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The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

South Africa Trip Recap


The Director of Student Life James Perry announced the Ubuntu trip to South Africa for mid-June 2017 this week, and to get more information attend the trip meeting next week. The time will be made known during the assembly on Monday, 13 March. 

Last June, 16 students and three teachers went to South Africa for an 11-day trip.

Students flew into Cape Town, spending the first few days bonding as a group and hiking Table Mountain. They toured Robben Island, the former prison for political dissenters of the South African apartheid. A former prisoner led the tour, showing the group both his own cell and the cell where Nelson Mandela lived for 27 years.

From Cape Town, the group flew to Port Elizabeth. There, the ASL students met the Ubuntu scholars. The Ubuntu scholars are 16 of the many students who attend Ubuntu Education Fund, an organization founded by Jacob Lief (’94) and Malizole Gwaxula, who also serves as the Fund’s senior advisor. Ubuntu Education Fund strives to support students in South Africa through the current education crisis by focusing on household stability, health and educational services.

These Ubuntu scholars are around 15 to 18 years old. They submitted an application, consisting of an essay, to be able to spend the week with the ASL students. There were more than 100 applications for 16 spots.

During the week in Port Elizabeth, ASL students spent a lot of time in the Ubuntu Center with the scholars, but also explored Port Elizabeth. Gwaxula gave a tour of Port Elizabeth, as well as the first school Ubuntu Education Fund provided supplies to.

The 32 ASL and Ubuntu students as well as the teachers spent one of their final nights together camping. The group made their own food, pitched their own tents, hiked a cliff to see a sunset, danced and sang. Throughout the remainder of the trip students and scholars ice skated, toured Zwide township, went to a church and danced and sang a lot.  

After leaving the scholars, the ASL group finished the trip by staying in a lodge on the Samara game reserve.

Some of the ASL participants describe the experience:

Anya Syed (’19): The moment I walked into the room with all the seated Ubuntu scholars, I was nervous about what the next five days would entail. However, my worries soon melted away as we began our first bonding activity, a competitive relay race game. Our individual competitive spirits and enthusiasm to get to know one another drove us together to create team chants and bond through the realization that we are all the same, regardless of our different lifestyles. Although at moments we talked, sang and danced way too late until we were all exhausted, thinking back I realize that those were the moments that defined the trip and allowed for us to create a unique experience, forever changing my perspective on life.

Caitlin Welch (’18): One day, we went ice skating with the scholars. Throughout the whole trip they were teaching us their songs and dances, showing us their culture. I have never been good at ice skating, but it felt good to be able to teach them something I have grown up doing even if I wasn’t very good at it. Most of them were not very good at it, falling every few seconds. However, what amazed me was the fact that they would get back up after every fall and keep on ice skating. It is something that we take for granted, but they wanted to appreciate the experience as much as they could because they knew that it was something that they would never do again.

Henry Petrillo (’18): I learned that there two things that you will always have no matter where you go: Happiness and Rihanna. Before going on the trip, I expected to meet our South African peers, who live in poverty. I thought I would be surrounded by students who have had their childhoods and happiness robbed from them.

How foolish was I?

Although many of the Ubuntu scholars recognized the severity and anguish that is present in their community, I did not meet one Ubuntu scholar who had lost hope or their smile because of it. Whether it be through dancing until you can’t even feel your feet or singing “Diamonds” by Rihanna until your throat is sore or even sharing in a moment of giddy laughter because of monkeys stealing your breakfast, the people I met were always infectiously happy.

Their positivity is an example and motivation for how I want to live my life no matter what situation I find myself in. They are a true force to be reckoned with and I can’t wait to see them leading South Africa and the world some day soon.

Mia Holtze (’18): This trip taught me that no matter what you have, you can be happy if you surround yourself with people you love and have a good attitude about life. We attended a church service in one of the townships that was a building equivalent to the size of the gym foyer at ASL. This church had no electricity, no paint on the walls and random chairs that people have been collecting over time. About 50 people were crammed into this small space, and we were all singing at the top of our lungs, whether or not we knew the lyrics. This church looked nothing like the churches in the U.S. or U.K, it didn’t have nice books or pews, but it had more energy and had the most welcoming atmosphere I have ever experienced. The trip showed me that no matter how hard your life is, you can find things to be grateful for and you can share your happiness with others.

Jacob Proctor-Bonbright (’18): It is hard to put all the emotions, experiences, and revelations into words. I tried to relate our experience with anything mainstream and relatable in everyday life, but it is impossible. This, however, will not stop us trying, for if we can convey even the smallest piece of the emotional, spiritual and physical journey we went on, that will mean hundreds of new applicants for the program.

I will first start with saying every ASL student that wanted to could go on the trip. The Ubuntu scholars, however, had to do serious applications, and out of hundreds of applicants, only 16 were chosen. The Ubuntu scholars’ motivation, energy, charisma and sheer willpower were inspiring, making me reflect on these traits in myself and finding them lacking. I will tell you now, I have never met a more motivated and strong group of people in my life, and I will likely never again. This trip was many things, I will not say the trip will change you (but it probably will), or make you think more about the world (but it definitely will), as both of those points have been mentioned in prior paragraphs. I will share with you the most apt description of the trip I can: It was indescribable. This is probably incredibly frustrating to many readers, “how can it be so,” you might be saying in outrage, but my response to this will be, take the trip and find out.

