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South Africa Immersion

Our South African Immersion group departed in the final week of Term 1.  As a group, we had spent many hours preparing for the experience throughout the term.  We learnt about the history and politics of South Africa, the origins of the Kopanang Project, the impact of HIV and AIDS on the people of Africa and the community with whom we would be staying.   We planned lessons for the creche and for tutoring and sorted through donations of clothing, sanitary products, stationary supplies, bubbles and sporting equipment.  We tried to imagine what our ten days living in Tsakane would be like.

While the preparation for the immersion is vital, in reality there is no way to adequately prepare for what this experience will be and there are no adequate words to convey how such an experience will impact upon the participants.  When you arrive at the Kopanang Project you are embraced by a community which exudes love.  A joyful, faithful, resilient group of women who have lived lives of sorrow, sickness, loss, grief and who continue to live lives of poverty and deprivation.  These women embrace the Siena community.  They call us their daughters, their sisters and brothers.  They love us, care for us, pray for us.  They laugh with us and teach us and consequently, our lives are forever changed.

Our daily life 'at the project' consisted of working in the creche which operates alongside Kopanang, assisting in the kitchen to prepare meals for the creche and additionally for a local feeding program which services up to one hundred orphans in the community, providing them with a daily nutritious meal .  We also worked alongside the Kopanang women providing them with computer training.  We spent an afternoon at a local high school in dialogue with the students about our lives, our hopes and our dreams for the future.  

Our time in the township was balanced with opportunities to deepen our understanding about the history and culture of South Africa. We visited Johannesburg, the Apartheid Museum, toured Constitution Hill and the High Court.  We visited prisons where political prisoners were held throughout the Apartheid period.  We travelled to Soweto to see where the Student Uprising of 1976 had taken place and visited the Regina Mundi Church, a place of refuge for Anti Apartheid activists.  Additionally, we spent a day at the Pilanesberg Game Park and marvelled at the magnificence of Africa’s animal kingdom.  We were privileged to spend an afternoon in the studio of South African artist, Mandy Conidaris, who helped us to express our South African experiences in an artistic form.  

As with our arrival, our Kopanang family farewelled us with song.  Memories of our time in Tsakane frequently drift into our daily lives at Siena.  It will not be forgotten.  It is important that we continue to pray for and support this community with whom we share such a special relationship.

'For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others'.
Nelson Mandela 




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