English: Cape Town Afrikaans: Kaapstad

Well, shucks.  This is the second time I’ve attempted this first blog; I had a video recording of myself.  Unfortunately, the video was on my phone which was pick-pocketed on my first day in Cape Town before I could upload it.  I’ll do my best to recount my testimony from the video.

I recorded my blog at Dubai International Airport around 4:00am local time.  I purposely chose to do my first blog in Dubai because I saw that period of time as transitional; neither here nor there.  Leading up to my departure I was not nervous at all.  I had been working up until the Friday before I left and had been travelling a lot during the months of June and July, so I never really had time to be nervous because I was not thinking about my impending journey to the other side of the world nearly as much as I could have been.

When I got to Dubai I was disoriented.  We flew what’s called a polar route on the 16 hour flight from SFO-DXB, so the sun never set until we touched down at 7:15pm in the UAE.  It was around this time that the idea of being in South Africa for the next 6 weeks started to become a reality.

My host organization in Cape Town is called The Message Trust.  I was put in contact with them by another group (Connect-123) which finds placements for students who are seeking to study abroad.  The Message is a Christian-based organization that seeks to rehabilitate youth who find themselves in difficult situations.  I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to work with The Message because it seems a lot like Homeboy Industry in Los Angeles.  I’m a huge fan of Homeboy and what Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. and his team have put together.  The idea of never giving up on people, especially young people, is really powerful because it incorporates a sense of forgiving and grace that is often not present in the mindset of the corporately focused world.

A week before I left on this journey, I was at a Jesuit student leaders conference at Georgetown University.  One of the final keynote addresses was given by Kevin Ryan, a social activist/worker in New York and co-author of a book I read before coming to Santa Clara: Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope.  Kevin emphasized the love that awaits when one is able to interact and connect with people on the margins of society.  He recounted many stories of the kids he works with teaching him about empathy, compassion, grace, and happiness.  This theme reminded me of the times I’ve heard Fr. Boyle speak as well: the idea of finding radical love on the fringes of communities.  I’ll be working with gang members and youth who know nothing but survival in townships. I know that they’ll have much more to teach me then I’ll have to give them.  My most important job will be to simply remain open to the learning, as well as the love that will radiate from those I serve and those I’ll be working with at The Message.

These were the thoughts of my jet-lagged mind in the Dubai airport.  I was nervous, but I was also, and still am, quite excited.

-Jack Herstam

Cover photo credit: Milnerton Golf Club

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