July 8, 2011 | 10:57 AM Luis Roman
The issue of HIV/AIDS is a very personal to me. I have many friends who are currently diagnosed with AIDS/have the virus. I have attended funerals of dear people close to me who passed away due to complications with HIV/AIDS. No one will understand the gravity of HIV/AIDS until it has affected someone personally.
As a result of knowing close friends who contracted the virus, I became a Peer Health Educator through the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) in High School. As Peer Health Educator, it was my role to provide exciting workshops that would attract "at-risk" youth and teach them about Sexually Transmitted Infections, fun and safe sex. As a queer Chicano living in Los Angeles county, I am at a huge risk of getting HIV. Young queer men of color have the highest risk of getting it. Though the numbers do look promising, it will never be enough until everyone knows their status and is protected.
Coming to South Africa, I have learned so much more about HIV/AIDS. It always seems interesting to me, that when we are discussing HIV/AIDS we are not talking about the queer community. Per my academic and also personal development, anything related to HIV/AIDS always involved the queer community. HIV/AIDS has become a national epidemic, and a world-wide pandemic. In this country, everyone is at risk.
Which is why there have been many efforts, campaigns, to raise awareness about healthy and safe sex, status awareness, and empowerment for those who are positive. After arriving from Dundee, we immediately had a seminar with two guest speakers who are working with different HIV/AIDS agencies.
The speaker that most students found interesting, because of his provocative comments and his high energy, made some interesting points. This idea of working with private companies to help promote safe sex, while it may seem like an obviously good idea, I still find many reservations. The speaker’s job is to find "cool" ways to engage the youth in condom usage, and other precautions. But what is "cool" is relative, and in my personal opinions (and experiences) other people have MANY more things to worry than to find out what is cool and how to practice "cool" sex. Nonetheless, cool becomes a fad, which will ultimately dissolve. Therefore, finding "cool" avenues is a challenge because it does not solve the problem at the core, but rather find temporary ways of helping the country, but then having to repeat the "cool" cycle.
This is the second time I hear people talking about how capitalism (the private market/corporations) are going to help end the HIV/AIDS pandemic. But, it has been the capitalist culture that has caused such a huge number of HIV/AIDS. Poor people are not poor because they want to be poor. Rather, it is under a capitalist society that we have poor people. The rich need a class of people to exploit in order to be rich. Therefore, the poor people have had a history of no access to many important institutions: education, healthcare, etc. These are the institutions that they needed in order to be more cautious. However, they are now infected. And now, the same capitalist society is trying to come back and provide band-aid solutions to a larger problem. Since when has capitalism ever cared about the poor person? Perhaps now that capitalism feels guilty for what it has help create.
July 7, 2011 | 1:30 PM Luis Roman
What should have been a five hour drive from Dundee to Pretoria has already turned into an 8 hour trip, and we’re still on the road. We have made two stops: the first for our lunch, and the second one to use the restroom at a gas station.
Fortunately, the program has contracted a fairly comfortable bus that ameliorates the otherwise irritating long ride.
We have seen two films, one required by the professors and another one requested by the group. I wish I could say what the latter of the films was, but I was either asleep or reading "Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader," that will help me shape my Departmental Honors Thesis.
I wish I could take pictures of the beautiful South African sunset that has become my view out the window, but I broke my camera earlier this week. It’s a giant circle, a ball of yellow, orange, red colors slowly hiding in the mountains.
I am going to miss this sunset. But as this sun goes down in South Africa, it’s going up back at home in L.A. I can’t imagine the program is almost over. I have mixed feelings about this.
In a few days, I will be packing my bags once and for all. I will have to find creative ways of making sure that I can fit all the souvenirs in only one bag.
I will finally have access to all the tacos that I want. I’ll be able to return to my non-stop texting habit. And I will never have to worry about whether or not I will have Internet to check my Facebook.
But this is going to be a difficult good-bye. I have fallen in love in South Africa. Although my mom warned me about falling in love in a different country, I can honestly say that I have found something amazing.
