very least I will write about my experiences when I return and will be sure to post. We have been instructed that communication will be limited while we’re over there, so just keep in mind that no news is good news 🙂 I am bringing both my FlipCam and my digital camera to capture as much of the trip as possible. Stay tuned!
- Thursday, November 20th: departing Dayton, OH on United 7977Q at 10:10am (local time), arriving in Washington, DC (IAD) at 11:36am (local time)
- Thursday, November 20th: departing Washington, DC (IAD) on South African 208V at 5:40pm (local time), arriving in Johannesburg, South Africa at 4:05pm on 11/21 (local time)
- Friday, November 28th: departing Johannesburg, South Africa on South African 207V at 6:05pm (local time), arriving in Washington, DC (IAD) at 6:00am on 11/29 (local time)
- Saturday, November 29th: departing Washington, DC (IAD) on United 7991Q at 12:28pm (local time), arriving in Dayton, OH at 2:03pm (local time)
This isn’t BRAND new, but it’s a relatively new Twitter service. Twistory “will let you add your Twitter backlog feed to your chosen calendar application and browse through your past tweets as if you were browsing through a diary.” In addition to this, it will allow you to subscribe to other Twitter accounts, and you can visualize graphs that showcase both the daily and weekly activity of those people.
The best part is, the service supports Outlook, iCal, Google Calendar, and Thunderbird! This is a nice way to visually see when you, or someone else, tweets the most – what days, times of the day, etc. If you are looking to find out when the most likely time would be for one or many of your contacts to view your tweets, this could prove a very helpful tool. And as it is a subscription, you can remove it from your calendar very easily (it can be a little overwhelming to look at!) Check out this example of my tweets from yesterday after I ran my Twistory:
This post is a collaborative effort between myself and Paul Matson, a soon-to-be Ohio University graduate from the Scripps School of Journalism. We took the data gathered from our survey and each wrote our thoughts on the topic…
In the field of communications and PR, the value of GPA vs. professional experience has been a hotly contested question for new grads and employers.
To undertake this dubious topic and shed some light on the issue, Waggener Edstrom recruiter Amybeth Hale and I recently administered a short survey to gather the opinions of practitioners and students alike.
From a working professional’s viewpoint, and especially one who works in the field of recruiting, I can tell you that through the years I’ve learned that no one really cares about your GPA, unless you’re studying law or medicine (and I’d agree that good grades are important for success in both those fields!) This is not to say, of course, that you should neglect your studies, but what it means is that employers are more interested in your activities and any experience within your field that you have gained while in school. Balancing experience with a decent GPA shows that you are well rounded and are able to handle multiple things at the same time. Even college professors agree with this; one professor said, “No one cares about GPA & no one asks. What people care about is what will translate directly into the job you’ll do.”
Gaining experience, once you’ve graduated, is a bit of a Catch-22 – employers want you to have it before they offer you a job….but how are you supposed to gain it if you’re not offered an opportunity (a job) in which to gain it? As a working professional, I highly recommend pursuing internships and work experience while you’re still in college and these opportunities are relatively easy to come by. Burying yourself in books, cramming to get a perfect GPA, and devoting every waking moment to maintaining a 4.0 unfortunately doesn’t translate well in most employment situations. DO your best to maintain a well-rounded slate of activities. – Amybeth Hale, Waggener Edstrom
In favor of experience, a common argument is that PR and communications, unlike engineering and math or medical-based fields, is much more subjective in nature. Therefore, a strong GPA in these fields is inherently more valuable (if you solve an engineering problem incorrectly, the bridge falls down.)
“It shifts over time, but recent grads need a good GPA. Further into your career, experience matters more. I prefer bridge engineers, architects, and my doctor to have both.” - Jon, a working professional
In PR, innovation, originality and accuracy are king to being successful – there is no substitute for real-world experience. Conversely, a sturdy GPA (for the sake of argument, around a 3.0 and above) reflects strongly on commitment and time management throughout college.
“I could easily have a 4.0 GPA, if I spent all of my time focusing solely on my classes. Instead, I have a 3.5 GPA and a lot of relevant experience. I am active in PRSSA, PR Central (a student-run PR firm), the student government, and work for the university’s public relation department 15 hours a week. There is a quote in the student organization center on campus: ‘You can go to college and get a degree, or you can get involved and get an education'” - Rachel, a student at Central Michigan University
Ideally, having both would be ideal. But what about the thousands of students with brilliant minds, plenty of professional experience, but a 3.0 or 2.9 GPA? Is the person with one internship and a 3.8 GPA more deserving of that entry-level position?
“Experience has proven to be more valuable to me. GPA is a reflection of the classroom and oftentimes, class work is more of a means to an end. Not to say that I haven’t had some great classroom experiences, but at best they acted as complements to what I’ve learned through my internships.” - Aaron, student at Ohio University
Based on the responses we received, I was very surprised to find that most practitioners value experience far more than an outstanding GPA. From my own perspective, this indicates that employers are able to holistically analyze a new grad’s potential within their company. At the end of the day, an A+ in microeconomics and psychology is not the selling point to getting that coveted new job.
“Good grades are not as much an indication of ability in the student’s chosen career area as they are of the student’s ability to figure out what a teacher wants.” - Nan, a working professional
As more responses were gathered, it became increasingly clear that many employers agree a strong GPA is good, but will not be the sole factor in earning you a first job. Many students, however, often become worried that their GPA may be the first concerning factor in being considered for a position.
“In my opinion, a good GPA and professional experience should go hand-in-hand. Obviously, if you are a good student who works and studies hard, you are more likely to be prepared to take on the challenges of the professional world. A great deal of professional experience can be an asset to your knowledge and understanding of concepts learned in the classroom.” - April, a student at Ohio University
On the other hand…
“Relevant work experience… I believe is the best. You could be the worst student in the world, and yet be the most accurate candidate for a position. It’s up to what you can do.” – Guido, a working professional
Students have long struggled over being required to take “irrelevant” classes. I argue in favor of an employer looking at a student’s transcript, but paying close attention only to their core coursework and applicable courses. Work samples could also be provided that a student may have completed taking a particular class, which could count as a subtle form of experience (especially for younger students looking for internships with little experience).
“The ‘real world’ experience from internships and organizations helps in molding a good overall professional.”- Chelsea, a working professional
After reviewing this wide variety of opinions, I personally conclude that a strong GPA is valuable, but relevant experience and knowledge in a particular field will always take the cake.