Zach’s Reflection

I was walking through the Cape Town airport, about to leave the city for the last time, as I saw a large picture on a wall.  A seemingly simple sentence was written on it, “I came here to change Cape Town, but Cape Town changed me.”  To some, that might not seem like much, and I’m sure many people don’t even notice the picture as they walk by.  However, that simple sentence summed up the majority of my IQP experience.

I remember when I applied to the Cape Town Project Centre, I was extremely excited about the types of projects it offered.  I was especially excited to have an opportunity to help others and improve life in Cape Town, which sounded like a good motivation at the time.  However, I found myself unintentionally acting as if I was able to do something that they couldn’t do for themselves.  I had brought several assumptions and stereotypes with me that would soon be blown away.

Looking back at our project, it can be confusing at times for me to understand how we managed to do what we did.  In just five weeks, we answered the community’s requests of building playground and garden elements, designed a final settlement layout, connected the community with several resources to help them in the upgrading process and begin work on a crèche in the future, and more.  However, when I remember that we didn’t do any of that on our own, the way in which it was all accomplished is quickly clarified.  Our partners, or really our friends, from the City of Cape Town, ISN, CORC, and several members within the community are what made this project work.

After our short time in 7de Laan, it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to complete a project of this caliber without significant investment from the community.  When we approached Flamingo Crescent, we were happily surprised by the community and the rest of our partners as they all worked extremely hard towards a common goal of upgrading the settlement.  I had the privilege of lending a helping hand rather than leading the upgrading process.  I got to work alongside others who I previously thought needed my help only to find that their commitment, skills and abilities, and absolute determination to create a better home for themselves proved to be more than anything I could ever offer.  I was humbled.  My stereotypical expectations of communities, such as the one found in Flamingo Crescent, were proven to be significantly flawed.

Now, after having worked with them for several weeks, I see the community as they really are.  With that, it’s clear to me that they will be able to continue the upgrading process alongside our other partners we left behind.  Honestly, that may be the most exciting result of going to Cape Town, not going surfing for the first time, or climbing the beautiful mountains nearby, or exploring Cape Point, or going on a safari, or even jumping off of the world’s highest bungy bridge.  All of that was great, and they’re things that I’ll never forget, but they’re nothing compared to knowing that the work I did was worth it.  I now know that the community I worked with, and sadly had to leave, can thrive in their upgrading process and create a new and improved life for themselves.  That is by far the most rewarding and exhilarating result of my IQP experience.

Now that I’m home, it’s clear how large of an impact South Africa really had on me.  I view just about everything differently, and I’ll always miss the fun times that I had there.  I’ll wish I could drive five minutes to the base of Table Mountain and start climbing, I’ll expect a cannon to blast every day at noon, and I’ll miss working with all of the friends that I made along the way.  Clearly, I will never be able to un-live my experiences.  South Africa left an impression on me that will last forever, and I couldn’t be happier.

“I came here to change Cape Town, but Cape Town changed me.”