YFU Switzerland

Cultural Exchange in South Africa

Michaela’s testimony, Cultural Exchange

from the left: Ida from Finland, Joshua from Germany, Yuri from Germany and me

from the left: Ida from Finland, Joshua from Germany, Yuri from Germany and me

At the end of February 2016, I was on my way to the Cultural Exchange. I was unbelievably excited about it. It was a huge opportunity to experience the culture and the lifestyle of people who live isolated and with a limited amount of luxuries and even necessities.

My host family even though a lot more people stayed in the house

My host family even though a lot more people stayed in the house

The first day was difficult for me. I realized that my host family could not speak English, beyond a few words. Only my host sister was able to hold an easy conversation. Another difficulty I faced was not being able to use water as much as I was used to. For example, there is no running water, so there are neither water toilets nor showers. People have to hope and pray for rain, so that they can get enough water for bathing.

The house I lived in had no proper roof or floor. Cooking outside was totally normal, because they did not want to use electricity for anything besides lights and a freezer. But I could get used to those things very fast. The only hard thing was the weather condition. It was extremely hot, so much that I sometimes felt like I was about to melt! It was incredible; I had never felt like this before.

But even that was not the biggest shock. The most difficult part of it was that I missed showering, but the people living here have to live like this every single day, not just for two weeks, but still they never complain. That gave us (Ida from Finland, Joshua and Yuri from Germany and me) a big motivation push. Anytime when we felt like this was too hard, we would remind each other that the locals live like this, and we should not be complaining.IMG-20160429-WA0007

Luckily, from the very first day, the school we attended was really great. All the students and the teachers were so happy that we were there. For the two weeks, we had almost no classes at all! For us exchange students, this was really cool, but for the local students with exams right at the end of the year, it is really hard. The teachers were in the school most of the time, but they simply did not feel like teaching, so they stayed in the teachers’ room all day. In my opinion, this is so unfair because most students want to learn, but they do not get a good chance. As I said before, foIMG-20160429-WA0004r us exchange students it was totally fine; we had a lot of time to talk, take pictures and dance.

A traditional ritual

A traditional ritual

During school time, we learned a lot about the local people’s lives. Our afternoon activities were also enjoyable. I spent most afternoons with the other exchange students, their host siblings and their friends. We went all together to town several times using taxis, which was a totally African experience! Also, went to a traditional healer, who read our future, taught us traditional dancing, let us try on their SiSwati clothes and made a ritual for us. I think that this was one of my favorite days. In the evening, I often went to different churches. Those with a lot of singing, clapping and dancing were just wonderful.

I have to say, in the beginning I counted the days. But after a week, the time went so fast, that I was really sad to leave after the two weeks. In the end, the difficult circumstances did not matter anymore. I was just really thankful for all that I could experience and learn. We had an amazing time without mobile phones, showers, fast food, etc.

And, I say it again, we were totally thankful for all the experience we got, all the people we met and all the things we learned. The Steenbok people were so kind to us; I had never seen such caring people before. They will always have a place in my heart.

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Profile of Nondumiso – Michaela

Nondumiso is a seventeen year old girl from the deep rural area of Steenbok, Mpumalanga. For two weeks, she was my neighbour, classmate and friend. I would love to tell her story.

Nondumiso Ndlovu was born on the 16th of January 1999. Directly after her birth, her mother, Angel, gave “Ndumy” to her grandpa, who is staying in Steenbok, because she was not able to look well after her, and give her all that she needed. Nondumiso never met her father, so her mother did not have any financial support. Luckily, Nondumiso had her wonderful grandparents, with whom she grew up. Unfortunately, her grandma died when she was five years old.

When Nondumiso was eleven years old, her mother, who had been visiting her every Friday at her grandpa’s place, so that they would not lose contact, fell in love and married after a few months. Because Nondumiso’s mother and stepfather were both working, they could afford to take her to Nelspruit in their little home. She loved her parents and was incredibly thankful to spend so much time with them.

But sadly, both of them left the world way too early. In 2012, her mom died in a car accident, and her stepfather passed away because of an illness just one year later.

The town half an hour away from Steenbok

The town half an hour away from Steenbok

Since then, Nondumiso has been staying in Steenbok again, with her loved 71 year old grandpa who is a chief. That means that he is responsible that everyone in Steenbok sticks to the rules. Together, they go to church, which gives them hope.

As you can see, Nondumiso’s life was often hard and difficult. But because of her religion and her best friend, Nuguanda, who is more like a sister to her, she never lost her hope and her big dreams. Her biggest dream is to become an actress. When she was in grade 7, she won an award for “best actor in Mpumalanga Grade Seven”.

Ndumy is an incredible, strong girl, who never gave up on her hopes. It does not matter which stones the life pushed in her way, she will never stop believing. She will maybe fall but also always stand up again. I would not be surprised to see her in few years in a television soap.

Thank you so much Nondumiso for telling me your story. I will never forget you.