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Extreme poverty, malnutrition and the threat of safety is not a common consideration for many Americans.

But four brave students from various parts of the United States had a desire to learn first-hand the plight of those living in disadvantaged communities and enrolled in an internship with Mustadafin Foundation as part of their university exchange programme with the University of the Western Cape. An internship with an NGO can be an eye-opener as four United States students on a university exchange programme recently discovered.

Never in their wildest dreams did Emily (21 year old Communication major from New Hampshire), AJ (20 year old Environmental Studies and Sociology student from Vermont), Gwenna (20 year old Political Science student from Nebraska) and James (20 year old Peace and Conflict Studies student from Upstate New York) expect the exposure to poverty they received when job-shadowing with Mustadafin Foundation.

Although studying various degrees, the four were eager to put theory into practice by exposing themselves to the real world as many South Africans know it. The students embarked on internships which included visits to the ill with the home-based carers and an introduction to the sewing workshop for the disadvantaged.

James comments, “It was so rewarding to see the work Mustadafin is doing in communities all over Cape Town and how the theory I’ve learnt has been applied in a practical setting.”

“It’s important to go in with an open-mind as the realities of poverty stricken people are saddening,” said Gwenna. “The experience was so rewarding that I have made the decision to work for an NGO after I complete my studies.”

All four students confirmed that their experience of NGOs in the United States is very different in that organisations tend to focus on one key area, whereas Mustadafin offers a wide range of services and assistance, including disaster relief, feeding programmes, skills development programmes and home-based caring initiatives.

Emily elaborates, “With the exposure the volunteers get to a variety of misfortunes experienced by the disadvantaged, we were very inspired by the reasons why they do it each day – their compassion, empathy and determination see them through even the most trying times.”

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Media contact: Lisa Sharland