By: Christine Burns ’14
Our last week in South Africa was spent decompressing after the COP, and helping others. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were spent working at Makaphutu Children’s Village. Makaphutu is an orphanage mostly for children affected by HIV/AIDS. These children may have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS, and they may be affected themselves, but you would never be able to tell by their spirit.
Our task while at the orphanage was first to sort through clothing and shoe donations to figure what the orphanage needed, what could be distributed to the community, and what could not be used at all. Then we painted four rooms in one of the cottages that they are trying to renovate, and finally we got the opportunity to assist with a distribution of food and clothes to people out in the community. While the distribution was extremely moving and definitely one of the most memorable parts of the trip; I want to talk about the kids and something that struck me a really interesting.
Most of the kids had been sent to relatives for the holiday, but we did get to spend time with a few kids in between the work we were doing. It’s funny how American culture can reach a spot so far away. A few of us were taking a break from painting, and we sat down with three of the kids to play one of those hand games where you sing a little song and pass the clap along. In the game we were playing, you needed to name a musical artist when it was your turn, and then sing a song by them. I was expecting this to be a very difficult game, because I don’t know any South African artists, but it wasn’t because the kids knew more American artists than I did (which isn’t hard, but I was impressed). We went through singers like Jay-Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, Eminem, Shakira, and Niki Minaj. Not only did they know these names, but they were able to sing many songs by them. It’s crazy to think that eight to twelve year old kids in a country thousands of miles away would be singing a song from here. It just proved to me how influential we can be here in the United States.
Regardless of what anyone here says, the United States is still this symbol to the rest of the world. We saw this in the negotiations when everyone was waiting for the US to commit to Kyoto, and it was evident to me when I was talking to people: at the COP and in the Valley of 1000 hills. The kids still listen to American music, adults pay attention to American politics, and people still look to the US for leadership. I was talking to one woman during the distribution, and she got so excited when I said I was from the US. It totally changed the way she saw me, although in reality it didn’t change anything. One lesson I learned from the Valley, and the entire COP experience is that people of the world still look to the US for leadership whether the US is prepared to lead or not.