Sitting on the floor inside the mud hut, there were only leftover beans and a piece of bread for me to eat. There was no nice bed, or even a bath; only a mattress with a quilt and the hopes of a bucket bath in the next few days. The two people who could speak fluent English had such heavy Zulu accents that I could hardly understand them. I was 13 years old and totally overwhelmed by the crushing poverty of the small South African village of iNzinga that resembled something that I had only seen in National Geographic. I cried myself to sleep that night of my vacation.
My dad and I won a safari (http://www.zulunyala.co.za) in 2007, but wanted to also add a week of volunteering. We could not find an organization that does that for only one week visits. Determined, we contacted the South African congregations of our religion, and asked them to help. A member in South Africa agreed to find a host family for us in a poor, remote Zulu village with which she was working,
The reality of what that meant didn’t hit me until we got to the village. Mud huts with thatched roofs lined the golden hills. As beautiful as it was, I started to feel the cultural shock that I had been warned about. Even though we had a car, I felt trapped. We got to the place where we were staying, and met the family who lived there. There were three sisters, two in their twenties, and one my age. The eldest sister had a two year-old daughter named Amahle. Being as shy as I was, I was very uncomfortable that first night. I begged and begged to leave, and was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it the next five days.
By the same time the next day, Amahle was attached to my hip, I had learned a pretty decent amount of Zulu words, and was saying them to anyone who would listen. Amahle had named me Isipho, which means “gift” in Zulu. I was also becoming more open to learning about the culture, and taking in, as opposed to being afraid of, the poverty of the hillside community. We visited the OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) center, and I played a traditional Zulu ball game with the children I met there. I took fantastic pictures of the kids, who had never seen a camera before. We planted potatoes outside of the center with the women who worked there.
As I was working with the villagers, I realized that their malnutrition could be helped so much if they could only plant their own gardens. Through apartheid and all of the oppression that they faced, they had lost all means of gardening. If they could sustain themselves, they would be healthier as a whole, and the little money that they got from the government could be put towards education or medical care!
The solution was so simple and I felt empowered to help change the destiny of the people I had grown to love so dearly. On our way to home after the remainder of our vacation, I told my dad that I wanted to come back, and make a difference in their lives.
Today, I am the Vice-President and Co-Founder of Isipho, Inc. (www.isipho.org) with my father. Isipho empowers the people of iNzinga, South Africa, to break the cycle of poverty and dependence one food garden at a time, creating independence.
That is how this one week of travel changed my life and the lives of others.
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