Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, has been in the news a lot over the last few days because of a recent shark attack there during a surfing competition. This beautiful town on the Eastern Cape holds many dangers, but believe it or not, sharks are not the most pressing problem.

Earlier this year, I joined several RetailROI team members on the trip of a lifetime to Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, and experienced both the beauty of the area and the poverty that threatens its people.

The divisions that exist in Jeffreys Bay are striking — divisions between rich and poor, black and white, the wealth of the hotel/tourist area, where we stayed, and the shanty village and township, where we worked.

While the township looks like a community, in actuality, it isn’t. From neighbor to neighbor, the attitude is “each man for himself.” Many of the local kids run around outside together, but just as many stay to themselves in their dirt patch/area of their house.

But LUO and Ithemba School are making a difference for these children and for this community by providing the care and education that can help bridge the divisions that exist. I went with few preconceived ideas of what I would experience on this trip or what I would do, but once there, the team did a great job of improvising and finding needs and fixing them as fast as we could. We sound-proofed new classrooms, put together a new playset, and helped the teachers with various projects. It felt good to be so hands-on.

I have so many wonderful memories from the trip: seeing how happy the teachers were with the sound proofing; watching Derek, one of the teachers, pin up the kids’ pictures on the corkboard he never thought he’d have; pulling into the school after Josh and Billy put the seesaws together and seeing about 10 boys on each seesaw with BIG SMILES on their faces – a simple seesaw. I will never forget these things.

Ithemba and LUO House have touched me for life; and they are touching these children’s lives in such precious, normal ways – giving them structure, discipline, and showing them that they matter and have a purpose. Continuing to give the children a vision, a purpose, and self-worth in a day to day, repetitive manner is a step in the right direction.

There’s still more to do, though, particularly with kitchen improvements, an outdoor eating area, and managing the mud and dirt. Having been to Honduras and, now, South Africa with ROI, I have seen firsthand how these projects can change a community; but it’s a two-way street, because going on one of these trips changes you, too.

Photos from Cathy’s South Africa Trip