South Africa immersion 2018

Blog post 1: 
Saturday 29 September 
Written by Romy O’Keeffe
Johannesburg: Constitution Hill, art Africa, Apartheid museum

Today we started out relatively early – Emily and I were up at 7:00am. We then all then met up as a group and proceeded to make our way to Constitution Hill. As soon as we began our tour of the men’s gaol we all felt quite confronted. Personally, I did not have much knowledge about the gaols and who was in them, including Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. Despite the fact that the explicit details of the daily lives of the prisoners was enough to make the strongest stomach squeamish, we all knew how important the knowledge retained truly is. Overall, Constitution Hill was nonetheless an incredible eye-opening experience.

Our next stop was a beautiful market. Unlike the usual tourist shops with “I love…” printed onto t-shirts, this store was full of lovely beaded accessories. Everyone spent their time agonising over gifts for family and friends with some going over budget (dad you can thank me later). We then stopped for lunch at a local park and were lucky enough to play with some energetic children.

After this, we went onto the Apartheid museum. Just like Constitution Hill, the museum was an incredibly confronting and valuable experience. It truly allowed us all to further our historical understanding of South Africa.

I found the day to be one that I will remember for the rest of my life. We then all got dropped back to our wonderful host families who are always welcoming with open arms. I hope to take some time to reflect on today’s event, as there is quite a lot to take in. We are all having a fabulous time.

Blog post 2:

Sunday 30 September
Written by Sophie Carolan
Sunday Mass at St Paul’s Catholic Church, visit to the cemetery, afternoon with host families.

This morning we had an early start as we attended mass at St Paul’s Catholic Church in Tsakane. We didn’t know what we were about to experience, a two-hour long service full of non-stop dance and song, very different to mass back at home. Through the congregations uplifting spirit, it was evident that there was lots of love, happiness, hope and joy within these people. After many weeks of preparation we finally got to perform our song, All in this Together. Even though we practised our song before leaving Sydney, our performance was nowhere near as spectacular as what we heard from the choir and congregation during mass. However, they were still grateful for us being there with them. Sister Sheila told us that there was not one person in mass today that had not been impacted by HIV/AIDS within their family. This harsh reality was shown through our visit to the local cemetery, with hundreds of people especially children suffering from this disease. I think we all felt a sense of sorrow and pain for these families having to bury their children at such a young age. Despite the suffering and struggle that these people face, it is God who they rely on for their resilience, hope and strength through these difficult times.

In the afternoon we all had the chance to bond with our host families. Sarah and I played soccer with our host sister and neighbours. Something I learnt today was the importance of being present, not being distracted by my phone and social media but enjoying the company of the people around me and the care and kindness they have shown me while I have been in South Africa. I am gaining a greater understanding of the South African culture, their love of sport, music and dance but also their celebration of life, a lesson that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Blog post 3:
Monday 1 October
Written by Annabelle Matheson
Day 1 at Kopanang

Today was our first day at Kopanang project and it is safe to say it was pretty crazy for all of us. We started off the day with a really nice introduction to the women of Kopanang. We prayed together in song and listened to the stories of the ladies and learnt how much they appreciated our support. It was heartwarming to hear how much we can and do support them. The joy the woman bring to each day is beautiful to see and be part of as each of them have so much love in them to give and they have already given to us so much through their loving welcomes.

We then separated into our groups for the day. Gabby, Jade, Julia and I were together with Ms Poynting as our leader. Our day was spent helping out in the kitchen, washing up after the kids’ breakfast and lunch (which was hectic to say the least). We also spent ages grating an extremely big bowl of tomatoes. It was heaps of fun bonding and working together in the kitchen as a team. The day also felt very rewarding as it was evident that our help meant a lot to the staff as they have to feed a large number of children each day and clean up after them.

Once we finished up we had some spare time to go outside and play with the children from the crèche and the primary school. It was adorable to see the energy and happiness from the kids as we played with them. There were many smiles and lots and lots of cuddles. To end the day we finished off with an afternoon prayer with the Kopanang women before we returned to our host families.

