2013 UVA in Southern Africa students’ blogs by: Marissa Bialek and Yutong Li

I. 2013 Blog


May 30, 2013 By: Yutong Li

Today we visited several places. After finishing our lunch in a local entrepreneur chicken restaurant, we arrived at a disabled center. Different from the one we visited previously, this one is run by the government instead of owned privately; therefore the place owns much better facilities. Interestingly enough, the disabled kids, who seem to many people merely “takers” of the society, are totally able to create many pretty artworks. Most of us were staring at those jewelries agape, couldn’t match up the delicacy of them with the kids we were seeing just now. I think that was the moment when we start

ed to realize that, we were not in a position to impose our pity or charity on them, even the disabled center; sometimes we should learn how to listen, how to observe, how to put us on the same level with others so that we get to know what they’ve got. Sometimes I would wonder what these kids really need; now

I feel like giving them a chance to search for and express what they are good at, like any other normal kids, is the first step.


In the evening we got to listen to a wonderful talk from a local woman of the Three Rodavels region. She talked about the present problems and challenges faced by the South Africa government, such as education and HIV. She also raised the case of change in local lifestyle: the switch of diet to more “western” style which creates health issues for children. While one of her most interesting points is that, we are not the one to make decisions for the local

people on what kind of life they want; they should make their own choice.10

May 28th, 2013 By: Marissa Bialek UVA
We got an early start this morning in order to take a visit to a creche, which is the South African version of a pre-school. However, the creche we visited this morning was a special one for children with physical and/or mental disabilities. When we arrived, all of the learners were out front waiting for our arrival. Only one of the learners could actually speak, but honestly, the smiles on their faces and the expression in their eyes said more than any words could ever express. We walked around the creche, which consisted of a few shack-like structures with small rooms. The first room we entered had a fridge that was donated to the creche by Krugar. The fridge, however, was not being used. The fridge represents another example of the idea good intentions are not enough. The problem is that the woman who manages the creche has to pay the electricity bill and cannot afford to pay the electricity needed for the fridge. She experienced something similar whereby a donor provided the creche with a car, but the manager ended up selling the car for the much more needed cash. There was a small garden to the side, which is a much more efficient use of local resources in obtaining fresh produce for the learners to eat as opposed to using a fridge. We could not stay long because we had arranged to play a soccer game with a local team. Had we not had Eric, I am not so sure the score would have been as close as it turned out to be in the end (2-3). As I was out there out of breath, I could not help but admire the local players who looked as if they run another five miles barefoot and still not be as exhausted as I was. The ball got kicked up into a tree during the game and everyone seemed to hesitate in getting the ball down. I learned afterwards that this was because the tree in which the ball landed has a poisonous sap. We ended the day visiting a man who was heavily involved in the anti-government movement during the Apartheid era. He took us on a night-ride through his private game reserve and we saw the final of the Big Five – lion! He arranged for a delicious meal for us before we headed back the College for some much needed rest.

By: Marissa Bialek UVA 2015 May 26th, 2013

Today was an early rising for us all, but no one minded because we knew what lay before us – Krugar National Park! Before entering deep into the Park, however, we stopped off at University of Venda’s Deputy Vice Chancellor’s house. She invited us inside for some delicious muffins, juice, and coffee. She introduced herself as we waited for her father to come downstairs to speak to us. The house is a traditional family home whereby all family members are expected to return to the home on weekends if they do not already live there. There is also a power hierarchy within the house exemplified by the design of the room locations. Back in the states, a house is a house — here, I get the sense that the space represents so much more. Her father spoke to us about his experience with the forced land removal that occurred around the same time period of Apartheid. The forced land removal occurred because the government wanted to construct Krugar National Park.
However, in doing so, people were not even notified that they would have to relocate. The father luckily obtained his land back about ten years ago, but most people are still waiting for the government to repay for their sufferings. The remainder of the day was dedicated to driving through Krugar and start working on spotting the Big Five (leopard, lion, buffalo, rhino, elephant)!
Today, my van spotted, among others, zebras, giraffes, elephants, and cheetah! I was able to capture elephants playing in the water and a giraffe running directly in front of our van. An interesting fact I learned today was the symbiotic relationship between zebra and wildebeest. I kept spotting a wildebeest whenever there were zebra, which apparent is the case because these two animals help each other out with one serving as the ears and the other as the eyes in order to thrive and survive. I am still keeping my eyes peeled for rhino. Before I left for the trip, I read about the rhino poaching that is killing off 2-3 rhino each day. I am beginning to understand how a single disturbance, such as rhino poaching, can have immense and disastrous effects on the entire ecosystem.
May 25th, 2013 By: Marissa Bialek UVA
Before I left for the trip, my friends and family told me to remember everything we did so when they get the chance to visit South Africa, they will already have an itinerary planned out for them. There are certainly some activities ESAVANA has done so far that my friends and family could repeat, but the first adventure of today surely does not fit into that category. We went to visit a village chief and sat inside the chief’s crawl where there was a short question and answer opportunity. The discussion included topics such as the process by which one becomes the chief of a village. At the end of the discussion, we all thanked the chief for his time in the traditional manner — girls lay down on the ground, hands together and head down; boys kneel down, hands together and head down. We finished with a group picture (of course) and I got to sit next to the chief! Before leaving the village, we walked up a steep hill where there was a water talk that is used to supply and distribute water to the entire village. The tank was perched up high in order take advantage of the pressure needed to pump the water. We left the village to visit another site where University of Virginia students previously worked on different types of water systems. We saw that sometimes good intentions are not enough because the latest water system that was built does not work properly given the location. Apparently, the blueprint for the water system came from a student who saw the systems work successfully in France; however, France is not South Africa. We ended the day visiting a traditional healer who is also an infamous artist. He spoke to each of us students individually about our area of study. When I told him I am studying Political and Social Thought, he spoke to me about the importance of remembering how society started out before the implementation of numerous political and social institutions and laws. He spoke about people in such a refreshing way by comparing humanity to a garden. He pointed out how undesirable a garden would be if there was only one type of flower – a single color – so too would be the fate of humanity without diversity. My favorite part of the evening was looking up at the full moon and the bright stars — there’s something about the night sky here that had a sort of meditation effect on the mind you just do not get back in Charlottesville.
May 20, 2013 By: Yutong Li 

