Reflecting on Relationships: Insights Gained and Lessons Learned


In order to complete this project effectively with our co-researchers, we sought to form close relationships that would allow for open communication and learning by both groups. We sometimes struggled in forming these relationships, but in the end they led to us gaining valuable insight into our project and to growing personally.

With the help of our advisors and Vuyiswa, one of our Sizakuyenza liaisons, we developed a plan to work with a few co-researchers twice a week, known as the peer teachers, who would then teach a larger group, known as the pilot trainees, on the two other days of the week. This plan was central in preparing the women to eventually teach other members of the Women’s Networking Group without additional help. Initially, most of our conversations with both the teachers and the pilot trainees were shallow because we were unsure how to overcome language and social differences. After a few weeks of working with our co-researchers, Vuyiswa suggested we start playing games. These games gave new energy to our relationships and got us laughing and singing together. The women were all able to break out in song together while we just sat back and watched. Although we couldn’t participate, we were able to partake in their joy and form a bond through the shared experience. We realized that how we felt in that moment must be exactly how the women felt when we were working with them on the computers. In retrospect, we should have given them the upper hand much earlier on to reduce that feeling of inadequacy.

In completing activities to get to know our co-researchers, we found that our relationships had value beyond the tangible outcomes of our project. The questions we originally planned to ask were all project specific, but we learned more from the conversations that arose from asking questions about their lives. For example, we were able to engage in more conversations with Sylvia while riding with her home from work. We learned about her personal relationships as well as difficulties she faces. Specifically, she told us that giving her a ride on our CTPC bus back to town not only saved her significant time, but also money. Transport for Sylvia and many other community members of townships is a major concern; it helped us see not only the struggle to find jobs, but also the struggle to get to a job.

Our relationship with Sbu, our fourth co-researcher, was the most unique relationship we formed throughout our project. He not only played an integral part in the orchestration of our project, but also became a source of insight into the “real South Africa,” as he called it. While our friendship was built on our similarities that came with being roughly the same age, our personal growth came from learning about his life and everyday realities that come with growing up in Philippi. Sbu gave us a fresh perspective that helped us with teaching and creating the map, while also helping to address the language barrier associated with computers. Befriending Sbu happened very organically, yet he expressed on many occasions that we were shattering stereotypes by coming from America and interacting so easily with him and the ladies. Sbu reminded us daily of some of the deeper implications of our project and said that just by coming to Sizakuyenza and being engaged, he believed we made an impact in people’s lives. He also played a role in the understanding of the whole project centre by weighing in on presentations and leading discussions.


Even though at times we felt distant from our co-researchers, there were still moments of raw emotion. After a member of the Sizakuyenza community died suddenly, we were invited to a “moment of silence.” Everyone sang and read the bible together, which made us realize that this is probably a common occurrence in their culture. While we worked at Sizakuyenza, four people close to those we worked with passed away, and it was numbing to see how frequently, yet how well, the people in this community dealt with something so harsh. We will never understand what our co-researchers have been through or what they will go through, but just seeing glimpses was enough to realize how strong they truly are.