July 3, 2002 - Miami Herald: From West Kendall to South Africa

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, July 04, 2002 - 7:08 pm: Edit Post

From West Kendall to South Africa

Read and comment on this story from the Miami Herald on Juliana ''Motlatjo'' Camacho of Miami, a Peace Corps volunteer in Olifantsdrift, South Africa, at:

From West Kendall to South Africa*

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From West Kendall to South Africa

OLIFANTSDRIFT, South Africa -- I'm sitting on my front-door step, staring at my pet goats, which adopted me upon my arrival here as a Peace Corps volunteer. At this moment, I am being annoyed by a new sister and brother.

In America, I am the youngest of three; here, I am the oldest of six. I never knew what it was like to have younger siblings, and now I'm suffering from an overdose. Everywhere I turn, there is a little somebody following my footsteps.

In this village, privacy does not exist in any context. So I take a long, deep breath and accept this new lifestyle. Besides, who wouldn't want it? A little sister constantly braids my hair, a little brother helps me get my sneakers on (although he demands 50 cents daily from me), another brother does anything for a chance to ride my bicycle, and the other brothers . . . well, they are more interested in modern music, R. Kelly, soccer and girls.

I recently celebrated my 24th birthday with my new family, where my name is Motlatjo (Addition; I'm an addition to the family) -- and found reason to ponder about why I joined the Peace Corps.

As I was growing up in West Kendall, I often asked myself: Who am I? Why do I have what I have? Why are so many children starving to death? Why is there rampant crime? What is success?

I knew that I had to leave my sweet, comfortable life in search for personal truth. I always wanted to become a Peace Corps volunteer. What other way could top helping a country in need of assistance? As I shared my plan with family and friends, they all applauded my decision. I wonder how many considered it for their own lives.

I am an educator with a dream -- already living that dream. My assignment here is as a school and community- resource volunteer. I have been trained in Outcomes Based Education, the new educational system since the apartheid regime fell in 1994.

I assist local educators with team teaching, lesson planning and class demonstrations, and by offering workshops focused on OBE issues. The Peace Corps was invited here -- not placed to Americanize -- for all the glorious benefits of cultural exchange. There is always something to be learned by both parties. Besides, the best way to empower oneself and others is through education.

Some people back home might ask: ''What about the impoverished in America?'' Indeed, we all know about the serious problems that exist in our country; I'll get back to those in two years.

You must acknowledge, though, the stark differences between poverty in a Third World country and that in a First World country. Imagine schools where every class has more than 45 students, where there is no running water, no electricity, no library.

Imagine schools with broken windows, missing doors and chalkboards so old and tattered that your eyes burn trying to read what is written on them. Imagine schools where students are eager to learn, yet no teachers are assigned to them.

I left my privileged life to serve others. I am at a place where misery is sometimes plain beautiful, where no consideration is given to what you possess, where life itself is enough for true happiness -- a place where the little you have is always more than enough to give a helping hand.

You're welcome to join me.

Juliana ''Motlatjo'' Camacho of Miami is a Peace Corps volunteer in Olifantsdrift, South Africa.

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