Act 5: Our Reflections

After the efforts of everyone involved in the Langrug projects, it is important to reflect on all we learned. Below, you will find our final thoughts and reflections about our IQP experience written a few weeks after our departure.

Juan M. Venegas

After leaving South Africa and returning to my normal routines at home, many thoughts about this experience remain vivid in my mind. With respect to the IQP experience, it has definitely been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. For two months, I lived with 24 other students that before were complete strangers to me. Now I can say that they are like brothers or sisters away from home and hopefully that will remain true in the future. The project pushed all of us into uncomfortable situations, and challenged us to jump in and push the project forward however we could. This taught me new things about teamwork, my strengths and weaknesses.

After spending many days with the Langrug community and all the stakeholders of the project, the challenge of helping impoverished people showed me its true complexity. The issue is not only about money and land, it is about shifting a paradigm in society. Communities are not improved simply by  a government laying down infrastructure,  they are truly improved when that infrastructure is planned and developed with the community.  This way, people that are usually treated as inferiors become equals and valued contributors to society. Beyond this, the personalities of the people of Langrug really impacted my own views. Living in a setting that mixes the beauty of the landscape with the hardships of daily life made me thankful for the life I am able to have. Perhaps the most important lesson for me, however, was seeing the happiness and joy that the Langrug community possessed.  Despite the hardships, smiles and song were commonplace at our work site. That depiction of human spirit really filled me with hope for human society.

Michaella Reif

This project experience was equal parts frustrating, enlightening, inspiring, challenging, and sobering. Although the scenes capture much of our time in Langrug, words and pictures alone do not do justice to the experience. Ever since I’ve been home I’ve looked at my life differently. Access to clean water and bathrooms, the affordability of food and rent (even on a college student’s budget) and the general sense of opportunity is something I can never take for granted again.

I remember thinking how awesome it is that our presence in Langrug, due to our own fortunate circumstances and opportunity, can have an impact on people’s lives, even if that impact was small or fleeting. What’s even better is that I wholeheartedly consider the Working Team my friends, and there have been times at home when I genuinely miss them and working in Langrug. Although there were definitely times when I dreaded getting on the bus to Franschhoek, and times when the apparent hopelessness threatened to crush my motivation, the perseverance of my wonderful project team and the Langrug community and partners overcame all negativity. I learned so much about humanity, culture, and people in general and hope that the community members learned from us as well. This time in Cape Town and Langrug was, hands down, the time of my life.

Caryn MacDonald

Tomorrow, a new batch of Cape Town Project Centre hopefuls will receive their letters saying they’ve been accepted to the project centre. It honestly feels like yesterday that I was getting my letter, hardly able to contain my excitement. One year later, it is hard to believe that this experience has already come and went, and I am still trying to make sense of it all.

When I tell my friends and family back home about my trip, I am quick to talk about my weekend tourist activities and nightlife adventures, only because these experiences are easy for them and myself understand. My family members are often stuck wondering if I even did any work while in Cape Town. But the true is, I learned so much from the Langrug Working Team, my project partners, CORC, Scott and Bob, I don’t even know where to begin.

Being in Langrug is almost indescribable. Pictures cannot do it justice. A photo may show you the haphazard nature of the shacks Langrug residents live in, or the trash piles that line their streets. Photos may show you adorable children you can’t help to sympathize with and the inadequate sanitation facilities the residents use. But our photos can’t fully capture the sense of vibrancy the community had. It is this feeling of vibrancy, despite issues such as poverty, crime, unrest and disease, that I will remember most about Langrug. True, much of our work in Langrug was frustrating as we tried to make sense of the partnership between the Working Team, Stellenbosch Municipality and CORC. We were often left at a standstill, and I was discouraged about the lack of time we had to make a meaningful impact on the community. Throughout the process, I learned an immense amount about my peers and even more about my own ability (and difficulties) in working in a team project setting. Despite what my facebook Cape Town photos show, not all of my time spent on IQP was fun and games.

Still, as I look at the photos of the WaSH facility continued to be built after we leave, I am reminded of the resilience Langrug’s residents have. The Langrug Working Team’s persistence to keep pushing forward, no matter how slow or how difficult the journey, is humbling. All the while, the Working Team members had a smile on their face and a song in their hearts.

At the end of the day, I can only hope that I made even a small contribution to Langrug’s successful future. But there is no doubt Langrug left an impression on me. Although the Working Team members face hardships I could never understand, their almost constant joy showed me that we all want the same things in life; to sing, to dance, to love and be loved and to most of all, be happy. I feel so lucky to have been able to share this experience with seven incredible, hilarious project partners and seventeen other WPI students I have grown close to. I am thankful for the challenges and learning opportunity IQP has given me, learning things about the world and humanity far more valuable than a normal engineering project.

Brittany Nichols

Since I have been back from South Africa I have been asked to explain my project many times.  Quite honestly I did not believe that it would be so hard to describe what our team was able to accomplish in seven weeks. This difficulty comes from the fact that in two months we were able to accomplish so much. For this one project we were able to work with the community of Langrug to help them with several project.  What is more impressive than how much we were able to get done with the working team was how much the working team was able to teach us.  While we spent our time teaching them different skills to use with their work, they were teaching us about how different people live in informal settlements.