Overall the day was lots of fun and very rewarding for all of us.

Blog post 4:
Tuesday 2 October
Written by Emily Cowley
Day 2 at Kopanang

On the second day at Kopanang, we started the day off with a prayer and some singing. Each of the woman working at Kopanang went around the circle, sharing their stories about how the project impacted their lives and the gratitude they have for Sister Sheila for giving them the opportunity to support their families. Whilst listening to their stories, we were all so moved by the love and hope that they have in their hearts and we all shed a tear or two.

My group which includes Emily, Sophie, Romy and Ms Janssen helped with the preparation for the embroidery. We each had an image of the pattern which we traced onto blank fabric for the women to use as templates to guide their embroidery. Once we finishing tracing, we sorted through the donations which Leah and Lauryn Daher’s family generously donated. We separated the shirts, pants and shorts into sizes so it was ready to distribute to the shack area tomorrow.

We spent the rest of the day playing with the children while Gabby was doing one on one maths tutoring with some of the older students. We then made our way back to our host families.

Romy and I spent the evening at our host mother’s parents’ house, where we helped prepare dinner. Lutendo, our host family’s niece, taught us some dance moves while we waited for dinner to be ready. When we tried to perform the dance, I pretty much embarrassed myself to say the least. I then returned to favour and taught her some Australian moves such as “gabbering” and “cutting shapes” which she did not get the hang of.

Dinner was great, a curry and rice dish with a side of salad and we even tried some green creaming soda, which tasted the exact same as the red one. We then left and headed back to our host family’s home. As soon as we got home, we went to bed and fell asleep right away.

Blog post 5: 
Wednesday 3 October
Written by Sarah Burt
Day 3 Kopanang

Sophie and I woke up at 6:00am to our beautiful host mother, Rifilwe. We had Nutella toast and cornflakes for breakfast and prepared our lunch for the day. We arrived to Kopanang at 7:45am and had morning prayer with the incredible woman and we shared stories. Lauryn, Leah, Sister Sheila and I went to work at the Creche for the morning session. We face painted, played skipping games and blew lots of bubbles with he children. Then the kids showed us some of the cultural dances. One, in particular, stood out;  it was a song the young girls would sing as a form of empowerment against the abuse of women and children in South Africa. Ms Poynting, Ms Janssen and the rest of the girls spent much of this time sorting threads and working with the embroidery team.

As a group we boarded the bus to head to the Ergo shack area where we would distribute clothing donations from St Lucy’s and Strathfield Raiders Rugby Club. Handing out these donations was quite emotional as we could see these people were living on the edge of survival and were so overjoyed to receive something as small as a new shirt or pair of shorts, things we so easily take for granted. Seeing the young children running after the bus as we left was incredibly heartbreaking as we had to face the reality of the country we are in. Today showed us the stark contrast between these people’s lives and our own lives back home in Sydney.  We came away from this experience with a greater appreciation for the homes we live in, the educations we receive and the blessings we have.

Sophie and I went home and our Mum helped us fill up the buckets that we usually use to bathe in each morning so we could wash our clothes. We sat on the living room floor scrubbing our clothes and we hung them up on the clothesline. Jade and Julia came over with their host mum, Vivian as well as their posse of neighbourhood kids whom we play soccer with most evenings. The kids put on a performance for us and showed us some dancing games, such as ‘Teddy Bear’ and ‘For the rest of your life’. Eventually, they all went off and we had dinner with our host mother and our sister, Angel. We rugged up and went off to bed for the night.

Blog post 6
Thursday 4 October
Written by Jade Reeves
Day 4 Kopanang

This morning Julia and I walked through the township to Kopanang with our host mother Vivian with excitement knowing the Kopanang market was to be held today. The day started with a prayer this morning together as a group, with the Kopanang women. We were then invited to view the amazing hand woven embroidery products made by the generous, joyful and inspiring women which we have had the opportunity to meet over the past week. These women throughout the week strengthened our willingness to buy items at the market as we now know that by purchasing their embroidery allows them to receive an income contributing to their ability to put food on the table and purchase their basic necessities, we back at home take for granted. We all purchased a few items and presents for our families.