No, I have not fallen in love with a man here (even though the possibility was very tempting). But I have fallen in love with this country. There is such a rich history that is often untold and unheard by many. There is a great amount of diversity, and with all that diversity a tremendous amount of love. Though the history often tells the story of oppression, of hatred between races, in the midst of this disenfranchising story lies the overlooked story of love.
It is love that kept the African National Congress fighting during the Apartheid Regime. If there was no love for freedom, peace, and for love humanity—there would be no resistance. So as I spend my last few days in South Africa, not only will I immerse myself in all the history, the resistance, but will take a particular interest in the way that love is displayed.
July 6, 2011 | 9:04 AM Luis Roman
Yesterday, Tuesday July 5, we went to two different museums to get two different perspectives on the actual happenings of the Blood River battle between the Boers and the Zulu.
The first museum we went to was the one erected by the White Boers. I knew something was interesting when there were mostly pictures of old White men in their traditional uniforms, and when the museum representative introduced us to the movie by saying "just remember that all these people wanted was a place to farm."
Immediately, I thought about the Manifest Destiny in the United States that led to the Mexican-American War, only because the Americans thoughts that they were destined to rule the land from one ocean to the next.
They showed us a documentary that tried to recap the historical happenings of the Blood River battle. Their perspective was justified and it was made to seem the only accurate because of written primary documents. While those documents are valid, and should be considered in the construction of a historical account, one must not be so stuck in traditional methodologies of historical analysis just because "the other side" (the Zulu) did not have the "proper" tools to contribute to history. The Zulu did not have the same methods of retelling history, they relied on oral traditions to remember what once happened.
As a Chicana/o Studies major, we are constantly engaging in reconstructing history. History is written by the "victors," suggesting that the history we know is often Euro and androcentric (written by white men) to justify their actions.
It is important than, to critically engage in the history that we are being taught. It is often claimed to be objective and unbiased. But the differences in the retelling of history tells us that historical accounts can and are contested. Which is an important facet of being in South Africa. We are learning about the history of Apartheid by visiting different places and speaking to different people. Everyone has their own opinion and perspective. They are all valid. Together we can construct a more holistic understanding of the world and the history.
July 4, 2011 | 11:39 AM Luis Roman
We have finally fled the haunted house. I made it out alive without hearing any weird noises, without experiencing any paranormal activity. We have finally left St. Lucia, and there is only one regret that I have: not eating at Braza, the Brazilian restaurant, more. I had the spicy chicken at Braza for our least meal, right before our barbeque, and I was amazed. I am not going to lie, I was getting tired of the food in St. Lucia, so when I finally had Braza, I felt like I did my stay in St. Lucia an injustice. However, this is just my "don’t mess with a Mexican’s food" attitude, especially since I have not had any spicy food in a long time.
However, the trip to Dundee was pretty smooth. One of our classmates put on a movie on the bus, to which I fell asleep to. The drive seemed short, but that was probably because I was asleep for most of it.
When we first got to Dundee, I was excited. It seemed like the inner-city of a large urban community. It seemed like a marriage between Brooklyn (New York) and Tijuana. There were street vendors, a lot of people walking down the street, and many retail shops.
We arrived late in afternoon/early evening. I was ecstatic to go and explore the streets of Dundee, home for the next two days/three nights. But we were encouraged not to go out at night because of the high crime rate in the neighborhood.
My immediate reaction was, "I’m from the hood, I know how to handle this." But of course, that was my peevish attitude. The community is different here.
The following day after arriving from our visits to the museums and battle sites, we had free time. I took the opportunity to go and explore the streets of Dundee while the sun was still out. Walking was so refreshing. Seeing so many people made me so happy. Walking was not as "scary" as they had made it seem.
However, crossing the streets is a different story. It was a "every person on their own" type of deal because the drivers did not seem to care if you were crossing the street or not. I like Dundee. I like the city-feel, over small town St. Lucia. And it does not hurt that we are not staying in what seemed like a haunted house.
July 1, 2011 | 11:35 PM Rhonda Wade
Today we finished our week in KwaZulu-Natal, home of the Zulu Nation. We spent the week living in a rural community, St. Lucia – quite the contrast from Cape Town. During the Apartheid era, this area was a place in which land occupation and ownership was extremely contested.
