In March of 2018, 15 students and two educators from St. George's School (SGS) in Newport, RI, as well as two Universal Promise volunteers, landed in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, before heading north to Nomathamsanqa, Addo, to visit our favorite school: Vusumzi Primary.
The VPS community, once again, welcomed Universal Promise and its volunteers with kindness, professionalism, humor, and gratitude. As a result, the SGS students instantly and seamlessly immersed themselves in the experience, from their welcome by a host of traditional Xhosa dancers to their heartfelt concern for all VPS learners to their impact on their tutees to their emotional attendance at the handover ceremony of the Universal Promise Academic Centre.
Prior to our arrival, each VPS educator had graciously agreed to co-teach with an SGS student and to share strategies, improve the teacher-to-student ratio, keep an eye out for particularly advanced or struggling students, and make note of any learners who were attending school without proper uniforms, so that we may intervene on their behalf. In addition, the SGS students were responsible for developing an after-school tutoring program and for collaborating with local crafters to learn the projects the women had been mastering week by week.
At the end of the trip, SGS volunteers left Nomathamsanqa with full but heavy hearts - knowing full well that they were saying goodbye, at least for a time, to the most warm, welcoming, talented, and beautiful human beings they had ever met.
Universal Promise had high expectations for this volunteer adventure, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the SGS students and chaperones met and then exceeded those expectations. We are grateful to SGS for having reached out to UP for a potential partnership and then worked with us to bring this trip to fruition. We know the experience is etched in the minds and hearts of students and educators on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Above all, we feel fortunate to have bridged a gap between students in South Africa and those who hail from a boarding school in Rhode Island (but who represented China, South Korea, and the United States). Such cross-cultural exposure lays the groundwork for a world that is less concerned with borders and differences than with global responsibility and similarities. We feel honored to have played a role in encouraging young people to get hooked by a life of service - a life of understanding the challenges that others face and the benefits that others inherit by virtue of their accidental place of birth, skin color, or gender. After what we witnessed this past March, we feel even more confident that the future will inspire and broaden the kind of inclusivity and compassion that thrives in the South Africans we serve.