By: Christina Grayson

It’s been almost four years since I left home on my first trip to South Africa. The trip changed me and opened my eyes to so much that we cannot fathom independently here in the United States. Since returning, I know I can speak for a lot of former CHOSA volunteers when I say that time and distance can make something so important seem distant. I am grateful for the reminders I can take from a blog I kept while abroad. Below is a snippet of an entry I wrote in 2008 to which I turn to keep the lessons of South Africa fresh and pertinent as I continue my work with children in the United States. My thanks and heart stay with the Children of South Africa and all they continue to teach me through their memory.

“Many of the kids at Baphumelele Children’s Home have never left Khayelitsha before; they all describe it as being ‘huge,’ and they can’t fathom anything greater than it. To end the semester, my group partner and I decided to take the kids on a field trip. The morning of the trip, I received a distressed phone call from Andiswa, one of my 13-year-old students, and discovered that she and most of the children were crying, afraid that the van wasn’t coming to pick them up for the trip. I tried not to laugh as I reassured them that the van was on its way. The game plan was to take the kids to see ‘High School Musical 3’ at the local mall, before having a picnic lunch at the beach. A day of hilarity ensued: Like I said, a lot of the kids had never left Khayelitsha. Andiswa freaked out and clung to me for dear life as we rode the escalator, letting out low groans of fascination and fear the entire time. A bunch of the kids insisted that the movie screen was a wall, then gasped with wonder when the show began. All of them sang along to Troy and Gabriella’s crooning; they knew every last word, even though the movie had just come out. When I took some of the girls to the bathroom, I had to show them how to wait in line for the sink. (Since they don’t get out much, they don’t exactly know these kinds of manners. They did a really good job, though, and later on showed their friends what do to in the same situation.) The excitement continued once we got to the beach, where the kids cheered for the KFC fried chicken we’d brought them. Seeing them run around and enjoy the water, then fall asleep in the sun on their blankets was the sweetest thing. And of course, I shed a few tears as we loaded them back onto the van, saying goodbye for the last time. I’m a little tired of saying farewell to kids I come to love, even in such a short time. But I refuse to stop allowing myself to love them. They’re just too cute, and they give too much love in return.”

Christina Grayson volunteered with CHOSA at Baphumelele Children’s Home in 2008. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 and is now a Teach for America fellow in New Orleans, where she works as an elementary school reading interventionist. Christina participated in our three day Pap and Porridge Fast last December, which brought up many memories of her students, including the one she recounts here.