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South Africa

Togetherness: Viewing Service-learning in post-apartheid South Africa through the lenses of transitional justice, Ubuntu, healing and reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa

2014 South Africa Cohort

2014 South Africa Cohort at Cape Point.

Quick Facts:

What/Where:  Service-Learning Trip to South Africa – click to view the SA Itinerary

When: 14 May to 24 June 2017

Who:  All Vanderbilt Students. Click here to read blog entries from the 2017 cohort

Why: Read about it below

How much: $5,400 excluding flight – see here for details of sources of funding.

Project Leader: Dr. Clive Mentzel

Application requirements:

  • Online application
  • Resume
  • Financial aid form, including FAFSA (if applying for financial aid)

Click here to download a PDF of the OACS Financial Aid Application. This form should be completed and submitted along with your FAFSA when you apply for the program. Please note that all students applying for financial aid assistance through OACS must also apply for aid through the Nichols Humanitarian Fund. Nichols applications are also due November 15th.

Click here to apply!

Project Background:

Led by the Director of OACS and affiliated faculty member in the Departments of Political Science and Medicine, Health and Society and Africa at A Crossroads, Dr. Clive Mentzel (a native South African), the service project in South Africa is aimed at understanding the systemic injustices deeply entrenched within society post the racist and oligarchic apartheid dictatorship that existed in the country until 1994.  Despite democratization and the dismantling of apartheid in 1994, the legacy of its brutal political oppression continues to afflict South Africans, and millions still suffer the ramifications of the brutal and oppressive past. These include, but are not limited to, desperate poverty, little or no access to basic services such as water and sewage systems, lack of access to basic health services, and inadequate educational opportunities. The overall intent of the South Africa Project is, within the context of a faculty-led and mindful and reflective experience, to provide a dynamic opportunity for Vanderbilt students to engage in meaningful service in some of the most marginalized areas of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  For some students this is also a powerful and immersive way to understand what it means to be a society in transition, as South Africa’s transition away from its apartheid past is unique and insightful for those wishing to understand, through the lens of service, the nature of the transitional experience first-hand.

Project Detail:

The project takes place from 14 May to 24 June 2017.  There are three phases to the project.  Phase 1 is the preparatory Phase, Phase 2 is the immersive experience itself, and Phase 3 involves student support provided by OACS staff post the immersive experience. For a visual representation of this pedagogical approach, click here.

Phase 1:  Preparing for the experience:

The project starts with a series of preparatory seminars in the Spring semester, all of which collectively ensure that students are well-prepared for the immersive experience lying ahead.  A more detailed program can be found here (uploaded shortly); what follows is a summary.

Alternatively, if you want a comprehensive and in-depth preparatory experience, you can take Dr. Mentzel’s class, The Transition to Democracy in South Africa.  This is recommended for students who want a comprehensive understanding of apartheid, its abolition and post-apartheid reconstruction and reconcilitation, including a detailed look at the truth and reconciliation commission.  For students interested in conflict resolution, you can take Dr. Mentzel’s class on transitional justice and conflict resolution in the fall.

Seminar I: MLK Weekend of Service

Group Service: All-cohort service activity during the MLK Weekend of Service on January 17th.  The South Africa Cohort will meet for breakfast with those going to Quito, Rabat and London participate in a get to know you activity for a half an hour before departing to the service site, where we will meet up with the other cohorts.  There will be a follow-up guided reflection session for all program cohorts in the OACS lounge.

Seminar II: Political/Social/Economic Context of South Africa – a lecture, discussion and reflection session led by Dr. Clive Mentzel

Seminar III: International Development and Service-Learning – a guest lecture by Vanderbilt Faculty yet to be determined.

Seminar IV: Setting Expectations for the Service Experience – led by Dr. Clive Mentzel

Students who have participated in this project previously, available students will return to give advice and reflect on their experience last year. They will answer logistical and practical questions as well as the more nuanced experience students can expect to have, especially as it relates to US student experience in an international community with values and norms that may be different than here in Nashville and at Vanderbilt.

Seminar V: South Africa: Current Day Context – lecture and discussion led by Dr. Clive Mentzel

Seminar VI: Power and Privilege – led by colleagues in the IICC Department.

The aim of this session is to facilitate a discussion and activity around power relations in the context of international service learning. Students will reflect on their own identity and how their lived experience will impact their experience in both how they are received by others and their own personal experience.

Seminar VII: Risk Management – led by colleagues in risk management.

All cohorts travelling internationally undergo risk management training by OACS staff, VUPD, PCC, DOS, and any other relevant departments.  This session includes final Procedures/Itinerary Review and site Leaders review any final country-specific information related to policy, procedures, itineraries, or risk management.

