How South Africa Inspired Me to Pursue Urban Planning
This Curtis Scholar took notes from South Africa on how to improve her own community.
By Alexandra Morales
Morales is from San Diego, California, and wants to change the housing crisis affecting the global community.
On my first day in South Africa we visited the African Children’s Feeding Scheme. There I met a community member and, over the course of our conversations, I told her about my project to tackle the housing crisis and gentrification in my community in San Diego.
As she listened, I remember her eyes widening with recognition.
“We need you,” she said. ”Come back here. We have that here.”
It was only my first day there, but I soon began to realize what she meant. Though Apartheid has ended, there are still remnants of segregation in communities and stark disparities between the rich and the poor, similar to areas of the US. She went on to tell me about how the government neglects the multiple townships because there is no economic development in her own community. That is why parents leave every day to work in the main cities. I realized that, in some ways, our communities are very similar and I probably would have never understood that if it weren’t for this trip.
Alexandra at African Children’s Feeding Scheme. Photo Credit: Makhulu Productions
I wanted to go on this trip because I wanted to compare the communities in South Africa to my own in San Diego and the communities that I have seen in Mexico. In my experience, there is a lot of anti-blackness in Latinx families. Many of our grandparents and parents grew up with this bias, and it has been deeply ingrained for many generations. Through my travel, I really wanted to push back against this stigma and prove that our people in Mexico and Africa face many shared struggles. And I always ask myself, “How are we going to uplift our communities if we don’t work together?”
I also wanted to become more globally aware. We don’t really learn African history at school. I mean, I didn’t learn about Apartheid or Nelson and Winnie Mandela. I only learned about American and European History. Thinking as a Global Citizen, it is imperative that we are aware of the issues and histories of other countries — especially underdeveloped nations.
During my trip, I realized that there are so many misconceptions in the US about Africa. On TV, you always see starving children and miserable faces. While extreme poverty is a huge issue, there is much more to Africa than what the TV promotes. South Africa, for example, is a resilient country with rich and diverse cultures, and brilliant youth.
From visiting South Africa, I confirmed that I want to pursue urban planning and not only work locally and nationally, but also help others internationally. Underdeveloped countries like South Africa have rural and marginalized communities that aren’t urbanized yet.
Alexandra in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town. Photo Credit: Makhulu Productions
We need to solve, not simply stop the problems. Many community members stressed that the solution for Africa is in Africa. Many people think that giving money once or sending some food one time will end the issue of hunger and poverty. It might end it for a day or two, but it won’t solve the deeper problem.
Ultimately, we should be taking notes from the schools across Africa. Many of the young students we met showed maturity at such a young age because in their schools they are taught about self-identity, how to communicate with others, gender equality, how to talk to their bullies, and more. It was interesting because the US is always seen as the “utopia” or what the epitome of what every other country should be, but in reality we have much to learn from the countries around us.