Children at the Khula Village Holiday Camp sing for UCLA volunteers.
In the mornings, we volunteered at the Khula Village Holiday Camp for the local children. The children are currently on holiday from school and this camp gives them a place to go where they can just be kids for a while each day. African Impact, the same organization that we worked through in the Red Hill Settlement, runs the camp. UCLA graciously donated t-shirts for the kids, as well as soccer balls and basketballs. There was a wide age range of children, from two to fifteen years-old, and the numbers were astounding. We were originally told we would have around 40 children the first day, with numbers increasing towards the end of the week. We had closer to 100 on the first day, and anywhere between 100 – 150 each day the rest of the week. Some spoke English, but most only spoke Zulu, making our short lesson in Zulu pretty imperative! They shared much of their culture with us through their music, dance, and games, and seemed to enjoy learning our games and songs as well. Such a warm welcome from the entire community!
We spent our afternoons building a fence around a small local school and making bricks out of cement with a mold. Plans are underway to expand the current one room school so that more children can attend, thus the need for the bricks. Our group is not short of people willing to give their all in terms of manual labor, and I hope to return one day to witness the completion of this school.
UCLA volunteers make bricks for a new building at Khula Village Holiday Camp.
Once again I became attached to many of these sweet children, frequently pondering what their futures hold with the limited resources available to them. The complexities they have within their community are multifaceted: education is not free; language creates barriers in advancing their education (English vs Zulu); high teen pregnancy rates; and most disheartening, the 70 – 80% HIV/Aids rate that leads to a life expectancy rate of around 40 years old. There isn’t one of us that does not want to help in some way, but it is difficult to know how to best help without infringing on their traditions and customs, and imposing our Westernized standards. But we haven’t given up, and maybe by the end of our time together we will have come up with at least one small solution. These communities will stay with me long after I leave.
June 30, 2011 | 5:00 AM Luis Roman
We are in St. Lucia (not pounced Lucy-a, but rather Lu-sha). It is in the eastern side of the country, near the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean? For someone who was born in a tiny rural town in Mexico, and was raised in the Lincoln Heights barrios (near East LA), knowing that I am near the Indian Ocean is too surreal.
When my parents brought my brothers and I to the United States in 1993, their mere intentions were for us to learn English and have a simple kind of job. A job that did not require too much manual labor, like my dad’s. To them, and to us, college was not in our future. But here we are in 2011, two of my siblings are also in college and my youngest brother still in high school but with the understanding that he has to attend college. And me, well, I will, in just one year, be graduating from UCLA. Even though I do not bleed blue and gold, I am very grateful for the opportunities that UCLA has given me. It has opened my door to countless opportunities, allowed me to make irreplaceable friendships; it has given me some of the greatest tools, and most importantly, allowed me to make some of my most fondest memories.
And this sense of gratefulness arrives as a result of being in St. Lucia. St. Lucia is located in the province with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the entire country. Granted, South Africa is the country that has the biggest population of people living with HIV/AIDS. The volunteer coordinator provided us with the statistics that about 70% of the people we are working with in the Township have HIV/AIDS, and that also goes for the kids we are working with during the Holiday Club. She suggested we just "assume everyone has the virus." Of course, I am not going to play with the kids any different or treat them worse for having HIV/AIDS. In fact, it never even crosses my mind when I am in the playground every morning. It is not until later that I remember—that most of the kids in the playground are positive for no fault of their own or their parents.
It is not their fault that they live in a country with an awful history of colonization, White Supremacy, and oppression. But they bare the consequences of not having access to education, health clinics, and other means of self-awareness and empowerment. And now, even though Apartheid is "over," their physical bodies are the sites of the oppression.
Yesterday, we met a couple of ladies who are part of a support group for HIV+ women. They were selling us some of their hand-made products (jewelry, weaved baskets, etc.), and the money goes directly to the women who make them. Everything they were selling was beautiful. But I feel that the stories behind the crafts are extremely powerful. They are stories of resilience, resistance, and love.
June 29, 2011 | 9:18 AM Letisia Marquez
Rhonda Wade has sent us some photos that make you want to be in South Africa.
