Sunday, July 18, 2010
Happy Birthday Mr. Mandela
So, what is my life in South Africa like when there’s no World Cup to watch? Actually, I have no idea! Thankfully, the Women's U20 World Cup just started, so I've been able to get my fix. Last night I watched Mexico dispatch England—El Tri's goalkeeper is only 15 years old! But seriously, most of my time has been split between working at the University of Johannesburg and coaching with the Wits F.C. Juniors teams. Since I’ve written about Wits in my earlier posts, I’ll share a bit about my work with UJ.
Since the beginning of July I have been working as a volunteer in the Office for Community in Engagement, which is part of the Strategic Partnerships Division at the University of Johannesburg. UJ has an interesting history—it is the product of the post-apartheid merger between three existing institutions: Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), Vista University, and Technikon Witwatersrand. UJ currently has four campus in the Johannesburg Area: Auckland Park Kingsway (APK), Auckland Park Bunting (APB), Doornfontein (DFC), and Soweto. Each campus has its own character and history, with a different group of students, staff and faculty, and a different academic focus. In total, UJ has about 48,000 full time students and 3000 permanent employees.
I live on the main campus on Kingsway Ave in the Auckland Park neighborhood. The Kingsway campus is the former home of RAU, and is now the campus with the most students-in-residence. My host here is Adrian Carter, the Deputy Director of Sport at UJ. Technically, I am his only roommate… BUT, he’s got two doggies and a girlfriend (not necessarily in that order). I spent the first few weeks separated from Heidi (Rottweiler) and Nemo (Jack Russell Terrier) by a good set of metal bars. Heidi in particular seemed to think I looked or smelled like a nice steak. Thankfully, she’s gotten over that, and now we are certified besties.
As for the girlfriend… let’s just say that Mr. Carter is a hopeless romantic. On Friday, he talked a few hundred students into forming a giant human "I LOVE YOU," spelled out in an open field on campus. The plan was to fly his girlfriend, Marike, over the field in a small plane—and this was to celebrate their 3 MONTH ANNIVERSARY!!! The students showed up, but unfortunately there was a mechanical malfunction and the plane never got off the ground. I said, "look on the the bright side: would you rather be stuck on the ground, or flying in a plane with a mechanical malfunction?" Ironically, it’s not the first time I’ve watched my roommate fall head over heels for a girl named Marike (or Marika, same pronunciation). In fact, Felix is getting married any day now—CONGRATULATIONS BIZZLE!
Adrian’s place is just a 10-minute walk to Campus Square, a good-sized shopping hub for students and local residents. Another 10 minutes walking will get you to Melville, where 7th Street is home to a nice selection of restaurants, bars, book stores and other shops. Plus, there's some nice street art along the way, courtesy of Pressure Control Projects.
The Office for Community Engagement is located on the Doornfontein Campus, near the Central Business District. I’ve joined a small team at OCE, which works side by side with the Alumni and Development Offices. My boss is Ernestine Meyer-Adams, who actually set me up with everything I'm doing here in Jozi (thank you for the intro, Emmet Carson!). On top of putting me to work at UJ, Ernestine's husband, Grant, is one of the coaches at Wits F.C. Juniors.
Our main project in OCE this month has been coordinating a University-wide initiative in the spirit of Mandela Day. “Mandela Day is an annual celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and a global call to action for people to recognize their individual ability to make an imprint and change the world around them… The Mandela Day campaign message is simple: Nelson Mandela has given 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.”
Our office has designed five community projects based around the Millennium Development Goals, and we have been pushing to get all students, faculty, and staff involved. Although Mandela Day is July 18, on Madiba’s 92nd birthday, our projects last from July 19 – 30, with the hope of building on today’s momentum. Apart from helping with the overall coordination of the initiative, my role has been to design and spearhead the Environmental Sustainability Project. So far, we’ve got almost 200 people signed up to participate in a City Clean Up Day on Friday, July 30.
We put a lot of work in this week going to the different UJ Campuses and meeting with members of each Student Representative Council. Their support has been, and will be, the make-or-break factor in the success of these projects. It was great finally see the Soweto campus, since I live on APK and work at DFC. Actually, it felt a lot like being at SF State—only this time I was passing out flyers for Mandela Day instead of for a Collectiv event.
After a few hours of work on the Soweto Campus we headed to a meeting with the local branch of the Red Cross. As part of the Strategic Partnerships Division, the Office for Community Engagement works to build bridges with organizations throughout the region, country and world. Which brings me to the end of this post! The reason why I’m posting on Sunday instead of Monday this week is because at midnight tonight I will be piling into a van for a whole new UJ adventure. I will be away from my computer for the entire week, but I promise, I’ll get you all caught up in my next post!