Many people have memorable experiences throughout their lifetime, ranging from the celebration of life, the death of a loved one or other remarkable events. An experience in my life that has remained with me till today is my two year’s stay (1995-1997) in Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg? South Africa. I got admitted into college right after high school to study international relations. In this field, it is common for students to go abroad in order to work on social projects, often referred to as “ the voluntary social year”.
One of the criteria for this trip was learning a local dialect in addition to gaining knowledge of the people and the area. I was prepared for everything except for the disappointment I was faced with when I arrived at the Ndebele Girls School, Soweto which was the school the Ministry of External Affairs of my country, Nigeria had arranged for my project year. I found out that my project theme was not to be accepted. The private school in Soweto was not the place to implement all the beautiful ideas I had come with.
One of these ideas was to lead social projects with the school’s upper grade’s whom I found out from my research were not allowed to mingle with other students due to their forth coming national test. They were banned from all extra- curricular affairs including inter school debates and sports. The director of the school who is a Cistercian Nun refused to permit this. She believed that my proposal for inter school socialization was great but feared that their community was not ready for this.
He also thought that parents would oppose the idea because it was too western and against their cultural beliefs. As I started to acclimatize myself to Soweto, I began to realize that there were other ways that I could be of service without burdening the people and thereby make my stay an endearing one. Since the school didn’t need to use me the way I had wanted, I decided to stand on my feet, fend for myself and explore to discover more of Soweto and Johannesburg or Jo-berg, as it is popularly called.
My knowledge of the local Zulu dialect which, I mastered before my trip came to be very useful. I made new contacts and discovered that I could achieve my objective from other means by initializing socialization through teaching. I then decided to stay longer than the required one social year. I came up with the idea to teach conversational English with adults seeking new career opportunities. This sometimes gave me an avenue to share some of my specific knowledge, skills, culture and experiences.
I offered very cheap classes that made it possible for many adults and sometimes children to attend. I began to print posters and put them all over Soweto. Soon many people interested in English classes began to call. At the beginning I was afraid, doubting my teaching and English skills, but I soon developed my own style and slowly the classes turned into a much more structured and organized project. My students were just as motivated as I was. I remember talking to my family in Nigeria and telling them that I never wanted to leave Soweto.
My family were actually fine with this but decided that it would be better for me to return and conclude my studies and that I could always go back to Johannesburg to live and work at a later date. It was so hard to leave Soweto and the students who had become my family. They were my best Friends and I always listened to their stories. Although I did not go back to live in South Africa, I have returned to visit twice since I left on the third of October, 1997. Only with a firm decision and strong conviction in what you do, can you transform a negative experience into a very positive one; one that could even be life changing.