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It was my first time in South Africa. I was excited and a bit anxious, you could tell by the way I neatly put all my food in sections during the flight and pretended to sleep. The flight was long, nearly an entire day of flying, 12 hours to London then 14 to Cape Town. I paced back and forth a few times to try to catch a glimpse of the land before it got too dark but I could barely see anything from the rear of the plane. When we got closer, the first thing I noticed were the schools; they stood out among everything else and, from pictures I’d seen online, I was on the lookout for bright colored houses, which I later learned were known as Bo-Kaap, a township where many of the residents are descendants of slaves from Malaysia, (cousins!) Indonesia  and various African countries, who were imported to Cape Town by the Dutch during the 16th and 17th centuries. On a taxi ride into town I saw a couple of the townships and on the way back to the airport I spotted some more.

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South Africa is beautiful, there is no other way to describe it than beautiful. It was the perfect weather, the food was amazing and the Girls Track was great. My favorite part was the history, you could feel and see the history wherever you went. The country has a long standing history of apartheid; although troublesome it is my favorite era to study mainly because of the messages that were being crafted by the ‘all-white government’ during  times of separation and movements for freedom and peace. Photos and booklets were being published and sent oversees that portrayed ‘joy and peace’ in South Africa to deceive the ‘rest of the world and make the country seem ideal’ meanwhile people were being treated poorly and the photos that were produced by the government were skewed and false; many books portrayed colored men as soldiers’ although in reality they were being enslaved by the government. Although frustrating it comes to show the power of stories and perception; both from images and text and the need to shape and reshape narratives in Africa, America and beyond. Cape Town is also home to, or rather neighbors to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela  spent 18 years in a prison before being transferred to another prison in Cape Town. I didn’t get the chance to visit the Island but I tried to spot it from atop Table Mountain. Table Mountain is a HUGE and amazing mountain that oversees Cape Town. It was so pretty I could sleep there all day, except I wouldn’t because it’s really high and I wouldn’t want to tumble off of it. I could see it from my hotel too!

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The hotel in South Africa was amazing; they gave candy and water to your room every day at around noon and the prices for food was 1/4th the price of what it is in the US. Food + Cheap then the two together is heaven for me. To make you hungry, here is one of the plates I had while there, at the waterfront, which is a small but busy shopping area.

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Before the Girls track, we visited the Christel House and some of our participants for the Girls Track program. The Christel House is a school that provides robust K-12 education and a strong character development program that is complemented with regular health care, nutritious meals, guidance counseling, family assistance, College & Careers support and basically everything you can think of, they are pretty incredible and highly needed.

We heard from the Christel House choir and danced with some of the students. I couldn’t help but to think about when I was in choir; it was my escape and I asked the students how long it took to rehearse a song, and they quickly replied, ‘two days.’ WHAT! They were so good! It would take us 2 weeks to 2 months just to get one song down. Bravo to them! ❤

My favorite line of the choir was, ‘I learned long ago not to live in anyone’s shadow. You can take everything from me but you won’t take away my dignity.’ The students are strong, resilient, have booming voices and remind me of the girls I went to school with.

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Many of the students travel great distances to get to school and have experienced incredible challenges throughout their journey. We got to work with Christel House graduates and hear about what the school means to them and we got to see firsthand, the  importance of this school and the power education and self expression has when utilized.

In a conversation I had before the visit, I learned the Christel House was built with every need in mind; from transportation, to safety, to housing, to food, to clothing, to career, and everything you can think of, the founder was very intentional when she built the organization. She ‘didn’t just want to give money’ but she wanted to create sustainable solutions to help students within South Africa and beyond so they may have a safe place to live and prosper. The students are taken care of in every aspect of their life. Some students who are unable to study at home are often designated an ‘overnight’ area where they can live temporarily in order to focus on their studies. It’s a very cohesive and thoughtful approach to lifting individuals out of their situations and empowering them as well. After the Christel House, we kicked off the Girls Track; a program for girls 12-18 to learn more about business and STEM in hopes to solve some of the worlds most pressing issues. One of the coolest parts about the Girls Track is seeing and hearing about the growth of every girl. The ones who normally consider themselves ‘shy and not well spoken’ come on the stage and totally own their voice. It’s one of my favorite things to see because I think we all have it inside, but sometimes it takes getting uncomfortable, ignoring the negative voices and working tirelessly to find it. To read more about the Girls Track click here.

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Many photos are courtesy of Carlos Reina and the lovely team at Fit To Tweet.

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