Go Global would like to wish all of our students, parents, and supporters a Happy Thanksgiving. In doing so, we tried to craft posts in the month of November that reflected the spirit of Thanksgiving — not only lists of delectable food must-haves in each of our study abroad locations, but stories from our Service Learning opportunities. Global Citizenship is one of two main components of the Global LEAD program curriculum, the other being Leadership. In teaching the students what it means to be a Global Citizen, we give them the opportunity to execute what they’ve learned in the classroom in a real-life Service Learning opportunity. In our Cape Town location, this opportunity is Sir Lowry’s Pass.

We believe that the best way to teach students the true value of these concepts is to help them get out of their comfort zone, and in doing so, we guide them in activities in and out of the classroom to teach and encourage exposure to new ideas and new experiences. In this post, Cammie Cook, a 2014 Global LEAD Cape Town student and Community Leader, tells her story of her experience in the township of Sir Lowry’s Pass, tying the power of comfort to the understanding of true Global Citizenship.

Guest Post by: Cammie Cook

Finally, it’s Thanksgiving. As I write this post, I am snuggled in a cozy spot on a porch overlooking a lake in the bustling metropolis of Eclectic, Alabama. The aroma of roasting turkey and sweet potato casserole drift out of the house, and the family pups run up and down the hill to the lake, blissfully happy. Family from near and far are about to arrive, and the biggest football games of the season are closer than ever.

Needless to say, I’m thankful for this moment and this place.

 I’ve lived in Alabama my entire life, and my senior year of high school, I made the decision to stay in this state an additional four years to attend the University of Alabama. While I have faced adversity along the way, remaining seven minutes away from my parents does provide comfort. As does attending college with half my high school, knowing my professors from church, and having a wealth of knowledge on everything about every restaurant, store, and doctor’s office that my friends ask me for.

My first two years of college, I sought to be comfortable. I wanted a new network of friends. I wanted to be involved on campus. I wanted to find my place. And I did find these things, which I am incredibly thankful for. But then, I wanted more. It is great to be comfortable, but it can also be dangerous. I found myself settling for less. I was no longer pushing myself, because I was content with my surroundings.

So I decided I needed to do something. Something big. I was going to chase my lifelong dream. I was going to go to Africa.

After hearing about Global LEAD: Cape Town from a friend, I met with an amazing staff member and was sure this was the program for me. Finally my parents agreed, and I submitted my application. A few months later I packed my bags and hopped on a plane.

What came next was the most life-changing five weeks of my life. Yes, the other students were incredible. Yes, the adventure was amazing. Yes, the city is beautiful. Yes, the curriculum was inspiring. But the most enriching experience? The service.

Sir Lowry’s Pass is a township about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town. The average family has a living space made of scrap metal, tarps, tires, and wood. The first day we arrived in Sir Lowry’s the juxtaposition was uncomfortable. Here we are, pulling up in our charter bus, passing shacks along the road, and we dare to complain about being cold.

The month of June is in the winter season in South Africa, and the children of the township do not have adequate clothing like warm jackets or tennis shoes. But they don’t know to complain. The moment our bus turned toward the school in the township, it was if we were the stars of a parade, and all these strangers lining the streets were elated to see us. I stepped off the bus, and children came running from every direction, smiling and giggling. They jumped in my arms and grabbed my hand, and immediately we were off to play.

The next week flew by. We were paired with families in the community and visited their homes every day in groups. We learned about their day-to-day life- occupations, education, interests, hobbies, and more. The more I learned, the more I was amazed. They did not see anything as a disadvantage. They loved their home, their community, and their neighbors. Children ran among the streets, in and out of homes playing with everyone they met. There was no such thing as a stranger in Sir Lowry’s.

These people, who at first glance I felt sorry for because of their living conditions, were filled with more life than anyone I had ever met.

A few summers ago, I journaled about the difference between happiness and joy. Anyone can be happy; it’s a decision to display these emotions. However, being joyful is a gift that is pure and inevitable.

Sir Lowry’s Pass radiates joy. It was almost a euphoric feeling to run around the school yard with tiny children, many of which spoke little to no English. We didn’t need language to communicate. The smiles and laughs of the children spoke more than words could ever attempt.

At the end of this week, I was comfortable. Comfortable in a place of shacks. Comfortable in a township filled with strangers. Comfortable in a foreign country, the southern-most tip of Africa, over 8,000 miles from home.

But this time, it was a different kind of comfort. I was comfortable because I was accepted in a community that was more diverse than any other place I had ever been. I was comfortable because I had found common ground with strangers. I was comfortable, because the joy of the children filled my heart and changed my life.

Now it is a chilly November in Alabama, and the holiday season is among us. Thanksgiving brings about a time of reflection, and my greatest blessing in this past year was without a doubt my experience in Cape Town. The people of Sir Lowry’s Pass inspired me in a way I will always be grateful for. I now search for a different kind of comfort, the same feeling I felt when I was welcomed by the Sir Lowry’s community. This feeling has inspired me to search for joy and take chances. I now have the courage to seek out new experiences, and I will encounter my largest adventure yet when I move to London this January for a semester abroad.

Thanksgiving is a special day in America. We spend a day being grateful for our family, friends, and experiences. Today I think about what it would be like to celebrate Thanksgiving in Sir Lowry’s Pass. The meal would probably consist of springbok instead of turkey, and maybe butternut squash instead of sweet potato casserole. I am not sure what most of the day would be like, but I do know that it would be the most joyous occasion, because every day I spent in their small township this summer was a day of thanks. They were thankful for their community. They were thankful for their families. They were thankful for the Global LEAD family that comes to them year after.

After Thanksgiving is over, the turkey is eaten and all my family returns home, I will surely lie down with not just a full stomach, but a full heart. And as I wake up the next day, I will make it a goal to continue to live with that full heart, thankful for every minute of every day, just as the people of Sir Lowry’s Pass.

If you’re looking to have a meaningful experience of your own in a Service Learning opportunity, please contact us, and we’ll help you pick the program that works best for you. Stay tuned to read more stories on the blog about how our students in other locations were able to serve in communities and schools, too. It’s Go Global’s vision that we are simultaneously changing their lives and yours. We want everyone to have a meal, warmth, and good company this Thanksgiving. We are happy to do our part as Global Citizens and help people around the world as best as we can.

Have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday!

-Anna and the Go Global team