Lessons on healing from a South African village - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Accessibility links

Student life

Lessons on healing from a South African village

20 Aug 2018

I am passionate about preserving my Australian Indigenous culture.

I have met many Aboriginal people who are disconnected and struggle with their identity and belonging, so I went to South Africa to see how the Indigenous people are healing from a history of racial segregation.

I wanted to learn their lessons and bring them back home.

Building an education precinct

On my mid-semester break, I left on a six-week Australian Indigenous Classic Wallabies Leadership exchange, funded by the Federal Government to provide young Indigenous Australians with life-changing experiences through volunteering, living and working on community projects.

We worked with not-for-profit group Eco Children, which helps some of the poorest schools in Limpopo and Mpumalanga in north-east South Africa.

There, I helped build an Eco Village. The classroom was already built, but we painted it and refurnished it. We painted one half with South African culture and the other half with Aboriginal Australian culture.

The kids were so happy to see a painted kangaroo on their wall.

We also helped Eco Children improve essential infrastructure, such as libraries, kitchens, toilets and school halls; transforming them into better spaces.

We built 32 keyhole gardens which will be maintained by the school children. We dug the holes, laid the bricks, put soil in and planted vegetable seeds.

The children now have a sustainable garden large enough to feed a whole school.

Sometimes their school lunch might be the only meal they have in a day so these gardens have a massive impact.

Many parents came to help us and some were in the kitchen cooking lunch. After lunch we ended the days playing activities with the children.

The community was very welcoming and willing to share their culture with us. They helped us build the garden and, during this time, we connected and made friendships for life.

They work so hard, we even had kids come in and help us lay bricks. I was blown away by the work ethic in the community.

The village that raises a child

I was also amazed at how connected the community was.

One Aunty said to me “We take care of all our children, we take in our nephews, nieces and grandchildren. If a child is hungry we share, if a child needs somewhere to sleep we take them home”.

Aunties, uncles, grandmother and grandfathers and cousins all contribute their wisdom and assistance to children every day. The community supports each other.

The school kids range from five to 12, and were very smart.

I remember I asked one child about Nelson Mandela and he said: “If it wasn’t for Mandela, you and I would not be here talking today, he brought white and black people together.”

We take care of all our children, we take in our nephews, nieces and grandchildren. If a child is hungry we share, if a child needs somewhere to sleep we take them home.

I was amazed at their knowledge, despite their limited learning opportunities.

These children speak up to four different languages and some kids only start learning English at grade four.

We made some great friendships with the children.

They might not have a lot but they are the happiest and most respectful children I have ever met.

Lessons from Apartheid

I didn’t really know much about aparthied before the trip. Aparthied was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1940s until 1994.

Even though policies have changed now, a lot of white people still have more privileges like better education, higher salaries, and are able to live in wealthier suburbs with access to private health, etc.

The majority of poverty in South Africa is experienced by black people.

Much of what the Indigenous people of South Africa face is similar to what Aboriginal people have lived through in regard to the Aboriginal Protection Act, and today we still face the same issues.

It’s important to share stories and teach the children of the history of their people. If it wasn’t for my Dad telling me what he experienced with the Stolen Generation, I wouldn’t be the leader I am today.

It gives me motivation to make sure my people don’t go through what my father went through.

It is also important to focus on a better future, encouraging and supporting children to excel with opportunities.

We had a closing ceremony, with traditional dancing and foods and it was amazing. When we were leaving, we cried together.

I look back now and I didn’t realise how much impact the community would have on me. We really did become family and that last day at the ceremony is something I’ll cherish forever.

This opportunity has been life-changing.

I learned so much about the connections between South Africa and Australia, through experiences of apartheid, discrimination, racist policy, land rights, segregation, cultural trauma, but also learned strategies for coping, overcoming and healing, knowledge that I can now bring back home.

We had a closing ceremony, with traditional dancing and foods and it was amazing. When we were leaving, we cried together.

The Exchange

Dimity was one of six chosen for The Classic Wallabies Indigenous Exchange program; an innovative Federal Government-funded initiative that provides young Indigenous Australians with life-changing experiences through volunteering – living and working on community projects overseas.

The program aims to enhance the futures of Indigenous young people by facilitating opportunities to explore new social, cultural, sporting and academic experiences.

It is designed to be a beneficial and valuable learning experience for all involved, including the program participants, the communities they volunteer in, as well as the volunteers’ communities when they return to Australia.