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GUEST COLUMN: My trip to South Africa: Zulus, zebras and more

Before I describe my time in South Africa, I need to tell you a little about myself.

To begin with, I am a student at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. At this college, I am majoring in economics and international political economy with a minor in Spanish.

This past January, I spent 16 days in South Africa for a class in order to learn about their education system along with its recent history. The flight to South Africa was long but the experience was sweet. I write here now to give you a glimpse of my trip so you can enjoy what I saw without suffering the traveling pains.

When we first got to South Africa, I was sick.

The 16-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa took a toll on my body and I missed the first full day of touring the country. My stomach was in knots and I possessed no appetite.

These symptoms were similar to the ones I had in Guatemala the year before, so I was confident that I would overcome this early obstacle.

On the second day, I finally got to travel with the rest of my classmates and we spent a few hours at an Apartheid museum. Apartheid, a term meaning “separateness,” was a system put in place by the white-dominated government in order to stay in power.

Very similar to segregation in the U.S. South, it was used to keep the races separated and to keep the white minority in power both politically and economically.

Going to the Apartheid museum was quite moving and it showed how lucky we, as Americans, are to live in the United States. Despite past issues with racism and segregation, our country has possessed an extraordinary power to improve itself and make itself better by following the ideals of our Founding Fathers.

As the trip progressed, I was able to experience many different things.

I went on an African safari (you cannot go to Africa without going on one) and I saw many zebras, water buffalo and rhinoceroses. Also, I got to see a traditional Zulu dance during our time in Zululand.

The Zulu tribe is the largest tribe in South Africa and was a great enemy of the British Empire during the late 1800s with Britain’s expansion in the region.

Additionally, in Zululand, we visited a school named Nkume primary school where we met the students and learned about the state of education in South Africa.

From what we learned, it was quite easy to become pessimistic about South Africa’s future. It is ranked extremely low in math and science and is underfunded by its government. In fact, large portions of school funding come from the private sector.

This school had overcrowded classrooms and reminded me of where I was. I was not in a developed country; I was in a developing country despite South Africa being the most prosperous sub-Saharan African country.

Anticipating this, I brought many gifts for the students to brighten their day and to be a good representative of the United States. The gifts included purses (most generously donated by Cheryl Durdan), hats, and dental supplies (which were donated by the kind Dr. Peter Pullara Jr. of the dental office of Seneca Smiles). The joy of us arriving was apparent in many of the students’ faces.

Later in the trip, I was able to see the Indian Ocean and walk on the beach.

It was nice strolling on the beach enjoying the warm sun in Africa while avoiding the freezer that is Illinois in winter.

Lastly, we spent the last few days of our trip in Cape Town.

While there, we traveled to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held 18 of his 27 years in prison. One reads about these things in history textbooks, but it was a whole new experience to see this island personally.

Another curious thing about Cape Town was its massive water shortage. Due to the lack of rain the last few years, the people of Cape Town have been forced to conserve water. Personally, the hotel we stayed at drained its swimming pool and asked us to take extremely short showers. This disturbing water shortage once again made me appreciate the United States and the privilege of free water in American restaurants (this was not the case in any places in South Africa).

We saw more schools in Cape Town, which showed us the true extent of South Africa’s education crisis.

Overall, the trip was enjoyable but it presented to me social and political issues that I am still struggling with today.

From seeing Jackass penguins in Cape Town (they acquired this name due to the sound they make) to meeting school children, my worldview was once again expanded with this study abroad experience.

Despite the sad experiences, I want to travel and see more. I want to make the world a better place. I want to make the world a happier place, and you can help me.

Moved by our South African trip, a majority of us students from the trip have been raising money for the Nkume primary school that I described. The money will be used to buy them recess supplies, playground equipment, and other things in order to improve their educational experience.

After our fundraiser, a group of us will return to South Africa this June to directly deliver the supplies to this school. If you would like to help, please go online to our Go Fund Me fundraising page,, in order to make a donation. Our overall goal is $10,000 to make this primary school a truly spectacular place for learning. Any donation would be appreciated.

All in all, this South Africa trip was a superb life experience and I will never forget it. It made me proud to be an American, but it also convinced me to further help people in other countries. We are Americans, but we are all humans first.

Finally, I will continue to write about my travels to show that we are a global community and should treat each other like the brothers and sisters we truly are.

JAMES DURDAN lives in Grand Ridge and is a student at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

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