Thursday, August 5, 2010

Building Roads in Lesotho, Traveled back to South Africa

Greetings from Kestell, South Africa-

Our group returned to South Africa last night after a few wonderful days in Lesotho. We once again worked with a local community to repair a road to their village. Our first day in Lesotho, Sunday, we went for a long hike to some cave paintings that were created 27,000 years ago! We then continued our hike heading to a waterfall and taking a dip in the chilly mountain waters.

On Monday and Tuesday, we spent both full days repairing a local road. We dug out rocks, filled in dirt, cleared culverts, and smoothed out roads; we were all amazed at what we were able to accomplish! We shared lunch with the community both days, feasting on pap, chicken, samp, spinach, cabbage, and a few other local dishes. I think our students also gained an appreciation for different types of service works as we had spent most of our earlier program working with kids. We had a few nice discussions on the merits of seeing tangible results (a new road) in our service work versus working with the children we have spent time with throughout our program.

Next we headed back to Karma Backpackers in Kestell to gear up for our final few days. Thursday morning we drove to Durban to work with a youth home for that afternoon and Friday. We are hoping to catch a few hours at the beach in Durban on Saturday morning before making our way back to Johannesburg to have our final banquet and prepare for the flight home.

Spirits remain high and Sarah and Thatcher continually marvel at the efficiency and power of the group - these kids are simply amazing in how quickly they have all come together and the great things they have accomplished.

Student Notes:

Cole -
has been stepping up to help out whenever we're in a tight place. When we had to change a tire on Sarah's van (three times!) he worked with Thatcher and Sarah to change it. When we did a huge grocery shopping trip before heading into rural Lesotho, he did the difficult task of organizing and packing the many refrigerated items to fit into our small cooler. He woke up extra early to help cook a fabulous breakfast the other day in Malealea, even though it wasn't his turn to cook.

Emily - Actively engages with local people wherever we go. On our hike in Lesotho, she walked up front with the guide, asking him questions about his life and Basotho culture. The leaders love how she takes initiative and continually involves herself in the community.

Emma - volunteered to work up at the top of the road we were repairing in Lesotho, the only one in our group working in that spot for a while. She labored alongside local women and made the effort to befriend them, despite the language barrier.

Dorian - is still helping out all the time: from cooking, to cleaning, to even learning from Sarah how to keep the group budget excel sheet balanced. He is a constant, active participant, keeping us on track with what we need to be doing, and keeping us entertained with his wacky statements and singing in the van.

Julia - was nervous to climb the long chain ladder up the side of the mountain during our hike in the Drakensburg Mountains, but she stepped up and conquered her fear, and cheered on others to do the same. During our road project in Lesotho, she took on the job of raking, and evened out huge amounts of dirt and gravel to make a smooth road for the village.

Meghan - continues to be an incredibly positive force in the group. She stepped up as a leader and helped us decide how far we wanted to hike on our frist day in Lesotho - and she got the whole group to agree to go for the longer distance hike in a very positive way. She is a great friend to everyone and helps keep the group positive and energetic even when people are tired after long days of work. She did a fantastic job at the road project in Lesotho, connecting with locals and repeatedly unloading entire pickup truck loads of dirt onto the road we were working on.

Megan - was very supportive of all her peers - espeically Dorian - during the ladder climb in the Drakensburg Mountains. She really enjoyed our hike to the waterfall in Lesotho and is an extremely intelligent and motivated young lady. She did a great job using the pick axe to deepen the drainage ditch on the side of the road we were working on in Lesotho.

Francesca - connects really well with the young kids whenever we work with groups of children. She loves nothing more than spending time with young children and we love hearing stories about her work at orphanages in Bolivia. Her aunt and uncle joined us for dinner in Durban on Thursday night and we had a great time.

Andrea - is fun, funny, and enthusiastic; a constant positive force. She was Leader of the Day in Lesotho and did a great job motivating the group to get ready in the morning. She leads through clear, energetic communication as well as by example, volunteering for countless group tasks herself, as well as facilitating others to do them.

Maggie - took on our road building project in Lesotho with zeal. At first, the locals would see her small size and try to take her shovel or wheelbarrow away and help her. But she assured them over and over that she was capable of working alongside them, until eventually one woman smiled and said, "thank you," and they let her do the work - and work she did!

Alex - whether he's hiking up a mountain, building a road, cooking an early morning feast, or just riding for five hours in the van, Alex takes on each activity with enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and energy. He is a wonderful traveling companion and inspires us with his positivity.

Jaque - when we were working on the Lesotho road, Jaque took on the challenging and essential task of unclogging the culvert running under the road, connecting drainage ditches on either side. To do this, the village gave him just a long, heavy metal pole. It took some serious time and perseverance, but he did it! And he was a huge force in completing the road project during our two days there.