After the market, we then drove to Makro supermarket, where we purchased gifts for our host mother and families. These gifts consisted of items we believed would help and benefit our families for the long term. After six nights already with our families, all of us had a good idea of the things they really needed. For example, Julia and I purchased a 20L water dispenser which makes it easier for our mother to hold a lot of hot water for showers and cooking. This was needed as there is no hot water accessible within our home. We also purchased a laundry basket, where the family can place their dirty laundry as currently they have nowhere to put them but the bathroom floor. Then we bought a shelving system to be placed above the bath where soaps and shampoos can be stored as now they are cluttered around the bath. Then with our remaining money we bought soft drink to accompany the dinner we would prepare that night.

After Makro we then drove to Carnival Mall where the teachers and Sister Sheila shopped for bread and other ingredients for our dinner preparation as well as food for the tea party we will be having with the Kopanang women tomorrow.

After shopping we arrived back to Kopanang and played with the children for the final time. Then, we then went home where Julia and I, along with our host mother, headed to the Pick and Pay to purchase food needed for the one pot spaghetti bolognese recipe. It took a long time, especially walking home with the groceries, but this long walk for four is the reality of life for the majority of the people living in the township. Once we got home from the shops we finally began to prepare our meal. Even though time was cut short, we managed to pull it off with more than half of the family asking for seconds.

Blog post 7
Friday 5 October
Written by Lauryn Daher
Day 5 Kopanang

Today started with morning prayer which included many funny and heartwarming stories about the women and their experiences at Kopanang. They expressed their gratitude for the donations made this year and previous years, such as laptops, bras and school uniforms for their children. After prayer we made our way to Makro again, where we were allocated items to collect to distribute to food crisis families within the township. Sophie and I were responsible for the packet mince, canned meat and tea. Then we went to six shacks delivering food with each household consisting of 4-24 people. It was an eye-opening experience and it helped show all of us to be grateful for the privileges we often take for granted.

When we returned to Kopanang we organised the tea party for all of the Kopanang women to celebrate with us for one last time before we leave on Monday. Our afternoon was full of singing, dancing and food! It was such an overwhelming feeling that we are able to help these beautiful women change their lives as well as helping their children. The love and support that they shared with us and each other is such a fulfilling experience, especially to witness first hand, as feeling that is unimaginable. Throughout the afternoon, we noticed some women saving their cakes and fruit in tissues, not having any of themselves but taking them home to their families. Lessons like these teach us to not take the small things for granted but to appreciate the blessings we are given. We ended the afternoon by painting the Kopanang outdoor furniture bright colours for the children. Making sure we made enough mess and dirtied our clothes for our parents to look forward to washing when we get home.

We thank God every day for the blessings we receive, we love and miss you all.

Blog post 8
Saturday 6 October
Written by Julia Henness
Pilanesberg Game Park

Today started very early for all of us, around 5:00am ahead of a long three-hour drive to Pilanesberg Game Reserve. We arrived at the reserve at 8:00am and had breakfast together. We were all very excited for our first safari. The park was a lot bigger and we saw many more animals than we expected. We made our way through the 80,000 acre reserve in an open truck with a tour guide who took us to see as many animals as we could in the four hours.

Each time we saw an animal and stopped to take photos, waiting for the animals to get as close to the truck as possible, our guide would share many interesting facts that surprised us. For example, an impala (deer looking animal) can jump 12 metres in length and 1.5-2m high to protect themselves from predators. We saw zebras and learnt that rangers look at their mane to determine how healthy they are and when zebras run from their predators you can hear them all the way from the truck, but unfortunately we weren’t able to experience this. We also saw warthogs, just like Pumba from the Lion King! Our guide told us that The Lion King got it wrong, as males have warts under their eyes to protect them during fights with other males for dominance, but Pumba did not have these warts and is therefore a female warthog.