This is followed by a Teambuilding and Cookout/Party: Final teambuilding exercise with all cohorts followed by a cookout to see everyone off!

Phase 2:  The Experience itself:

A detailed itinerary can be found here: SA Itinerary.  Centered around four solid weeks of service immersion in Port Elizabeth, the project starts with a few introductory days in Johannesburg, all aimed at introducing and orienting the student in-country.  This includes reflection and discussion following visits to Soweto, the Apartheid museum, the Constitutional Court and Prison number 4 (on which the Court is built).

We then drive down to Port Elizabeth, stopping in Bloemfotein (the Judicial capital of the country) and Cradock, where we overnight in the nearby Mountain Zebra Park.  Arriving in Port Elizabeth the next day, four weeks of service start in all earnest.  Coupled with reflection sessions led by local expert Andrew as well as language lessons in Xhosa and Afrikaans, students spend their days serving at one of two sites – Missionvale and Kurios Trend Community Resource CenterDescriptions of what students can expect by way of service are included below.

Following four weeks of service in Port Elizabeth, we will travel along the Garden Route to Cape Town, where students will stay in a hostel in the heart of the city. This is the capstone period, and students can also expect to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of his 27 years, as well as other historical sites of significance to the country’s social, cultural and political history.

Serving at Missionvale – Overview:

Missionvale offers the following services to the local community and students typically help out in many of these areas depending on need at any given time:

PRIMARY SCHOOL:  Missionvale Care Centre Academy

We believe that education is the only ticket out of poverty and community transformation. Our school incorporates the principles of an Academy into its curriculum and focuses beyond the academic phase by preparing the child for the world outside Missionvale. This fosters a confident and inspired child via vocational training in small workshop environments, supervised sports, and exposure to the arts through drama and music.

Missionvale Care Centre Academy is an independent community school that believes in teaching whole life education as a vehicle for community transformation and upliftment.  While the main focus is on children, the school also focuses on equipping parents / guardians as well as youth and adult basic education.

We teach the 3 H’s which are:

HEAD (Academics)

HEART (Character and moral values)

HANDS (Skills, physical education, music, arts and culture)

We believe that teaching these will result in well-balanced productive citizens who will make positive contributions in the community.

The school runs from Junior Grade R – Grade 7 and accommodates 300 learners

Extra Mural Activities:  Chess, Choir, Music, Ballroom Dancing, Sport

In the afternoons our school becomes an Adult Basic Education & Training (ABET) Facility.  This gives an opportunity to individuals who did not have the chance to complete their schooling as children, to obtain their matric and become more employable.


Our after-school program helps provide children a fun, safe and enriching alternative to life on the streets after school with the goal to strengthen their ability to face the harsh reality that has been dealt to them. In addition to educational and sports activities the children receive a sandwich and juice. This part of the program is so important because many of these children will not be given a proper meal until the next day when they come to the Centre again.


Just as we strive to give children the basic skills they’ll need to lift themselves out of this poverty, we also provide adult education and skills development programs including vegetable gardens and crafts unit.  We have had great successes with these programmes and the skills gained in these areas have equipped hundreds of people with the tools they need to provide for their families.


The Community Gardens provide a wonderful opportunity for people of Missionvale to learn a new skill while producing a variety of vegetables. The gardeners are provided with their own garden plot, seeds, fertilizer, and the necessary tools and water to maintain the garden. They tend to their seasonal vegetables which may include corn, carrots, cabbage, spinach, onions and tomatoes. Many of the gardeners take their harvest home to their family while others produce enough donate to our Nutrition Unit. This helps transition some of the people away from the daily food program of bread and soup powder and create more of a self-sufficient environment for them.

In addition to our communal garden on the Centre’s premises, we have started vegetable gardens in the township.  This is no easy task as there are many challenges in Missionvale:  there are only 16 taps providing water for the entire community, the salt content in the ground is three times as saline as seawater and due to roaming farm animals, all vegetable gardens have to be fenced in.


The ladies of the Crafters Unit work very hard every day on a variety of projects including curtains, placemats, hand bags, aprons, pillows and more. These items are then sold at the Missionvale Care Centre as well as at market days held at the Centre. As the women are taught the basics of sewing and become more adept at these skills they have an increased chance of becoming employed by businesses throughout the Port Elizabeth area.


Missionvale Township is home to many of the sickest of the sick in South Africa.  It is where Aids is the scourge that does not lessen.  It is where the statistics for HIV infections, unemployment, malnutrition, poverty, and sickness are beyond belief.

The objective of the Medical Unit is to serve the patients in Missionvale by providing direct access to the services of a volunteer doctor and our registered nurse.  Integrated into the Medical Unit is our pharmacy.  From here we dispense medication to our patients under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist.