Marianne DeRidder (’18): For me, the Ubuntu trip was all about putting myself out there in as many ways possible. I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone by trying new things, allowing other people to get the know the real me, and by trying to really immerse myself into a completely different culture. My favorite memory of stepping outside of my comfort zone during this trip was trying Smiley for the first time. We were walking through the townships and there was a little market kind of thing, people set out goods on the side of the street to sell. One group of people were selling sheep’s head. Apparently this was a special South African meal that the Ubuntu students said they ate on special occasions or at bries. We bought an entire head so everyone could try it. I went first and was really nervous about trying meat that I could see what part of the body it had come from. I got a part from the nose, and while it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten I will not be trying it again. However, I am happy that I put myself out there and now I can say that I’ve tried it.

Eliza Ippolito (’17):

The 16 of us ASL students needed to bond first. We all agree that happened on the second day of the trip when we got stuck on Table Mountain in the rain and after sunset.

Earlier that day we had visited Robben Island and raced back to catch the last cable car up to the top. Once we got to the top of Table Mountain, we followed Social Studies Teachers Terry Gladis and Mike McGowan down the mountain. Gladis asked for directions and a guide pointed a route for us before running off.

As the sun started setting, we became nervous because we were still moving horizontally on top of the mountain. At one point we stopped while the teachers went to find directions. Then, a siren went off into the distance and none of us knew what it meant. Naturally, the GoPro was pulled out and we documented us freaking out about being stuck on Table Mountain.

Eventually we made our way back towards where we started. We found the steep gorge that we had to climb down and in single file lines we slowly made our way down.

We didn’t get far before the rain started and it became dark. We devised a system of yelling out Gladis’ directions and basically playing telephone so all the people in the back could be sure to know which rocks not to step on and where the electric fence was. It was quite nerve-wracking because people kept slipping on rocks.

Eventually, after much discussion, we turned around and made our way back up to get an emergency cable car from the rescue team. Throughout that whole soap opera, we somehow all bonded. In those long hours we became one big group instead of clusters of individual friend groups. When we eventually got to the town we were staying in, we spent the whole late-night dinner laughing and talking about how crazy that experience was. It became a good thing to some extent that a questionable guide on the top of the mountain told us that 5:00 p.m. was a good time to start making our way down the mountain.

From then on, nobody was a stranger, we only got closer. By the end of the trip we barely remembered the first plane ride when nobody talked that much. We couldn’t even remember what it was like to not be together. The whole experience made us all so much closer, but I firmly believe that getting stuck on Table Mountain kick started the process.

Administrative Assistant Shahira Moola: It was such a privilege to witness the collective journey of the ASL students and Ubuntu Scholars on the South Africa trip.  From the first day, I was so proud of how everyone threw their inhibitions aside and jumped right into the mix. We were rewarded with fun times, meaningful connections with new friends and new perspectives on how to approach life. I also have to mention the songs – this trip wouldn’t have been the same without them. The night we were all camping everyone joined in on the most incredible and spontaneous sing-along, I remember feeling quite emotional, it was like something out of a feel-good movie, except it was real and genuine, so I feel very grateful to have been there to experience it in person.

Stephanie Brendsel (’17):

We met the scholars for the first time at the Ubuntu center so we could drive back to the house where the ASL students were staying. On the bus ride, I found myself sitting next to a girl named Khanyisa. I agree with the other ASL students that the scholars were the most happy and positive people I have met.

As the week progressed I learned that our purpose on the trip was not to make these scholars’ lives better. Our purpose was to make the most of our time with them. I enjoyed getting to know every single one of these scholars, including Khanyisa, that week.

Gladis warned us that saying goodbye would be the hardest part. I believed him, but I underestimated how hard it was going to be. I probably will never see the scholars again, despite them making such a lasting impact on my life. I am grateful for the opportunity to form those genuine connections with the Ubuntu scholars and highly recommend this trip.

Social Studies Teacher Terry Gladis


In all seriousness, this was my 10th visit to South Africa (5th with ASL students) and was, without a doubt, the most memorable of all of them. On our first full day in Cape Town, when we were departing the pier/harbor on the ferry to Robben Island, and [Social Studies Teacher Mike] McGowan pointed out to me the name of another fishing vessel leaving the waterfront simultaneously – UBUNTU – I knew this was a good omen for the trip. By the end of that first day, and with a little help from a mountain guide, the weather, and search and rescue – the group bonded over a fun group dinner at Balducci’s – my favorite! From there it was off to Port Elizabeth and the Ubuntu experience. We were greeted in song, and departed in song – and I’m pretty sure there was some singing and dancing in between. From the Ithembalethu guesthouse to the Ubuntu staff – our hosts were the most warm and welcoming folks anyone could ask for.  I can’t quite target a favorite memory…was it carrying ¼ of the group through standing water? Walking the beach and the view from Pig’s Head?  Ice Skating? Witnessing the ritual eating of the “smiley” – sheep’s head – during the always eye opening Township Tour? Learning about the different programs the Ubuntu Center offers and the commitment to their clients? Too many to consider – but throughout every single one of these experiences I witnessed human nature at its very best – teenagers from completely different livelihoods forging friendships, sharing a smile, a story, a tent, appreciating each other for who they are – and realizing that a person is a person through other people – U-ME-WE.


Written by Online/Photography Editor Stephanie Brendsel and the participants of the South Africa Ubuntu Trip in June 2016

Photo from Marianne DeRidder

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