My name is Sara Clemente, and I want to tell you about my South African experience. My experience began one afternoon, as I read about a contest, in my school newspaper. I was to write an essay about Nelson Mandela’s life and ideals, and send it to the NYC Department of Education. All I knew about the contest was that it would give a chance to meet Nelson Mandela, in South Africa. It was enough for me to begin writing. I just opened up and let my emotions guide me through the essay. There is nothing more that I enjoy, than traveling. So imagine my delight when I found out that I had won the contest. I was going to South Africa, and wouldn’t have to pay a cent for the amazing experience. (The NYC Department of Education, alongside the 46664 Nelson Mandela Campaign sponsored the trip.)
As of May 31st, 12 NYC students (including myself) departed from JFK airport to O.R Tambo International Airport, in Johannesburg, South Africa. From the very 1st moment I stepped on South African soil, I felt excitement flowing through my entire being. I was even happier to find out that 6 South African students would join us on our exciting trip. On our 1st day got to know more about Nelson Mandela’s 46664 campaign. Then we went on a JMT tour of Johannesburg and Soweto. In Soweto, we went to a high school and had a productive life skills’ session, with LIFE COLLEGE. The session, included gumboot dancing, which happened to begin in the gold mines of South Africa. Later we went to the Apartheid museum, which opened in 2001, and tells everything that happened during the Apartheid, when black and white South Africans were not considered equal. We ended our amazing day by dining at Moyo’s Restaurant (www.moyo.co.za). Through the food, music and traditional dancers, Moyo’s allowed me to feel as if I were in a tribe.
The next day, was the highlight of my memorable trip. In the morning, we had another LIFE COLLEGE session, and talked with Verne Harris, Madiba’s (what Mandela is called in South Africa) memory collector. Harris helped us gather ideas, for when we begin drafting our student charters. The student charters were inspired by the Freedom Charter Madiba created. We then went to meet Madiba himself. The moment I entered the room, I felt happiness wash through me and cleanse me. I didn’t even notice all the cameramen surrounding us. Madiba, took the time to talk to me and ask about my future. That is when my whole perspective of life changed. I learned that I can leave my imprint in the world, by doing all that I can to help out. That spectacular day ended with a wonderful night at a Restaurant/Theater, where we watched Umoja the musical (www.umojatheshow.com). The musical tells the history of the music and dance, of South Africa. Another activity we did was visit Maropeng, which is considered “The Cradle of Mankind”, for it is a museum that tells about the earth’s past, present and future. We were also taken to a school where we attended a play about HIV/AIDS. I was amazed at how open all the students were. None of them held back on questions about sex, or HIV/AIDS. I will never forget this amazing trip. Not only did I tour an astonishing country, but I met so many wonderful people. Nelson Mandela and South Africa taught me that I can do anything as long as I give it my all, because “it’s in our hands”, as Madiba would say.
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