Story by Kayla Mackay, Dialogue of Civilizations⎜Photo by Kayla Mackay
This past summer I was fortunate enough to attend the Social Enterprise and Micro-Consulting Dialogue in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a trip that allowed us to work with and consult local entrepreneurs from the area and learn more about the social and economic issues impacting Cape Town today.
Our professor asked us one morning in class, “So it rained last night, what are we going to do about that?” To me and many other students, we didn’t think twice about the rain other than having to grab an umbrella before walking out the door. He went on to say that with all the rain Cape Town had gotten the night before, there were homes in the Townships that had flooded, ruining furniture and affecting the living situation of many families. We spent the first 30 minutes brainstorming what we could do as a group to raise money for those in need and our professor reached out to the Red Cross to take action and learn more about the impact of the storm. From our professor and the various individuals we met on the trip, we learned how to be more aware of our surroundings and to consciously practice generosity whenever possible.
That being said, at times throughout the program I struggled to understand what impact I was having on the various organizations we visited. Yes, we made donations, but I didn’t feel like I was there long enough to make a difference. I slowly began to realize that being generous doesn’t have to mean tangibly giving. Being present and giving your attention to those around you can have a lasting impact on an individual. While visiting a Surf Outreach program, one little girl, Mila, would not leave my side. She wanted to know everything about me and forced me to board the bus last, even having her mom get my number before we left for the day. She told me numerous times that I “couldn’t forget her,” and because of the connection we made, I can genuinely say that I won’t. Over the course of my month in Cape Town, I learned that in order to truly make a positive impact on someone’s life, you have to put yourself in their shoes, ask questions, understand their perspective and, most importantly, be kind.
I had a number of friends tell me that they had been to Cape Town and loved it. However, reflecting back on trip, I don’t think any of them have truly been to Cape Town. They didn’t interact and spend time with the community members, travel into the Townships or get to know local business owners. It was giving my time and making connections with people along the way that allowed me to gain a new perspective of South Africa. I’ve come to the realization that regardless of where you travel around the world, it’s the people you meet and spend time with that truly make the experience memorable and impactful, on both sides.