Throughout our safari we were lucky enough to see four of what they call the big five animals, including buffalos, lions, elephants and rhinos. A sad thing we learnt was that in 2.5 years there will be no more rhinos in South Africa. Rhinos can hear and smell very well, but due to their poor eyesight they are easy prey for poachers. This year alone in Pilanesberg, 34 rhinos have been lost due to poaching for their tusks. The impact of poaching was further seen today as we learnt that 80% of the park was burnt as a result of a fire deliberately lit by a poacher three weeks earlier.

After our four-hour Safari we had lunch and were able to see a few baboons eating off the trees nearby. We then got back on the bus for another three-hour trip back to our host families in Tsakane.

We are all missing everyone back home but are all enjoying our time in South Africa.

Blog post 9
Sunday 7 – Monday 8 October
Written by Gabriella Di Mento
Soweto, Montebello

On Sunday we acted out our roles as tourists of South Africa by visiting the Regina Mundi Church, the Hector Pieterson Memorial and the Rosebank markets. To begin the day we travelled to Soweto, a large township nearly an hour from Tsakane. During this journey we saw the house Nelson Mandela lived in, and witnessed a Pentecostal march blessing the roads. We arrived at Regina Mundi which was really large and beautiful with stained glass windows and a huge marble altar. The mass was a joyful experience filled with lots of singing and dancing.

Our next stop was the Hector Pieterson Memorial, a memorial to remember the devastating impacts of the 16 June 1976 march against Bantu education. The memorial was extremely confronting, especially recordings and personal stories of parents and children affected by the results of the march.

Our next stop was the Rosebank markets which consisted of what felt like hundreds of little stores on the top floor of the Rosebank Mall. At the markets we all practised our bartering skills to get great bargains. We soon realise it was beneficial to have Romy and Sarah around us when buying to get the best deals possible.

After the markets we all travelled home to our host families to enjoy our last night together. In my family, on our last night we took heaps of photos together, enjoyed the beautiful meal and stayed up late talking. Together today was a good day, but we were all affected by the looming thought of leaving our families.

The next morning was very hard as we had to say goodbye to all of our host families. Our day started with a lovely breakfast with all our host mother is at Kopanang. We went outside to take photos and give presents to those who were influential to our stay at Kopanang.

By the time this was all finished it was time to leave the Montebello, so we had a short goodbye with our host mums which involved singing, dancing, hugging and a few tears. As we were leaving many mums ran after our bus waving goodbye and we all continue to wave back until they were well out of sight.

Then we began our eight-hour journey to Montebello. The bus trip was pretty boring and long but our main stop was very interesting. At lunchtime, we stopped at the smallest Dominican church to enjoy the scenic lunch which was delicious!

We arrived at Montebello very exhausted but excited to see our home for the last few days of our trip. The guest house is pretty large with four rooms to share, a kitchen and lounge room. We rested and unpacked for the rest of the afternoon while we waited for dinner. Dinner was very good and we got the opportunity to meet the sisters of Montebello.

Blog post 10
Tuesday 9 October
Written by Leah Daher

Today we had an early start waking up at 6:00am to have a beautiful breakfast with the sisters at the convent.

After our breakfast we prepared for our trip to Mowbray Primary School. Everyone was exhausted but very excited for the experience to teach at the school. We finally arrived at Mowbray primary school in Sevenoaks, and were greeted with amazing singing performances by the students, making us feel very welcome.

After we had settled in we prepared our lesson plans which we were going to teach, these consisted of geography, English and maths to a variety of different Year groups. Lauryn and I first started off with geography creating an activity to put together the Australian map, all students were very excited to learn and discover new things. After teaching geography we moved onto English, teaching students to create characters and describe their traits.

Finally we taught our last lesson which was mathematics, where we taught addition. When all lessons were finished, we made our way to the playground to play with some new sports equipment donated by the school. When the bell rang it was time for students to go home. The sisters showed us the confronting journey the kids take to get to and from school, which consisted of a variety of steep hills and very dangerous staircases which were only placed there a few years ago. The journey takes approximately an hour and a half each day for students.

