This homestay was by far been the most impactful. We arrived in Amatigulu, a rural town about two hours North of Durban on Monday. We began the week by spending the first two days speaking with prisoners who are involved in an NGO called Phoenix Rising. The program focuses on providing counseling, life skill courses and a healthy forum for inmates to not only work through mental and emotional traumas, but also help keep them out of prison once released. We spent the entire two days simply talking with a group of ten to fifteen inmates. Many had a lot of questions for us about our lives in the United States and cultural differences between our countries. What struck me was how every inmate explained how excited they were to speak with us. They often brought up the lack of programs that exist in the facility, which means they spend twenty-three hours of their days inside with limited resources and ways to spend their time. Because of this, they were all extremely grateful to break from their monotonous routines and have their stories heard. One inmate actually spent the past two years working to create an NGO that focuses on establishing sustainable and effective prison programs. It was comical because he originally stated that there is nothing productive to do in prison and that they had to simply wait to get out, but he showed us an extremely impressive packet of the organizations spending budget, goals and plans. He explained that he would begin getting donors for the organization as soon as he was released. When I asked him what spurred his interest in an NGO such as this one, he stated that he had been moved to six different prisons in a two year span and has seen little to no programs in any of them. He was extremely knowledgeable in possible tactics to break the cycle of incarceration such as tackling gang violence. I was not surprised at his intelligence simply because he was incarcerated, but I feel as though many people would have been so the experience just reminded me of the power stereotypes have in how people are seen in society, especially after being arrested and convicted.
The rest of the week was spent with our homestay family. My roommate and I were placed with an amazing family that consisted of thirteen children, nieces and nephews. Our program director warned us that we would not have the same luxuries we were used to during this week such as running water, but as soon as we arrived I realized that this did not fee l rural at all. Yes, we were living on a farm overlooking the Indian Ocean and our family did lack running water, but they had large water containers behind the house so it was quite easily accessible, there was electricity, and our sisters were constantly on their phones. I find situations like this extremely comical, because I can’t help but compare it to the commercials people see in the United States of starving African children. Yes poverty and hunger are extremely present and yes South Africa is currently the most ecumenically prosperous country on the continent, but the way in which people in rural South Africa live their lives is dramatically different than what is portrayed through the media.