Sejal Shah, Public Healthand Development in South Africa, Spring 2014
Tonight I say goodbye to a charming country, one that has opened its heart and welcomed a stranger. It hasn’t dawned upon me yet that I will no longer see the mountain peak right besides my dorm that sparkles in the rain and glows in the sunlight. I will no longer see cars driving on the left side of the road, nor will there be as many manual cars. I will no longer be breathing in the air of a country with a rich history and an uncertain future. I will dearly miss this amazing country and the adventures it has to offer. Thus, as I say my final farewells, it will be a “see you later” rather than a “goodbye,” for I hope that someday I can return to South Africa.
As I reflect back on my time in South Africa, I am amazed by how much I have learned. I came to this country knowing only pieces of the apartheid story and the struggle to freedom. Now, I know more about the apartheid era, the government in power (ANC), and the rich cultures that play a huge role in society. I have seen the deficiencies in the public health system and its effect on society, yet I am aware about some of the institutions working tirelessly to help those the government doesn’t. I finally understand the truth behind Nelson Mandela’s words, “Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can use to change the world.” A solid educational foundation goes a long way for kids who know nothing about sanitation, health or the opportunities that lay ahead of them. Yet, the knowledge I have gained here has only made me realize how much there still is to learn. There are more voices to be heard and there are more problems to solve. The knowledge and lessons I have learned abroad will follow me back to the States where it will serve as a launchpad for my future learning.
Although I can talk forever about the places we visited, the people we met, and the sights we have seen, there is one aspect of the journey that cannot be overlooked. Over the past few days, our group numbers have been dwindling as my peers head back home, or in some cases, to Cape Town to pursue research or internships. I realized that as our group becomes smaller, it is no longer complete. Our time in South Africa has helped build a small, but strong, Northwestern family (including one honorary Wildcat). Together, we grew as we accepted the culture, history, language and essence of South Africa. We challenged each other to widen our perspectives on issues surrounding public health as well as development. Our home stay experiences required us to understand the situation of rural families that are out of touch with the government and, in a sense, the greater society. Our experiences abroad has created a special bond between our group that will never be forgotten.
With these memories lingering in my mind, I say sien jou later Suid-Afrika! See you later South Africa! I look forward to the day we meet again.