An Unforgettable Journey
“I have seen the mountains at the far
They are tiny yet adorned with an abundance of greenery,
A mild wind blew narrowly over the blue and brown
I listened to the ocean’s heart beating under the golden crown”
Never thought my poetry will get a life in Cape Town. I was exhausted and waiting for the plane to land at the Cape Town International Airport. A while later, it touched the ground and after collecting my baggage, I was amazed by Kholi’s greeting hug with the Take Action Lab banner in her hand. She is part of the local support team in Cape Town and an indispensable part of Take Action Lab.
Before coming to Cape Town, I was in Bangladesh, composing my novel LOVE IS FICTION, writing articles on Medium, and undertaking several leadership courses online. I realized connecting with people through words is more powerful than anything. But these words get a whole new satisfaction when touching the grass of an unknown world. That is what brought me to Take Action Lab. I applied to this program because it offers not only an apprenticeship placement in Cape Town but a promise to utilize the gap year in a meaningful and productive way.
I didn’t get my hopes up at first because I applied just two days before the deadline. Fortunately, they selected my application among hundreds of submissions and I received my acceptance letter in October 2022. I completed all the clearance procedures before beginning the virtual one-month Foundations course in February 2023.
In my opinion, the online sessions served as the foundation for building a bond among curious international youths by respecting their cultural differences and creating an empathetic sense of self-awareness. Undoubtedly, it was an outstanding method to develop a community by remaining open-minded and working collectively towards a common objective of learning about South Africa’s culture, history, and natural beauty.
At the same time, I began preparing the documents for my South African visa. Needless to say, the Global Citizen Year team was very responsive in delivering the necessary documents for visa purposes. However, my experience obtaining a visa from Bangladesh was challenging as I had to obtain it from a different country. After all the trouble, I received my visa and began packing my luggage. As this was my first flight, I had no idea what to pack or how to manage my cash. Fortunately, the Take Action Lab program manual contained all the crucial information that prepared me for Cape Town.
My home during Take Action Lab was on Station Road in the Observatory neighborhood. There are two student houses adjacent to each other, and I got the one with the rooftop view. When entering the house for the first time, I saw many new faces but it felt like home because each member of the house welcomed me as if they had known me for a long time.
Everyone had their room, and I was assigned one upstairs with a tiny view of the mountain’s peak. In the house, I met with Diana Akokpari, the Experiential Learning Manager of Take Action Lab and one of the supervisors for the program. She instructed me on how to set up the South African sim card and what would be our next activities throughout the day.
The rest of the day was spent getting to know the surroundings and the other residences, such as the Red House and the Loft, where half of the students lived. That day, the Take Action Lab team served us both lunch and dinner. One day after our arrival, we had our inaugural dinner party for the entire cohort. It was incredible to meet with everyone and hear from Erin Lewellen, CEO of Global Citizen Year, and other Take Action Lab, team members.
The days that proceeded were likewise spectacular. We toured the city, visited famous gardens, went hiking, and enjoyed the ocean landscapes. The first week was well spent since the Take Action Lab team members arranged every tour and training and the meals were delivered to our houses for the first few days while we got acclimated to our new surroundings. We were also given some food vouchers worth 120 rands to have our lunch or dinner on specific days near Observatory.
Among all the days of the week, Friday was special since the Take Action Lab group organized activities for us every Friday, such as hiking at Table Mountain. The first time hiking was energetic and a great chance to dive into the world of greenery. Though the second hike at the southern suburbs of Table Mountain was a bit tough, it ended sweetly with a cold bath in the dam water at the top of the mountain. On Friday we rode the famed Red Bus. This unique bus tours around the city and has different stops where the visitors can hop in and hop out. I went for the famous wine tour and a beach near the Waterfront.
We were assigned to our apprenticeships at the end of the first week. This was exceptional because everyone was engaged in a variety of occupations, including teaching, farming, packing food for the homeless, working at radio stations, and assisting orphans, the elderly, and children. From the first month, we carried on attending multiple seminars on topics like safety, transportation, healthy relationships, and South African history, as well as beginning to work at our newly matched apprenticeship locations.
In the beginning, I felt nervous about my apprenticeship because I was teaching at Purpose Finder Academy in Wynberg, and adapting to their classroom format was difficult for me. A Zimbabwean lady established this school with the motive to provide education to Zimbabwean immigrants living in Cape Town. I noticed the curriculum was more advanced than what children could easily grasp as I was teaching in grades 3 and 4.
