Back to SummaryMarcus Leaks - Student Profile
As a native of California, the opportunity to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa literally took me on the other side of the world. Never had I been outside of North America and here I found myself going to one of the farthest places possible! After over four months in South Africa, I can honestly say I found a home away from home. The people I met and the friends I made have been extremely caring, generous, and truly genuine - welcoming me into their homes, families, and lives with open arms. My entire time has been an immense learning experience and as much as I love Stanford, studying abroad in South Africa was the best way to end my junior year.
Taking courses in Cape Town forced me to analyze my own preconceived notions about public service, social justice, and the effects of foreign aid. My professors challenged me to reflect on my own identity as an outsider coming into a new cultural context and think about my “Americanness” as an asset rather than a liability in order to engage with the issues in this country. I took a class called Public and Community Health in Sub-Saharan Africa with University of Cape Town professor Diane Cooper. After covering topics on both HIV and Tuberculosis, we were given the opportunity to visit a primary health clinic in a township called Guguletu. It was one thing to read about the health disparities or hear about the burden of disease in class; visiting the health clinic put a face to all these issues. No longer was HIV or TB just a statistic. I was both shocked and amazed at the spirit of the people – there was not a sense of panic or hopelessness as might be expected. The resources ranged from HIV counseling to cancer screenings and a fully staffed emergency room. While diseases run rampant in the country and cut short the lives of thousands, there are great people working to fight against that trend and improve the quality of life. It was powerful to see how diligent and passionate the health workers are and inspiring to see that real change is happening to address the pandemic.
What originally attracted me to apply to the Cape Town program was one key component - service learning. I was partnered up with an organization called Making an Impact through Sports (MITS) and worked in two public primary schools in the township Mitchell's Plain. Being back in a public school reminded me of the problems facing public schools back in my hometown - except everything was far more extreme. Budget cuts affected my school's music, arts, and recreational programs. These schools here had to worry about allocating enough money to pay teachers, provide textbooks, and ensure that they have clean water. Money to maintain the school facilities or even buy toilet paper is a luxury - how can one be expected to fund after-school programs and the arts? MITS is an organization founded by a native of Mitchell's Plain that seeks to help with these deficits by bringing in volunteers to work as coaches so that students can receive physical education during and after school. It was incredibly rewarding - MITS even allowed me to incorporate my own passion and background as a hip hop dancer to teach the kids dance. It was fantastic to engage with something I love and give back at the same time. As many problems as there may be in Mitchell's Plain, I have so much love for the community. Many faces come to mind when I think about the positive energy and hospitable nature of the people; despite drugs, violence, alcoholism, educational roadblocks and larger institutional barriers, a vast number of community members fight against the status quo and really seek to make a difference in the lives of young people.
After spring quarter ended, I stayed during summer to pursue a CBPR (community based participatory research) project with an organization called Goedgedacht. Based in the rural communities about 90 km from the city, Goedgedacht has developed several programs to address the needs of these impoverished areas. Issues of alcoholism, broken families, poor education, violence, fetal alcohol syndrome, and disease run rampant in the rural communities. Goedgedacht's Path out of Poverty (POP) program targets the youth in particular and concentrates on building the self esteem, capacity, and skills of the youth in order to help them avoid the damaging behavior of the generations before them. POP does this by sticking with the children from a very early age all the way until they finish school and includes a variety of other projects throughout that time frame. I worked with the director of POP and developed a curriculum for servant-leadership to be incorporated in their existing programs. Words cannot articulate how much I learned about NGOs, community engagement and public service from Goedgedacht. It was inspiring to see the impact Goedgedacht has on these rural communities and working with the young people reaffirmed my passion for youth development.
These are just a few highlights of my experience in South Africa. The country is rich with natural beauty, dozens of accents, and an amazingly diverse culture. I could go on and on about my obsession with koeksisters, my love of Africa time, or the unimaginable way you can make friends with people on the other side of the world that remind you exactly of your friends back home. I am beyond grateful for such an opportunity and I would not be surprised to find myself searching for a way to come back in the near future.