Eleven Youngstown State University students will be taking a trip to South Africa with the Project Learning Around The World organization from May 8-24. The students will be going to Plettenberg Bay, Knysna and Kruger Park.
“Beginning in September, [the students] collect money, donations and educational supplies to take to South Africa. The areas we go to are very rural and extremely poor,” said Audrey Ellenwood, the founder of
The students raise money through donations and fundraisers to pay for their trips and end up serving as ambassadors for the Democratic Alliance, a political group in South Africa.
Ellenwood said that the money goes to fund things such as libraries, playgrounds and security fences around schools — without the fences, the government would not fund the schools’ expenses.
“One hundred percent of this money goes to the children,” Ellenwood said.
Ellenwood started the program with graduate students at Bowling Green State University in 2006. Since then, she has taken over 200 people to South Africa and said she constantly gets emails with positive remarks about the experience and high hopes to go back soon.
Stephanie Gordon, a school psychology major, took part in last year’s trip and describes it as a “life-changing” experience.
Gordon said a large part of her trip was giving young children attention. She said the students love the attention because that is something they lack the most — in addition to toys, crayons and even something as simple as balloons.
“Even sixteen-year olds would be chasing us down the streets for balloons because they don’t have them,” Ellenwood said.
Gordon said they get together bundles of food and deliver them to people within the township in exchange for their openness to the YSU students.
“You get a lot of the culture,” Gordon said. “The people are eager to interact and tell you about their culture. It’s easier to buy in the marketplace because you are giving right back into the community.”
Ellenwood and Gordon said that everyone was extremely welcoming. The students were welcomed by the mayors of Knysna and Plettenberg upon their arrival and were treated to dinner.
“They enjoy life and find the good. If only we could take that positive energy and bring it back here,” Gordon said.
Brian Glenn, a school psychology major, said he is excited to go on this trip to gain the “life- and perspective-changing experience.”
Glenn said that Project Learning Around the World also does local charity work. Glenn organized a Christmas giveaway for the children of Rockford Village that didn’t have the “opportunity to receive gifts like expected.”
During the South Africa trip, Ellenwood said another part of their work was ensuring that the playgrounds and libraries were built and were being properly maintained.
“If we could bottle up all of that positive energy in South Africa and bring it to Youngstown, it would be a completely different place,” Gordon said.
Gordon laughed as she described the “Christmas trees” in the townships — electrical poles holding up wires that stole electricity. She said she feels ungrateful when she complains about her broken air-conditioner when she compares it to having to get electricity in such a way.
“I was just telling Dr. Ellenwood and said ‘Man! I’m homesick for South Africa,’” Gordon said.