Then we boarded the bus and made our way back to Montebello, where we then took a 15-minute walk to the orphanage. The kids were very excited to see us and their smiles where heartwarming. We then went outside to play some fun games with the kids, while trying to learn their language. We handed small gifts to each child stay living at the orphanage. Each pack included a mini whiteboard, koala keychain, dove soap, caramello koala and a ball. These gifts had kindly been donated by the 2017 South African immersion group from Santa Sabina.

After having a fun time with the kids it was time to go home and prepare for dinner with the sisters, we soon said grace and ate some beautiful lamb and rice while having conversations with the sisters. After dinner was finished we washed up and made our way back to the guest house. We spent the night watching High School Musical and talking about the trip so far as a group.

We love this experience and we miss you all.

Blog post 11
Wednesday 10 October
Romy O’Keeffe

We began our day at 6:00am and made our way to our hearty breakfast with the Sisters. We then made our way to Our Lady of the Rosary Secondary School (Montebello High School) where we were welcomed by prayer and of course some lovely singing by the eight- to 12-year-old girls.

Excited to use our lesson plans, which we spent many Friday afternoons on, into practice, we headed into our respective classrooms. My group of Lauren, Emily and myself had prepared a lesson for a 2 year nine classes focused on Picasso. The girls shared our excitement and enthusiasm throughout the lesson. Luckily they enjoyed our lessons and turned out to be quite the artists.

After teaching at Our Lady of the Rosary Secondary School (Montebello High School) we had a quick break and then went over to Montebello Primary School. My group taught year sevens and we did another Picasso lesson. They too enjoyed it and were excited to create weird and wonderful portraits.

After teaching the group visited the primary schools computer room, which was new and fully furnished yet lacked any computers. This was because the school was granted the money to build the room but not for the actual computers, it was sad to see such a new and beautiful room go to waste. We then moved to the library which again was fully furnished but had empty shelves and limited materials that weren’t appropriate for primary school students. We had a conversation about how we could fundraise for books at Santa Fest or hopefully before.

Then ventured to the boarding houses for the girls. The conditions were quite confronting. The girls sleep on bunk beds, all no more than a metre apart, with a small locker for their personal items. Then we saw the bathrooms and noticed the showers don’t have a curtain or door and are also cold. As Montebello has extreme issues with water, the girls are usually unable to shower or have running water in the taps and must fill the toilet with bucket water if they need to flush. When we discussed this as a group we all realise they have a different culture than us but the situation still isn’t ideal.

We had some time to sort out our donations and have a power nap as we were all quite tired and are sleeping like babies. We then went back to the orphanage as we had done the previous day. We bought face paint, bubbles, beaded necklaces and a few more activities. We knew that one of the girls had her birthday so we bought a few chocolates and sung her happy birthday. It was so enjoyable to play with the kids and see where they live. Despite this, it was also hard to hear that the girls who’s birthday it was, turned 18, and at the end of the year she will have aged out of the orphanage.

It can be difficult to comprehend that we get to return to our wonderful loving homes and the children stay here. At the same time, both sister Sheila and my parents (before we left Sydney)  we are doing as much as we can, we are also thankful for the support we receive.

We are all excited to come home and looking forward to reuniting with our families.


Blog post 12
Thursday 11 October
Written by Julia Henness

Today was our last full day in South Africa. It was filled with celebrations for the feast of our Lady of the Rosary. We started off the day with a joyous mass with the secondary school which consisted of lots of singing and dancing. Following the mass we celebrated the academic and co-curricular achievements of many students and then watched several cultural musical performances, in particular a Zulu additional dance. We then went to lunch with the Year 12 graduating class, teachers and other special guests including ex-students. After lunch we had some downtime and took up the opportunity to get to know the girls from the secondary school and bond with them.

As our time at Montebello comes to a close, we shared our last dinner with the Dominican Sisters. During this time we shared stories, gifts and dances. We performed our High School Musical song which could not compete with the Dominican Sisters singing. Throughout the night we taught the Sisters the Macarena and the Nutbush which they loved.

As our journey ends, one thing we all realise is that no matter where we were in South Africa, the culture, spirit, and love for one another was always present and has left a lasting mark on each of us.