Cape of Good Hope
Rhonda Wade with Red Hill preschoolers
Red Hill Preschool
The sunset in South Africa
June 28, 2011 | 10:59 AM Luis Roman
The South African College School, a preparatory school for young men, is one of the finest schools in South Africa. As someone who graduated from a Los Angeles Unified School District high school, stepping into the school was surreal to me. All I could think about was the social privileges and results that someone gains from graduating from SACS. I would imagine that most of these students attend some of the greatest colleges and universities in the world.
Professor Worger introduced us to their students and noted how most of us attended a UC. He mentioned how there were students from both UCLA and UC Berkeley, the top public institutions of higher education in the United States. Then, the Headmaster of the school introduced us to some of the young students who attend the school. They were dressed in their uniforms, and had congratulatory pins throughout their coat (a la British school system, someone noted). Later, both the Headmaster and our professor encouraged us to talk and begin our international networking for we would never know when we would need to communicate again.
I was in a small group with two other students participating in the Travel Study program. Together, we hit (what we thought was) the jackpot – because we began to talk with a ridiculously smart student. The student is a senior at the school and is beginning to "matriculate." We talked a a lot about different social and politicial issues. I was so amazed about how much he knew about American politics. I think he knew more about American politics than a couple of Americans I know. He talked about how South Africans pay very close attention to American elections because whoever is in power in the United States affects international relationships.
We asked him where he stood politically within the U.S context, and he responded by saying he would more than likely be a Democrat. I knew then, that we had met the right guy! This prompted us to ask him more about social issues such as queer rights, apartheid, race issues, etc. Even though South Africa grants LGBT citizens full rights (including marriage), social stigma continues to plague the queer community there. He noted that there was no "open" gay student at the all-boys high school, and that most of the boys often make homophobic remarks. His older brother, who now attends Oxford is gay, which is how he was introduced a lot to social justice and was able to learn a lot about all these different social issues.
He believed that even though apartheid was over, and he was growing up in a generation post-Apartheid, racist history continues to affect the growth of the country. He knew that most of the country was Black, but the most wealthy South Africans are White. Even at his own school, he noted how a lot of the black students are admitted due to scholarships (mostly athletic scholarships), but the school still does not represent the diversity of the country.
It sounds a lot like the same problems that plague our own institutions. Even at UCLA, the campus does not always reflect the broader community population.
His own lived experiences showed him how Apartheid continues to exist through economic means. His personal experiences reminded me of my own experiences in the United States. That even after all the Civil Rights movements, our institutions continue to abide by ideologies that still benefit those in power. It is students like him, and the students I work with through M.E.Ch.A’s Access Project – Xinachtli, that I continue to have faith in the future of our global community.
June 27, 2011 | 10:15 AM Letisia Marquez
We received a few posts from non-UCLA students that are also on the South Africa trip. Here is a summary of their entries.
Tina Luu, UCSD student, writes about building a playground and soccer field at Red Hill Preschool:
"It was amazing to work together, shoveling out rocks that seemed to be endless and simply cracking up at our own battles with the rocks; honestly, it was hard to believe that our time there was over so soon. The final outcome, however, blew me away. I wasn’t doing construction today (I was working at the pre-school) but went over at the end of it and literally gasped at how beautiful the finish was. Kids from Red Hill were playing on the field at this point alongside my fellow classmates and the jungle gym was also complete. Only one word came to my mind as I stared out at the field that was once completely covered in trash and rocks: incredible. Incredible not because of the final finish, but the fact that all of our hard work had cumulated in this… in an area that was filled with happy little faces running around and laughing and playing like how kids should be. It was beyond anything I had expected."
