How South Africa Taught Me About the Need for Both Large and Small Scale Social Action
Jason, a Global Citizen Curtis Fellow, writes about what a learning trip taught him about change.
Jason, born and raised in Oakland, California, is one of the eight young people chosen from across the US as Global Citizen’s Curtis Fellows in 2019.
Early in life, Jason began to learn how poverty affects people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Since high school, he’s been involved in a number of extracurricular activities focused on poverty alleviation, and on helping others receive the resources they need to be successful.
While he is still exploring different career paths, he hopes to someday be able to make a positive impact in his community by working to improve the overall health of its members.
In August 2019, Jason joined other Curtis Fellows on a learning trip to South Africa, to greater understand the issues of extreme poverty as experienced on a global scale, and how social issues can be alleviated through the united efforts of local advocates, young people, and companies. It was also an opportunity for the fellows to learn more about the history and culture of South Africa.
Before coming to South Africa, my perceptions of this beautiful country were like those held by many who have never visited or seen it for themselves.
Poverty-stricken and unchangeable were just some of the words that used to pop into my head when thinking of South Africa.
But since my arrival in the country and subsequent return to America, I’ve realized that these words are far from the truth.
In fact, boasting 11 national languages, South Africa is a melting pot of diversity both socioeconomically and racially — home to incredible work being done to find solutions to many issues including food scarcity and health care access, both on a large and small scale.
While every day in South Africa brought with it an enlightening experience, it was on our seventh day in the country when my outlook was truly transformed, and I began to see what small and large scale truly means. Maybe this makes sense, with seven being a lucky number after all.
From entering the US Consulate to meeting representatives from Johnson & Johnson, I discovered on this day how both corporations and my own government are developing partnerships in South Africa, to help make a positive impact specifically through policy implementation and healthcare access.
After these two powerful site visits, we ventured off to Brownies and Downies, a bakery that provides jobs for people with intellectual disabilities.
Although short and sweet, my time at Brownies and Downies was powerful. As someone with personal experience of mental health stigma, it was an enriching moment for me to see this stereotype being broken through job provision and economic independence.
As a Global Citizen interested in health care accessibility, it was this day that taught me how both large- and small-scale changes are necessary to end global poverty and tackle its root causes. It allowed me to appreciate every step being taken to accomplish this massive goal.
What’s more, it was also during this day when I began to connect South Africa with my own home, in Oakland, and realized the importance of breaking stereotypes through speaking out and taking the action we can.
My experience in South Africa has been profound. From appreciating the power of the people to breaking social stereotypes, Africa has truly allowed me to understand what change really entails.
From small steps to impressive partnerships, South Africa is truly inspirational in the work being done to solve many of the issues that present obstacles in the global effort to end extreme poverty.
There is a saying that actions speak louder than words, but I question that. Sometimes it is our words that inspire action and foster change. Therefore, I challenge you to find and utilize your voice to create a difference in your own community.
It is only through words that people will listen and change will begin.
The Curtis Fellowship, conceived and funded by Global Citizen Ambassador and former long-time Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis through the Vitalogy Foundation, is an annual award to mentor and support Curtis Fellows. The Curtis Fellowship seeks to create, support, and equip a network of youth advocates and community leaders committed to local and global response on issues surrounding extreme poverty.
The 2021 Curtis Fellow is now accepting applications, the deadline for which is March 19, 2021. Applicants can apply through the Curtis Fellowship website.