Today we are leaving the farm for Levubu. Before we left, the owners showed us around a crocodile farm. As the owners told us, those crocodiles were raised specifically for their skin. Usually it takes three years for a crocodile to grow from baby to semi-grown size to be skinned. The major buyer of the skins is the Italian, who usually takes 2/3 of all the skin produced each year. The legitimized business is totally transparent, that it allows the croc skin-trade to trace each skin back to the single crocodile in a specific farm. The fact that the owners are raising crocodiles for skin seems to rationalize the “exploitation”; while the whole thing is no different than our daily use of pigs and cows which are raised for their meat and milk. We also had the chance to see the scene of skinning a crocodile. It was quite disturbing for most of us to do so. I guess seeing something with one’s own eye would make one more mindful of what we are doing.

546 In the evening we got to talk with students and professors from University of Venda, who took the chance to visit us ahead. They provided us with many interesting perspectives about the politics, economy and social structure of South Africa. The unique geography and history of South Africa helps the country to cultivate its own philosophy which seems quite different and interesting from ours. It reminded us of the notion of “cultural relativism”, and made us more of respectful listeners rather than judgers that night.


May 19, 2013 By: Yutong Li 

We went through an incredible experience today. Each of us had the chance to wait and watch animals in a blind. Divided in groups of three, we arrived in the blind appointed. Mine was located near a small pond where many wild animals would come for water. We were hiding there for around two hours. Although only some small birds appeared to our group, I think we all enjoyed lying down there for such a long time quietly. At the blind, all we were thinking about was how to minimize our presence so that the animals wouldn’t see us; Warble of the birds became more obvious than our own heartbeat; and the small area around the pond attracted more attention than our own feeling. During the debriefing later, we all had the feelings that we seemed to be the “invaders” of the place. It is hard to say whether we really belong to the place because it’s questionable to totally exclude human beings from the nature. While at the same time one would also be uncomfortable if taken away all modern stuff and left along in the place.

2I do appreciate the experience today, not only because it is such a rare chance for most of us; it also triggered our thought over the real notion of the relation between human being and nature: how we view our role in the nature, and how we should interact with other compartment of it.


Student led community engagement projects

I went to Africa to change the world, and Africa changed me.”

-UVA student

Since its inception, ESAVANA has successfully implemented a broad range of changes in the East and Southern African communities where teams of University students and faculty have studied, conducted research, and served.

Projects include:

  • the design and construction of methane bio-digesters to supply a crèche in the rural Limpopo Province of South Africa with cooking gas
  • the installation of slow-sand drinking water filtration units for a rural community in the Mutale River Valley of rural South Africa
  • assistance with the micro-entrepreneurial efforts of small-scale farmer in the Limpopo province in South Africa
  • the installation of rain water harvesting systems for rural primary schools in the regions of Bushbuckridge and Venda, South Africa
  • a joint effort with K-12 schools in the communities surrounding Mashamba to develop curricula assistance with education related to sexual assault and victims empowerment in Thohoyandou in South Africa
  • the building of libraries and literacy programs in Kenya and South Africa, and the establishment of empowerment programs for young girls in Cameroon and South Africa

View letters of appreciation from:

Shobiyana High School

Paulos Ngobeni school 

Funjwa Primary School 

Masingitana High School