A Former Strong Camp Summer Fellow in South Africa

Rebekah Israel was a Summer Fellow with the Raleigh Strong Camps in the summer of 2012. Since then, she has continued to work on issues related to girls’ empowerment, economic justice, and sustainability. In this entry, Rebekah shares with us her recent experiences in South Africa, where she participated in an alternative break trip that focused on gender equality, youth empowerment, and HIV/AIDS. Read on!

Nyanga Afterschool Program in Capetown. Rebekah is in the back right. Photo by Stephanie Burry.
 
Hello world! My name is Rebekah Israel and I had the honor to work with Full Circles in the summer of 2012. It was an incredible experience and I feel blessed to have met all the girls of the 2012 Strong Camps. Since then, I trekked back to Washington, D.C. where I currently attend graduate school at American University. At American, I spent most of my time this past fall semester planning an alternative break trip that would become instrumental to who I am and what I want to do with my life. Alternative breaks provide students an opportunity to engage in a particular social justice issue either domestically or abroad during one of their breaks from school. “Alt breaks” usually incorporate a service component in which students work on specific project in addition to a learning component that stresses the connection of specific experiences to broader social justice issues.

This winter I spent two weeks in South Africa (which is beautiful, by the way!) for an alternative break trip that focused on Gender Equality, Youth Empowerment and HIV/AIDS. Now, those themes seem to be a lot to tackle in just two weeks, right? My co-leader and I were able to make sense of the interconnectedness of our themes because our central framework was the philosophy of Ubuntu. It is a hard concept to translate into English, but it is based on the premise that every human’s dignity is bound up in the dignity of other people. Therefore, we can never really be free if there are people in our community or in the world at large who are not free. Thinking along those lines, it is easy to see how our three themes tied very well into one another. It is imperative that we all remember the interconnection of social justice issues when developing way is which to combat them so that our solutions are holistic. Full Circles Foundation mission to grow strong girls, a fair economy and a healthy earth is also based on this holistic approach.

While in South Africa, my group spent our first two days in Johannesburg learning about the historical background of Apartheid and its lingering effects in the country. Then, we went to Cape Town for the remaining 12 days. In Cape Town, we met with various organizations to learn about how they are dealing with gender inequality, youth disenfranchisement, ad the AIDS epidemic, as well as how each organization works to impact the community.

One organization that we worked very closely with reminded me a lot of Full Circles. This organization, called Sisters4Sisters (S4S), started out as a support group for women who were escaping abusive relationships, and it has grown into a nonprofit that provides workshops and personal development training for these women. One of the founders of S4S recognized that these women’s children also could benefit from their own programming, which eventually turned into Young Girlfriends and Youth Boys.

The students on the alt break trip worked with these groups to discover what issues were important to them. We did fun activities such as vision boards, in which kids use clippings of words and pictures from magazine to express the vision they have for their future. We also danced, practiced yoga, and played recess games. In addition to the fun activities, we had targeted discussions about issues relevant to young people such as dating, religion, education, and HIV/AIDS. After three full days of workshops, we held a leadership training with the girls in which we assisted them in developing a plan to take on the roles of leaders in the Young Girlfriends program. I am extremely excited to see the heights to which they can—and will—take it!

My experience with Full Circles in the summer of 2012 was instrumental in enabling me to lead and participate in this alternative break. Full Circles helped build my confidence, as well as my leadership and interpersonal skills, and it was truly an experience I will never forget!

I graduate in May from American University and as of now, I have no clue what God has in store for me. I may go on to pursue a PhD in sociology; I may find a job somewhere. As long as I remain active in making the world a more just and livable place, I’ll be happy.

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