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Mendoza College of Business
  Taking Stock
South African Internship
By: Sarah Coffman (MBA '05)

Week 1: Nine Notre Dame Interns Arrive in Cape Town

We begin with a township tour organized by Ikamva Labantu, a service organization working with us. We head directly for Guguletu, which is a black township in the apartheid era.

 

Our first stop is a foster home and day care. We step into a small room where over 20 small children are singing a song in their native tongue, Khosa. One child latches on to each of us. Michael lifts one into the air, and the “mama” who runs the home interprets the dialogue. She explains that the boy who has claimed Michael is saying to another, “Mine is bigger than yours!” They sing a song and send us away, warming our hearts.

We travel onward to other creches, or preschools. Our guide explains that nearly every organization here has sustainable development as its goal, and gardening is one method for achieving sustainability. Every place with enough land has a beautiful, well-tended garden growing fruits and vegetables for the kids whose only chance for a nutritious meal may come at school.

Our final stop is an old folks’ home where residents sit on plastic lawn chairs in rooms made from old shipping containers. When we arrive, they, too, are singing the songs of their people. It is good to see the hope that even older members of the community have, despite their immense need. As we head back to town, we know that much work lies ahead.

Week 5: Our time in South Africa is half over. We are all heavily immersed in our projects, working with varying levels of success. The speed and efficiency of a service organization in Cape Town is like a penguin compared to the cheetah of a corporation in the United States, and this can be frustrating to MBA students. One team of interns is writing a business plan for importing local artisan crafts to U.S. college bookstores, while another is developing a plan for a recycling program and used clothing store. A third group is evaluating the effectiveness of a foundation’s outreach programs. My team is developing a pilot program to improve community service, life skills and vocational training among adolescent boys through their participation in youth soccer leagues.

Week 8: Our time in Cape Town is nearly over. We will be presenting our projects to board members in the morning. Like typical college students, many of us work until the wee hours to put the finishing touches on our presentations. A quick glance around the room reminds me how close I have grown to my fellow interns and how much, in spite of the close quarters in Cape Town, I will miss them when I return home. We have done good work and hope that our projects can move forward after we depart.

I will carry with me fond memories and new expressions in South African English: cheers means goodbye; lecker means cool; pleasure means thank you.


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