Becca - volunteered to spend time with the very young children at the Arayan Benevolent Home. She really enjoyes her time in structured service projects. The leaders love the wonderful suggestions she comes up with for ways the group can thank people along the way, like when she picked out a bouquet of flowers for Vera Anne as a thank you gift for hosting our group. She also did a nice job of breaking up dirt on the hillside, which we then used to smooth out parts of our road that we were filling in with rocks.

Pictures - new ones have been posted!

Friday, July 30, 2010


Pictures have been posted! There is a small slideshow in the right column. If you click on the photo, it will take you to a larger version of all the pictures in an online Picassa album.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Eagles have Swazi-landed

Greetings from Mbabane, Swaziland!

Our group is currently teaching at the SOS children's village. SOS is an orphanage and school that we have worked with for several years. They are currently in the middle of their final exams, so our students have been proctoring and helping to grade the exams, as well as teaching a bit here and there when there is some down time in the classroom.

Our time in Soweto wrapped up with a Poetry Slam with local artists that we hosted at our hostel. It was a great time to share music and poetry, and I think it provided some great closure to our Soweto experience.

On Saturday we completed our 5 hour drive to Swaziland without a hitch. Sunday we made it to a local craft market for some souvenir shopping then headed up to SOS to lead some games with the kids on their football pitch.

Tomorrow we are heading to a game park in the morning and then will be staying with our friend Fiki and camping out at his farm house in Nhlangano, Swaziland. Everyone is really excited to camp!

I must admit that this is the healthiest I have ever seen a group at this point in our travels. We purchased two giant bottles of hand sanitizer for each van and I really think it has helped out... knocking on wood as I type this.

Our students remain happy, healthy, and motivated as we enter the second half of our program.

The BSA 2010 Crew

Monday, July 26, 2010

Awesome Student Blurbs!

We had our first day at the SOS Children's Village yesterday. We were mobbed by happy, excited kids. It was wonderful and exhausting.

Becca Brown has delighted the group by sharing a little of her unique, synaesthetic perspective on the world (for example, she associates words with specific colors and tastes, and at dinner one night she told us what each of our names looks and tastes like!). She taught all of the kids to make paper flowers one afternoon at the Umbuyisa School of Art in Soweto, and led our group and the Soweto artists in helping the kids make their own flowers.

Julia Dioguardi was great at bonding with the local artists in Soweto. One of the artists gave her and Francesca a lesson on how to draw portraits of faces. She has been wonderful at connecting with the kids we're working with. One boy was particularly difficult to deal with, but she worked with him and was able to get him to listen and play well with our group and the other kids.

Alex Goldberg is friendly and thoughtful to all. He reaches out to people who look in need of a little extra friendliness. He is always engaged and ready to share his opinions, asks our museum tour guides great questions, and actively participated in the discussion we had with the artists in Soweto about past and present political dynamics in Southern Africa and the world.

Emma King is constantly engaged in whatever the group is doing. She has already learned some words in Zulu/siSwati to help her communicate with local people. She was a wonderful, quiet presence at the sometimes chaotic Umbuyisa School of Art, and tirelessly helped kids with art projects. Our group conspired with the Soweto artists to screen print a birthday t-shirt for her. Other birthday highlights on Saturday included a decorated bed and breakfast table when she woke up, and homemade pizza for dinner!

Andrea Portillo had flight delays that made her join the group a day late in South Africa, but made a seamless transition into the group on day 2. She is kind and helpful to everyone, and even volunteered to clean off all our food when the yogurt leaked in the cooler on the way to Soweto. Talk about taking one for the team!

Jaque Liu joined the group on our fourth day in South Africa, but had no problems fitting right in—by his second day it was like he was always here! He's been great at talking to and learning from local people, and asking good questions. He’s really looking forward to our time this week in Swaziland.

Maggie Dagrosa has a positive attitude that is contagious. When we're playing with kids she is often to be found running around having fun, surrounded by a crowd of them. She made a close connection with a young boy at the Umbuyisa School of Art, who sought her out every day we were there.

Megan Sayther has been taking full advantage of opportunities to connect with and learn from local people. She bonded with the artists in Soweto and learned words in the local dialect from them. Kids seem to flock to her, both in Soweto and now at the SOS Children's Village in Mbabane.

Meghan Degnan is coming into her own as a leader. She knows a lot of games and has been great at teaching them to our group and to the kids we work with. As a Windsor Mountain travel veteran, she’s a key member of our group, and has done a stellar job adapting to new challenges in South Africa.