Once a week our Nursing Sister runs a Women’s Clinic.

We also have physiotherapists volunteering every Thursday.

The clinic is always grateful to have medical volunteers to assist as the need in Missionvale is huge.

EYE CLINIC:  A volunteer optometrist visits the Care Centre once a week providing optical examinations and helping to provide the people with glasses when necessary. Giving a person the ability to see again is an amazing gift.

COMMUNITY HEALTH PRACTITIONERS:  Those too ill to come to the Centre are cared for through our Community Health Practitioners.  These dedicated ladies are sent for training in Home Based Care and have become role models in the community.  They walk the dusty streets of Missionvale every day providing for the needs of the disadvantaged.  They are divided into 5 groups:

Health Promotion:  Door-to-door campaigns on the prevention of disease and facilitate HIV Support Groups.

Home Based Care:  Caring for people too ill to come to the Centre

Orphaned & Vulnerable Children:  support for child-headed households and caring for children living in abject circumstances.

Environmental |Team:  Cleaning the environment and educating people on the importance of caring for the earth

Agricultural Team:  Assisting families with food security by planting vegetable gardens


In South Africa today, Nutrition is Medicine. This unit serves 400—1000 people per day with bread and soup, in exchange for recyclable items.  In addition, it caters for families in dire need with a weekly food parcel and provides nutrition to patients from the clinic who would not be able to take their medication without the food.  The Nutrition Unit integrates into our holistic approach in treating and alleviating the HIV and TB Epidemic which has decimated this community.


Poverty can hide the dignity of a person, and when you don’t have proper clothing to wear, your image is tarnished.  The clothing warehouse stores shelves of gently worn clothing which we distribute to families on a regular basis.  Any donated clothes are cleaned, sorted, matched, labeled and stacked according to gender and size.  For accuracy in size and accountability, each family has a clothing card which requests their particular need.


In 1999, the people asked Sister Ethel to “build a house for God and they would get better.”  This was made possible in 2004 and it is there we celebrate spiritual liturgical upliftment.

The Community Hall is a wonderful gathering place for the people and it is in it that they celebrate the special occasions of life i.e. weddings, funerals, training and uplifting programs.

Serving at Kurios Trend Community Resource Center

Our latest project takes place at East Cape Midlands college (EMC). This is an academic institution that provides learners (ages 17 – 25) from previously disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to gain a national certificate in courses offered by the college. EMC is an FET (Further education and training) college. The goal is to train students and ultimately make them employable. This however does come with challenges.

  • 80% of students haven’t finished high school
  • They struggle to conceptualize basic schoolwork
  • The ability to follow instructions is minimal
  • They lack basic computer skills
  • They face extreme social pressures because of where they live (98%come from the location)
  • They cannot express themselves freely, this causes frustration, depression.

Kurios Trend has taken the initiative to assist the college by setting up a resource on campus to support students. The resource center will be in operation from 09:00 – 15:30 Monday-Friday. Students from abroad will run the resource center with help of a few level 4 local students. The duties of the students will consist of:

  • Developing basic computer skills
  • Assisting with collection quality information for assignments
  • Setting up tutorials as to how to do research
  • Tutoring students that have difficulties with school work (tutoring in English, Computers, Finance, Marketing, Tourism)
  • Mentoring local students to become tutors in their field of study
  • Running skills development workshops (public speaking, debating etc.) on a weekly basis

The ultimate goal for the resource center will be that once the Vanderbilt or any other group leaves, the level 4 students can carry on running the center and carry on building on the foundation that was laid. The legacy will remain. To read more about Kurios Trend Community Resource Center, please view this document.

Phase 3: Individual, post-experience planning.

This is different for each student, conducted on a 1:1 basis and involves the student preparing a plan to enable them to translate the experience into their academic pursuits and interests, their activity on campus, and possibly also their career path.

An Itinerary for the project, giving you a clear sense of what happens when and where (as always though subject to change) can be found here: SA Itinerary.

Why participate?

OACS Service Programs challenge students to question their perspectives and roles in the shared human experience through pre-service curriculum, intensive service, post-service skills application, and continuous reflection. The programs are prudently planned in order to best facilitate students’ abilities to connect meaningfully with people different from themselves through humble engagement and reciprocal dialogues within host communities. Through this exposure to firsthand knowledge and lived experiences, students will examine the deeper issues related to equity and justice and identify systematic barriers to equality and inclusivity. Students with a sincere desire to grapple with the complexity of human connectedness, to challenge their known values, and to reconcile academic knowledge with an authentic exploration of social and environmental injustices are encouraged to apply for an OACS Service Program.

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