And she's sentimental when she says goodbye to one of the preschoolers, Trust, 6:
"When we were saying our goodbyes, Trust was hugging me and holding my hand, saying that 'he wanted to go with me.' My heart literally sank hearing that, knowing that I had come in and loved on him, only to leave. I tried my best to be a 'teacher' kind of aid, but in a situation with kids this young, there’s a fine line of loving on them and being their teacher, something I’ve yet to completely understand. It was in this moment that I began questioning the impact of our service project: had it actually helped these kids? Coming in and showing them affection and care, only to leave after five days didn’t seem enough. In fact, it was heart breaking. These kids need something stable and people to trust, especially since they are already embroiled in a society and system that seems to leave them on the edges of society with no real ladder to get out. Here I was, coming in and absolutely adoring Trust only to say 'goodbye' after such a short time. The project might have been an awesome learning experience for me, but what about him and the rest of the kids? His feelings (perhaps not as apparent or decisive as mine) count just as much. Scrapes and cuts hurt, no matter the size. This question lingered on my mind as I talked to a fellow classmate, Melanie, who had shared similar experiences with me at the pre-school and who is just as emotional. We discussed the ups and downs of these kind of service projects. At the end of it, we decided it’s a learning experience and that we need to reassess our approach to service projects, perhaps looking beyond the things we gain and short term effects and looking at kids individually with their unique histories and needs."
Anna C. Tom writes about the group's trip to Robben Island, where political dissenters were once imprisoned:
"When we finally got there I got a better sense of the conditions of Robben Island and what those who fought against the Apartheid went through. For example, due to the bad conditions of the Island, Nelson Mandela has a hard time crying because his tear ducts were damaged. Besides learning about Nelson Mandela's sacrifice for the end of Apartheid I learned about Robert Sobukwe, the 'unsung hero.' Although many may have never heard of him, but Sobukwe was an important element to the ending of the Apartheid. From Sobukwe's story, it is a reminder that the end of Apartheid was not a one man's job, but a collective effort where they worked for the common goal and envision a better world and a brighter future for the generations to come. Also, towards the end of the tour, Sarah, a UCSD undergraduate, asked Nadeese, an ex political criminal, for what reason he was put into prison. He explained that he was a teenager when he was put into prison for five years and this was because he took part of a protest against Apartheid. It is very admirable that many fought against the Apartheid at a time when the unequal separation between different race was the norm."
Sarah Calara adds:
"Today, the structures are preserved and is a museum to educate and remind us of the history of apartheid. As our tour bus drove us along the various sites, I became conscious of the stark contrast between the breathtaking natural landscape and the injustice and sadness that prevailed on the island and the larger South Africa. Stepping into the prison cells myself, I could not fathom the years and even decades the people spent stripped of their freedom. Fittingly, a message printed on the bus read: 'THE JOURNEY’S NEVER LONG WHEN FREEDOM’S THE DESTINATION.'"
June 21, 2011 | 11:19 PM Rhonda Wade
"If you want to get there fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk together."
--Old African Proverb
What a day! I began my day as a volunteer at Red Hill Preschool, working with the smallest of the children, 2-to-3-year-olds. There were six of them, three girls and three boys. We came prepared with UCLA UniCamp songs, thanks to Lily, one of the UCLA undergrads on this trip. Not only did they respond with their little swinging hips, they picked up on the words by the second round, and had them memorized soon after. They love to hug us and get very excited as our van pulls into their settlement each day, and are extremely fascinated with our hair. I noticed right away how much more disciplined they are than most American children, sitting very patiently through stories well-above their age level and following the day's schedule with ease.From Red Hill we drove into Pinelands to visit a LEAP school. Established in 2003, LEAP science and math schools aim to transform educationally disadvantaged communities in South Africa through mathematics and science focused education. LEAP provides children from the communities with the opportunity to gain access to study opportunities, allowing them to be successful in their chosen career paths and develop as socially responsible citizens of South Africa. Upon entering the school, we were welcomed with a traditional African song that brought me to tears. I wish I could accurately explain how they moved me, but I have never felt this way before. My children can attest that I have frequently been brought to tears from both the UCLA and Cal marching bands, but this did not even come close! The pride and warmth and love in their voices touched the deepest parts of me. Dances were performed and stories were shared. An open and honest dialogue of racism was articulated as we broke into small groups. It was an experience I will never forget.
LEAP school students dance for UCLA volunteers
We toured Langa, a segregated township, where most of these students live. Many of LEAP’s student teachers accompanied us, openly sharing the most intimate details of their educational as well as personal journeys. We ended our day sharing a traditional African dinner together, complete with an African band.
I do not know how Professors Worger and Clark will be able to top this day.