Dorian Escobar is always looking for ways to step up and help out. There has hardly been a night when he didn't help with cooking dinner, even when he wasn't a cook of the day. When we were driving to Soweto and had to take a detour, he was a great navigator, and helped figure out how to get our vans around the construction and back on track.

Francesca Hartmann is warm and friendly to all, and wonderful with the kids we work with. She helped an endless stream of kids screen print shirts last Friday at the Umbuyisa School of Art. She is wonderfully open about sharing with the group about what her life and culture are like back home in Bolivia.

Cole Eckes is a lovely presence in the group. He is kind and always ready to play a game, or help when someone asks. He made his cheese and potato soup recipe last night, which was a big hit. Like Megan, Cole is a Windsor Mountain Travel veteran, which is really helpful to the leaders since he’s familiar with how we do things, and is always there when when we need him!

Emily Holland is a solid leader in the group. She brought a couple of African World Cup songs with her on her mix cd, and it has helped the group connect with local people to know these songs in common. She throws herself fully into every task before her, be it making crepes for dinner, leading a game for a group of kids, or learning about South African history at the Apartheid Museum.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Exploring South Africa

Greetings BSA 2010 Family and Friends,

We are wrapping up our time at Shoestrings backpackers in Joburg and preparing to head to Soweto tomorrow morning. We have had an action packed few days and everyone is fully immersed in our program, healthy, and happy to be here!

On Saturday we drove to the Constitution Hill museum in downtown Johannesburg. Here we took a tour of the prison that housed many political prisoners including Winnie Mandela during the Apartheid era. This is also the location of the Constitution Court, which is the highest court in all of South Africa. We returned to our hostel that afternoon and then walked over to the Gautrain which is the new high speed train and took that down to Mandela Square. We walked around the square for a bit and then had some ice cream and returned back to the hostel.

Sunday found us checking out the Apartheid museum, which is a fantastic educational experience exposing all of our students to the harsh realities of the Apartheid era while also examining the relatively peaceful end that Mandela and the ANC worked to bring to an end to in the early 90s. I think we all learned a great deal and I feel that this museum lays a nice foundation for our service work throughout the duration of our program. We then headed as a group to the grocery store to restock our supplies and ate a delicious "American style" meal of burgers and fries!

Today we drove to the town of Klerksdorp and visited an orphanage for HIV/AIDs orphans. We also had a great talk with a local nurse about the HIV epidemic in South Africa. Our students were thrilled to visit with the children and play games in the yard of the orphanage. After this we went over to a hospice and visited some very sick patients. I think it was an eye opening experience for all of us, but it was rewarding to see the smiles on the children's and patient's faces as we spent time with them.

Tomorrow the final student of our group joins us in the early morning and then we head to Soweto to work with the Umbuyisa School of Art and visit the Hector Pietersen museum.

Group morale remains high and we have all stayed healthy for the first few days as we shook off our jetlag.

Good night from Joburg,
BSA 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Safe and Sound in South Africa

Greetings family and friends of Bridge Southern Africa 2010,

We just completed our first day of the program with our evening discussion. We are still awaiting our final two members of the group to join us - one of whom is arriving later tonight, and another student who will be meeting up with us early next week. Everyone is happy and healthy and bonding together already. Many movies were watched on the flight and some of us were even able to catch a few hours of sleep.

We arrived this morning and met up with Sarah and a few other students at the airport. Today was mainly spent acclimating to the cold but sunny climate in Joburg and getting to know each other better. We ate lunch when we arrived at the hostel, took a quick power nap, and then walked to a local sunny park to throw the frisbee and go over some of the details of our program. Tonight we had a giant pasta meal and some delicious brownies. We're heading to the Constitution Court museum tomorrow and then plan on taking the new high speed train into Mandela Square to explore some different parts of Johannesburg.

It's pretty chilly here, but definitely warms up in the sun. We are having a great time already and are looking forward to all the awesome days ahead!

Good night from Johannesburg!
Bridge Southern Africa 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Off the Ground!

The Bridge Southern Africa trip officially began today! Those on the group flight took off a few minutes late, around 11:30, this morning and are in the air as I write this. says they are about 19,000 feet up and scheduled to land in approximately 10 hours. Trip leader Thatcher is with the group on the flight and leader Sarah is already in Johannesburg waiting to meet the rest of the students who are flying in separately.

The first few days in South Africa are going to include lots of rest and jet lag adjustment time and plenty of group activities and get-to-know-you games. On Sunday, they will be introduced to some serious South African topics during a tour of an AIDS hospice and a pre-school for orphans and low-income children.

If you have any questions throughout the trip, please don't hesitate to email or call us., or 603-478-3166 (9am-5pm), 603-478-5251 (after hours).