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(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)

It’s astounding to me that my time here in Durban is nearly up, as I feel that there is so much still that I yearn to accomplish before I pack my bags and travel back to theUnited States. In my farewell post, I want to share some thoughts that I have gathered over my eight weeks here in Wentworth. So without further ado, here they are:

1) I arrived here in Wentworth with distorted perceptions of the South African educational system, as I had been told that the reason why the country’s schools were so poorly rated was because the teachers didn’t care about their students. I was told that they sometimes refused to show up to work if they weren’t feeling up to it, and were only in the industry for the money. This fallacy could not be further from the truth, as each teacher Maddie and I worked with was full of light and dedicated to their jobs. They truly cared about each and every individual that walked into their classroom, and it pained them to see certain children throw away their futures with their unwillingness to learn. Yes, there are indeed institutional problems that inhibit the students from learning, but those problems stem from the government ministers, not the caring, gracious instructors that toil every day to enlighten children at Assegai Primary School.

2) I have truly gained an understanding as to why some individuals are troublemakers at school, something which I never once considered while I was growing up in my hometown of Holmdel, New Jersey. Many kids here in Wentworth live in domestic situations that are far from ideal, and that puts it mildly. Some of their parents are simply uninterested in their lives, meaning that they do not care if they fail classes, receive detentions, or participate in substance abuse. Quite honestly, I have no idea how some of these children arrive at school with such bright smiles on their faces even when their homes are filled with darkness. Before they can even begin to realize their passions and strive to achieve their goals, life kills their dream and sets them on a path towards the shadows. During my time at Assegai, I was fortunate enough to make friends with the biggest troublemaker in the school; he indeed came from a rough family situation, and I only hope that he will continue to use his bright, infectious smile and steer clear of the abyss.

3) There are so many children that dream of a better life beyond the barriers of the old policies of apartheid that still exist to this day, and it pains me to see them realize how the deck is stacked against them. In this area, the coloured people still fight for assistance that was promised to them when the shackles of inequality were supposedly struck from their wrists in 1994. They were promised a better life for all South Africans, but basic amenities are still withheld from the Wentworth community for no reason other than politics. It’s sickening, as government officials are doing nothing else but crippling the leaders of today and demoralizing the dreamers of tomorrow by not supporting their brightest ambitions and providing them the resources they require to succeed. Many of these children long to see the world that awaits them, but will never have the opportunity to live their dreams because of the extensive corruption that exists within the country.

4) It’s amazing how desensitized these children have become to their surroundings in this community, as many of them have been exposed to events that would have surely stunted my development in my adolescence. Quite simply, no child should have to grow up in a community so rife of drugs and weapons, but sadly, the children of Wentworth are exposed to such darkness regularly. At Assegai, several students who grew up in the flats described to me how they have seen their windows being shot out during gunfights, how they have had to grab all of their prized possessions and flee after a bomb was discovered in their complex, and how they have witnessed their friend’s father selling drugs in the unit next door. It is so upsetting that these children wake up every day surrounded by gloom, but even more so that this darkness has become part of their daily life. They were able to tell me these stories as if they were no big deal, as if it was normal for a twelve-year-old boy to witness their neighbor injecting illegal substances into his body. I admire so greatly those students who succeed in the face of all of those inhibitions, as they have the courage to push through the shadows in search of a well-lit passage and the audacity to dream of a better future for themselves.

I know that these observations paint a depressing picture of life in Wentworth, but I have hope that the diamonds hidden amongst the rough will someday emerge and combat the inequality that stunts the growth of their community. The students who work so hard in hopes of attending university give me faith, as these brave individuals are the future of this young nation still struggling to embrace its rainbow identity. Individuals such as the Bassier family giveme faith, as they showed me nothing but love and acceptance during the two months I spent occupying a space in their beautiful home. And finally, the teachers of Assegai Primary school give me faith, as they truly see the potential of the next generation and work every day to aid them embrace their strengths and achieve their dreams.

Thank you for reading,

Travis J. Closs

*Note: Yes, the title of this post was inspired by a speech from one of America’s presidents.