IN MY WORDS: NIYA JOHNSON

IN MY WORDS: NIYA JOHNSON

VCU sophomore reflects on an impactful meeting in South Africa

If I’m being honest, writing an article on the culture and the overall experiences from our amazing trip to South Africa is a possible yet impossible task, because there is just so much to talk about.

I mean it’s not every morning you wake up in South Africa with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to indulge in the beauty of its cities and its people like my teammates and I did for eight days.

The days we spent in Cape Town, South Africa have definitely made me open to living and enjoying life within the moment, because each day we spent in South Africa was a different experience, from playing games against the South African National Team, doing community service, trying new foods and seeing new sites.

For me, one of the most memorable moments was definitely being able to interact face-to-face with the children in the Goedgedacht Trust after school program and their Path Out of Poverty (POP) Centers. This after school program provides farmers’ children in rural communities with the necessities their parents are unable to provide for them. The program assists kids who experience high levels of poverty, hunger, domestic violence, unemployment and those who suffer from FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder). These POP centers increase the rate at which at-risk children and youth complete their high school education.

Despite facing daily challenges and unfortunate living conditions, it never stopped them from smiling or enjoying every moment of life. While partaking in community service at the Goedgedacht POP Center, I met a young man named Carlton. Carlton is 17 years old, and our interaction was so real it warmed my heart. 

During our conversation, Carlton told me that he was studying business and that he planned on owning his own business one day. He also told me that he wanted to come to America for the first time, and that when he came to America, we would be business partners! Just from the conversation, I felt an energy that lifted my spirits and made me smile because he wanted so much more for himself than just the life he knew. He wanted better for he and his family, and all I could tell him was to follow those dreams because his ceiling is limitless!

After this encounter I realized that these children might not have been rich, but that they were rich in spirit and in their dreams. At the end of the day, that was the only wealth they needed!

The​ ​encounter​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​with​ ​Carlton​ ​at​ ​the​ ​after​ ​school​ ​program​ ​meant​ ​so​ ​much​ ​to​ ​me because​ ​he​ ​did​ ​not​ ​allow​ ​the​ ​hindrance​ ​of​ ​poverty​ ​that​ ​he​ ​and​ ​his​ ​family​ ​lived​ ​in​ ​to​ ​refrain him​ ​from​ ​getting​ ​the​ ​highest​ ​education​ ​and​ ​having​ ​dreams​ ​of​ ​owning​ ​a​ ​business! ​ ​

His unfortunate​ ​situation​ ​didn’t​ ​stagnate​ ​him​ ​but​ ​instead​ ​it​ ​pushed​ ​him​ ​to​ ​want​ ​more​ ​than​ ​just​ ​the​ ​life​ ​he​ ​was​ ​given,​ ​and​ ​that​ ​is​ ​truly​ ​inspirational​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​always​ ​knew​ ​that there​ ​would​ ​come​ ​a​ ​time​ ​when​ ​I​ ​would​ ​meet someone like​ ​Carlton,​ ​a seemingly​ ​invincible​ ​person​ who​​ can ​show​ ​and prove​ ​that​ ​anything​ ​is​ ​possible​​ ​as​ ​long​ ​as​ ​you​ ​believe​ ​and​ ​put​ ​in​ ​the​ ​work​.​ ​

Community​ ​service​ ​is​ ​more​ ​than​ ​just​ ​an​ ​action​ ​of​ ​giving​ ​back, ​it​ ​is​ ​about​ ​helping​ ​people​ ​to realize​ ​that​ ​they​ ​matter and​ ​showing​ ​them​ ​that​ ​they​ ​are​ ​loved, ​​regardless​ ​of​ ​their​ ​situations.

Living​ ​in​ ​poverty​ ​isn’t​ ​a​ ​lifestyle​ ​that​ ​people​ ​wish​ ​to​ ​live​ ​in​ ​and​ ​unfortunately​ ​the rural farming​ ​families​ ​in​ ​the​ ​South​ ​Africa​​ ​live​ ​in extreme​ ​poverty.​ ​​However,​ ​with​ ​POP centers and ​ Goedgedacht Trust creating​ ​an​ ​after​ ​school​ ​program​ ​for​ ​the​ ​children​ ​of​ ​the​ ​farm​ ​to​ ​be​ ​properly​ ​fed,​ ​educated and​ ​medically​ ​cared​ ​for,​ ​they’ve​ ​have​ ​showed​ ​these​ ​families​ ​and​ ​their​ ​young​ ​ones​ ​that there​ ​is​ ​hope.​ ​

I​ ​think​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is​ extremely ​important​ ​for​ sustainable community ​centers​ ​like​ ​POP​ ​to​ ​be​ ​around​ ​because​ ​it​ ​is showing​ ​these​ ​children​ ​that​ ​​their​ ​futures ​path​ ​may​ ​only​ ​be able to be paved​ ​by​ ​themselves, but that they are people in this world willing to help them along the way. ​

​This experience ​was​ ​hands-down​ ​the​ ​best​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​my​ ​life. The​ ​interactions​ ​that I​ ​had​ ​with​ ​these​ ​beautiful​ ​children and with Carlton​ ​definitely​ ​pulled​ ​hard​ ​on​ ​my​ ​heartstrings​ ​and left me​ ​with​ ​memories​ ​that​ ​will​ ​last​ ​a​ ​lifetime. ​

​​These​ ​families and children​ ​are​ ​put into unfortunate circumstances​ ​and​ ​through​ ​it​ ​all​ ​they​ ​are​ ​proud and ​that​ ​they​ ​are​ ​loved​ ​through​ ​every​ ​adversity they faced.