Student works to transform lives
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 00:03
When Patrick Clarke embarked on a journey to South Africa this year to study human rights at the University of Cape Town, he knew his study abroad experience would be filled with opportunity. Though the unknown factor in this experience was the opportunity he would envision for himself to benefit the community: building a library in the small village of Nyanga.
Nyanga, on the outskirts of the Western Cape, is one of many African townships riddled with poverty. Tin shacks are the predominate type of dwelling. Although the village has a public school system, many students fail to graduate.
In fact, it was on a visit to Nyanga’s high school, Sithembele Matiso High School, that Clarke and two fellow UConn students, Anna Burbank and Allie Ball, became inspired to build the school a library. As Sithembele Matiso doesn’t have a library at the moment-the school is too underfunded to afford one--it is challenging for students to complete homework assignments without books or computers.
“I hope the actual books (in the library) give them the education they need to pass their exams and improve their lives,” Clarke said. “So many people fail the last exam of their senior year and drop out. I hope this gives them knowledge and inspiration to keep going and go to University.”
Together, Clarke, Burbank, and Ball have been working vigorously on the library project. With an April 27th departure date, the two have a strict timeline to adhere to. Yet just two weeks in to the project, the students have already established a book drive (with a March 18 collection date) in their communities back home. They also plan to have the library renovated and painted by the time they leave South Africa on April 27.
The founding of the library at Sithembele Matiso High is just one aspect of Clarke’s UConn in Cape Town experience. From day one, the biology major and human rights minor immersed himself in South African culture. His adventures have ranged from the daring, as in scaling Devil’s Peak (an arduous three hour climb), to the frightening, such as hailing a minibus set for an unknown destination and driven by a stranger.
Perhaps the most difficult facet of UConn in Cape Town, however, has been breaking through the language barrier that exists between Clarke and his 28 program members and the locals. Since the primary languages on the outskirts of Cape Town are Afrikaans and Xhosa (a language consisting of a mixture of tongue clicks and words), developing an initial connection with the locals proved a challenge. “Most people also know English but when they don’t and try to talk to you, it’s kind of intimidating,” Clarke said.
However, a language barrier wasn’t enough to stop Clarke from developing a deep connection with the South African citizens. According to Clarke, the locals maintain an optimistic outlook amidst severe poverty and limited opportunity. “The people of Nyanga are happier and more faith-filled about their futures than anyone I have ever met,” he said.
This deep connection with the people of Nyanga, and the desire to expand their opportunities for a promising future, are the driving forces behind Clarke, Burbank, and Ball’s vision for a library. “We’re trying to get books/funds to give to the students of the school to give them better lives and futures,” Clarke said.
Providing the educational tools to brighten the futures of Nyanga’s younger generations, Clarke hopes to empower these young people to change their nation for the better. “I would like to think that I improved their lives in a way that inspired them enough to want to help others one day too. I’m not trying to be the ‘white savior’ to these people but I am trying to give them the resources to try and go out into the community and change other’s lives. I ... hope the books give them the education to want to end poverty and racism.”