Interning in a Township: Prepare to Be Unprepared

Programs for this blog post

Summer Global Internship

Authored By:

Cape Town Centre

Authored by Destiny Daniel (she/her)

(Destiny is a senior at Howard University studying Communications and Maternal & Child Health. She loves to watch reality TV and explore her creativity. She aspires to lead a global non-profit that empowers young moms; as a GLINT student, she is interning at a large non-profit in Cape Town.)

Imagine living in Cape Town for two months and getting to experience sunset cruises, seal snorkeling, horseback riding, paragliding, ATV’s in the sand, surfing, ziplining and safaris - and then telling your fantastic experiences to locals who’ve never been exposed to any of these adventures. As you share your excitement and additional plans, you look to your manager, who says that it sounds wonderful and they hope to try those activities…one day. Your lips are brought back together like a magnet, and your words have transformed into a nod. This is a quick reality you are hit with when working in a township.

When I began preparing to come to South Africa, I learned the country has the highest Gini coefficient in the world, making it the world’s most (yeah, you read it right) unequal society. Being African-American, I thought I knew all about what inequality was like, but when I arrived in Cape Town and suddenly my economics compared well to the rand, I could not naively reason my struggles to be at the level at which they are here. It was a defining moment for me when my ‘umhlobo’ (friend) confided in me that she labored for days (emphasis on the plural) because of limited resources in the community clinic where she finally gave birth. I thought to myself: "What can I say or do to help?" and "How in a country with comparative wealth can this be the norm for anyone?" These feelings have been hard to shake.

The truth is, when you come to South Africa and work in a township, you step into a community of limited resources, but at the same time, with truly unlimited potential. The effects of apartheid are still rampant here, and load-shedding (power cuts) has caused financial loss and the shutting down of numerous businesses. There is a need to understand that issues are everywhere across the globe, but challenges abound in places with less investment and opportunity. Despite these struggles, I can clearly see that townships have fostered so much innovation and creativity and are radiant with love and family. Nothing can prepare you for the level of acceptance you will receive from everyone here; the camaraderie of my workplace moves me deeply.

So, if you choose to work in a township, just know that you can't prepare for it, but you can be certain that you will become a better person. It won’t be easy to frequently see both sides of one city, but your experience will be unique and meaningful. And if you are lucky, you’ll pick up some isiXhosa, learn some dances to amapiano, eat some beef stew and pap, and, of course, do some good work.

Another unexpected positive of my internship experience has been having the best CIEE intern co-worker with me, and I know that having her to lean on has enriched my internship experience so much!