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CCU Atheneum: Kerry’s last day of assistant teaching the five- and six-year-olds at Sunrise
Daycare in the Capricorn Township in Muizenberg, South Africa.
Kerry’s last day of assistant teaching the five- and six-year-olds at Sunrise Daycare in the Capricorn Township in Muizenberg, South Africa.

When student travels lead to volunteerism and more travels

by Kerry Dittmeier
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Editor’s note: Kerry Dittmeier is a sophomore public health major at CCU. She has aspirations of attending medical school and pursuing a career that allows her to help people, striving to affect poverty and disease across a myriad of cultures and countries spanning the globe. This is a report on her first volunteer trip overseas.

Three weeks is all it took for Cape Town, South Africa, to sweep me off my feet, steal my heart and leave me sitting on the airplane heading back to South Carolina in wonder and awe. No combination of words or images could truly explain how absolutely astonishing my entire experience was. Waking up every morning knowing that on the other side of a brief van ride I would be greeted by running, screaming, smiling, laughing and clawing four- and five-year-olds was simultaneously the most overwhelming and joyous feeling I’ve ever experienced. The classroom in which I volunteered was at Sunrise Daycare in the middle of the Capricorn Township in Cape Town. Townships, sometimes referred to as shanty towns, are the result of lack of basic resources available to the local community. The townships can stretch for miles with endless rows of houses, built from a variety of materials, separated by narrow dirt streets constantly filled with laughter and chatter. The extremely disproportionate distribution of wealth was particularly intriguing to me; I wanted so badly to grasp how it was possible for one side of the street to be lavished with incredible gargantuan houses while the other side was the entrance to endless miles of township.

The children in class six at Sunrise Daycare filled a void in my life that I didn’t even know existed. Their aggression terrified me; their overpowering need for affection saddened me; their smiles captivated me; and their beautiful singing voices mesmerized me. I struggled every day because I was so frustrated that I didn’t have the time and resources to really make a substantial change in their lives, but I was also filled with joy every time they surprised me with how smart they were or how pure and innocent their hearts were. My favorite part of working at the daycare was the Thursday prayer sessions where all 300 children, teachers and volunteers piled into the central hallway to sing, dance and listen to Bible stories. The way the teachers filled the whole room with laughter, music and love was infectious. Before you knew it, you were on your feet dancing and singing along right along with them.

One of the main things that drew me to the program was the opportunity, not only for volunteering, but to travel and experience the beauty of the country. I had the amazing chance to go on a three-day trek along the Garden Route to observe some of the fascinating creatures that inhabit South Africa. The Garden Route is a stretch of the southeastern coast of South Africa with ecologically diverse vegetation and varied ecosystems. Although I traveled to South Africa alone, the friendships I made with some of the other volunteers there will last me a lifetime and made exploring the country all the more fulfilling. It was amazing to me that all the volunteers come into the program from different backgrounds, at different times in their lives and for varying amounts of time, but we all had this instant connection that makes it feel like you are spending time with people you’ve known your whole life.

On our three-day safari, I saw some of the most beautiful natural settings I have ever experienced. From walking along stunning coastlines and climbing up gorgeous mountain ranges, to trekking alongside lions through the garden route, walking hand-in-trunk with elephants, getting up close and personal with penguins and being brushed up against by cheetahs, the astonishing experiences were truly endless. The most meaningful part of my journey, however, wasn’t what I saw, but what I felt. It was the carefree and joyous environment that the South African culture elicits no matter where you go. To experience how so many people who choose to be happy despite their impoverished circumstances is something that will stay with me forever. It is something that will inspire me every day to work to radiate the happiness that the people, particularly the children with whom I worked with, taught me.

Working at Sunrise Daycare taught me patience, it humbled me in a way that made me reconsider the things I hold nearest and dearest to my heart, and it reminded me how important genuine human interaction is. This experience solidified my confidence that my calling, my career path within the field of public health, will center on working with and helping numerous nationalities of people across a myriad of cultures and countries, striving to overcome poverty and disease.

Dittmeier has lived in six different countries, and South Africa is the 18th country she has visited. Her travels have given her an appreciation for the diversity and history of each country and city she has experienced. Motivated by a passion for traveling and helping others, she plans to make many volunteer trips overseas.

 

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