My time in Langrug has taught me so much about how different other parts of the world can be. Our school project is suppose to expose us to different topics other than our main area of study. I believe that our project was able to do just that. The greatest thing that I could have learned was how strong people can truly be. I am grateful for my time in South Africa, the people that I met, and how they changed me.

Megan Dempsey

Since the day I boarded the plane and left Cape Town, the entire IQP experience has felt like a dream: a dream I struggle to remember, a dream that doesn’t seem real and a dream come true. I’ve tried to summarize my experiences for my family and friends, but the complex social aspects usually get lost amongst the tangible outcomes of our project. I prepared a picture slideshow for them in hopes of being able to provide a more concrete method for explanation. However, I found these pictures could not convey the strong smell of the greywater channels on a hot day, the language barriers that were both an obstacle as well as a uniting force, the sound of the Working Team breaking out in song, the feeling of blisters forming on our hands as we shoveled and raked, the palpable tension in many of our partnership meetings in the wendy house, the feelings of accomplishment and pride as we all presented our work to local leaders and the tears of mixed satisfaction and sadness that rolled down many of our faces on the last day. I don’t think I will ever be able to adequately explain the many intricacies of the past seven weeks in Langrug to people I know, on a résumé or even on this website (though these acts do a pretty good job of documenting our general feelings along the way). It is one of those things where you honestly just had to be there, and I’m so glad I got to share that feeling with seven other dynamic, entertaining, incredibly bright students, two dedicated, inspiring advisors and an extremely welcoming community.

Upon arriving back in the United States and starting classes back up at WPI, I find myself feeling a little bit lost. I’ve looked the wrong way before crossing the street. I’ve spelled many words with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’. I’ve been shocked when our waitress immediately brought the check when we finished our meal. I’ve calculated how many rand I would have paid for items in the grocery store. I’ve thought twice about playing Youtube videos for fear they would use up too much internet data. I’ve missed Kholeka’s kind heart, Siyanda’s silly jokes, Phumelisa’s gospel singing, Amanda’s fiery spirit, Khungeka’s unwavering committment, Zameka’s incredible strength, Victoria’s sweet support, Zodwa’s constant laughter, Alfred’s random outbursts and Trevor’s  dedicated leadership. I’ve been thankful for having consistent hot water in the shower, toilets with seats, handles and toilet paper, nutritious food on the table and a stable roof over my head. I think I am most grateful, however, for the chance to receive a higher education at a school where I was afforded the opportunity to have such a unique, fulfilling experience abroad. From the pictures that we’ve received of the work that has been done since we left, it is clear that our tangible project deliverable has been a success. More importantly, though, we succeeded in reigniting a passion for development in a struggling community, uniting a talented group of community leaders, improving relations amongst all parties involved and forming a lasting bond with Langrug. At the end of the day, these intangible outcomes far outweigh the WaSH facility no matter its practicality and innovation. I hope to someday be able to visit Langrug to reconnect with many of the amazing people who were not only my coworkers but my friends.

Ralle Rookey

Upon arriving back in the U.S., I realized that explaining our project to my friends and family is much more of a challenge than I was expecting. So much took place over the two months spent in South Africa, and as badly as I want everyone to know exactly what happened and every little problem that arose, this simply cannot be done. Even despite all the pictures, trying to help someone grasp what working in such a unique environment with such vast cultural differences is like is practically impossible without that person being directly immersed in it themselves. I must admit, during the preparation phase, I was nowhere close myself to understanding the challenge that lay ahead of me. I figured we would get there, all of the stakeholders would come together and agree on a project without any difficulty, and we would move forward with building almost immediately. This, however, was not the case, and trying to help someone understand exactly why informal settlement upgrading projects are challenging is tough.

Despite all of the challenges and moments of frustration that were faced throughout the project, looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel so lucky to have been able to share this unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience with such an amazing group of people. Working so closely and making friends with the community members and leaders of Langrug was amazing in and of itself, but the fact that we were able to do so while helping their entire community with our project is something that I feel so honored to have been able to accomplish. I am just so proud of the entire group of people I worked with and what we were able to do during our short stay in South Africa. I know that very few people have the opportunity to take on a project like this during their lifetime, and it has been an opportunity that will never be taken for granted. This IQP opened my eyes up to so many social and multi-cultural aspects that I never thought I would experience, and while the project may have been challenging both physically and mentally at times, these challenges are what made this entire experience so rewarding in the end.

Tim Erlandson

Even after a month has passed I cannot quite fully wrap my head around this experience. When asked about my trip, I find myself unenthusiastically telling them it was “awesome”, simply because there is no way they can begin to understand the roller coaster ride we endured in a short seven weeks. The person who comes closest to understanding what i went through is my mother, who still calls Langrug a village rather than an informal settlement. I’ve resorted to telling people about my trips and weekend adventures rather than telling them about my project especially because it is easier for me to explain and they seem much more interested.


Looking back now on the project work, even though it is only a month later, I can already see the impact we’ve had and the strength of the relationships we built in such a short time. I have constantly been in contact with Trevor and Jack and they have been sharing their amazing progress on the site by sending pictures and giving me updates on each day’s plans and progress. It was not until then that i realized our project was so much more than a simple construction project that we would leave behind after our seven weeks. Instead, we left our mark on Langrug, the Working Team, and the partnership, and they left an even greater mark on me.