As a result, it required a lot of care and attention to teaching the students, and directing the class to remain silent was a tricky job. However, my apprenticeship supervisor, the principal of that school, was pleasant and understanding. He helped me adjust to my surroundings and build a comfort zone for myself.
As the first month came to a close, the next month started becoming more adventurous because we began to experience a sense of community and acquired a greater knowledge of one another. Living in the same house alongside ten people from the United States, Brazil, India, Columbia, Nepal, Kenya, and Hungary was both intimidating and exhilarating for me. Knowing their boundaries, cultural differences, culinary habits, and mannerisms were all different from mine, yet the community-building mindset in a shared space produced a great sense of connection with my peers.
The sense of belonging has led to care, and this has resulted in a shared understanding of leadership among the cohort members, an understanding marked by unity, dignity, and acceptance. Cultural programs, weekly meetups, traveling, sharing food, and visiting other houses, in my opinion, all have an impact on building camaraderie among the students. Cooking together and sharing meals gave me additional opportunities to bond with my friends.
Soon I began spending more time with my peer group. I wandered in Kirstenbosch Gardens foliage and hiked the gravel trails of Newlands Forest. We expanded our adventuring experience by attempting the three peaks challenge. But I could only do Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain which was a journey of 12 hours in a day. Later, I explored various museums where I saw whale and dinosaur skeletons, and crystals, enjoyed the arts, and learned about the history of African slavery.
One day I went to an astronomical session and got to visit the South African Large Telescope where I saw one of the biggest prisms of my life and some of the historic astronomical equipment. My favorite experience for me was ice skating which was a whole new experience for me.
As time passed, experiencing Cape Town provided satisfaction, but so did being glad for others’ accomplishments. I got up to see my peers jumping for joy because they had been accepted to either some of the best universities in the world or renowned international programs. Take Action Lab brought all these bright young people together and offered us the opportunity to connect so that we could learn from each other and share our knowledge with our communities back home.
The diversity of the cohort has been huge for developing an impactful changemaker mentality, and those outside of our cohort also notice and appreciate this togetherness. To deepen all these emotions and learning, we attended Culture Series every Tuesday, which is a short meetup with our cohort on different topics such as South African food, theater, cultural representation of our countries, spirituality, South African music, and so on.
However, there were some aspects of anticipation and reality that I believe were uncontrollable by individuals. Because we are in a new country, the weather, environment, and people are different, and no one can change that. After being here for two and half months, I have experienced extreme heat and biting cold, as well as rain. I’ve learned the importance of self-awareness and roaming in a group when out after dark to maintain personal safety. In terms of mobility, I believe Uber is the safest option though some other options such as Bolt and inDrive were also available.
For me drinking directly from tap water was new and seeing different species of birds such as sunbirds, honeybirds, and hamerkops, instead of crows and sparrows reminded me for the first few days that I was in a new country. Another surprise was taking a mini-taxi. The tiny taxi can hold 13-15 passengers and is more of a minivan than a taxi, which is the opposite of my country’s taxi.
At one point, it felt like the program mostly involved engaging in the natural beauty, immersing in Cape Town, and working at apprenticeship sites, until Take Action Lab showed us a very different side of Cape Town, which reminded us about Apartheid’s history and the continuing consequences of segregation. We went to the District Six Museum, which told us how the Apartheid regime forcibly relocated over 60,000 of its residents in 1970. The destruction was obvious not in infrastructures but in the lives of those who were affected.
We went to the famous Philippi Village, which helped me realize the plight of untold communities. The downtown of Cape Town is a visual testament of what South African activists were fighting for and what Nelson Mandela battled for, with destitute people, uncleaned roads with tin shed housing, and some areas with high crime rates. The ramifications are still obvious.
I had the luck to hear more about Apartheid and segregation from Kumi Naidoo, a human rights and climate justice activist. The session was the best example of pushing back against a single narrative, as well as a brilliant demonstration of the power of storytelling in informing younger generations about their role in fighting climate crises and corruption.
Eventually, I realized that South Africa is so much more than black and white; it is green and greener than any other country that I have visited. The greenery of the mountain and neighborhoods is not only beautiful but also reminds me of the ways South Africa strives to grow beyond the controversy of race and segregation. The program helped me discover perspectives that can only be sensed in Cape Town, not on Google. I have realized that community building is essential for breaking down prejudices. A sympathetic storyteller’s talent can nourish the inner self, and open new doors, networks, and perspectives. Take Action Lab has opened that door for me, and the key will be placed in the hands of the next cohort.