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This is Me: South African Summer
While you waited tables last summer, he was doing volunteer research in South Africa
At the end of a two month stay in Manyeleti, South Africa, Connor Gillivan had a difficult time saying goodbye to Eureka and Prospa, two young boys he befriended during his trip.
The boys’ mother, Mnisi Siphiwe, began to cry as she hugged Gillivan. She thanked him and said, “You did more for these boys than you can ever imagine.”
“It was overwhelming,” Gillivan said.
While most students spend their three-month-long summer vacation enjoying the creature comforts of home, Gillivan spent his summer in Utah, a small South African village.
From June through August 2010, Gillivan completed a 10-week internship program with ThinkImpact, a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to assessing and alleviating poverty in Africa.
Gillivan wasn’t paid for his work efforts – instead, he had to cover all travel and housing expenses himself. As an economics major and math minor, Gillivan took advantage of this career-advancing opportunity.
“I’ve always been looking for something to kind of get out of the country and experience different culture,” Gillivan said. “So when I saw this opportunity, I figured it would be perfect, and given that I want to get in to more development work, this was a good avenue.”
There is a 69 percent unemployment rate in the Manyeleti region and 3.9 percent of all households have no income source, according to ThinkImpact.
Gillivan’s responsibilities consisted of compiling research to determine whether or not ThinkImpact had improved the village’s conditions in the past five years. Gillivan’s daily tasks included interviewing locals and learning about the villagers’ skills and assets.
Gillivan was also required to use “social return on investment,” a pilot program designed to calculate a number to determine whether or not the company had helped the village.
“You should be able to go on it and have the mindset that you want to help these people,” Gillivan said. “If you’re not there to help the people and learn about their culture, then you’re not going to have a good time, you’re not going to embrace the full experience.”
Junior Matt Pankey, Gillivan’s roommate, is confident that humanitarian efforts are in his future.
“Not only just being successful in financially and happiness, he’s going to be doing something with economics and helping the lives of others either whether it be in inner cities in America or abroad,” Pankey said.
In terms of living conditions, Gillivan stayed with a host family. He lived in a concrete shelter without running water.
Most Manyeleti residents live without everyday luxuries such as running water, electricity and health care. As a result, many people suffer from HIV and malnutrition, according to the ThinkImpact.
To protect himself from sickness or disease, Gillivan visited a travel doctor before his trip. In addition to receiving necessary vaccinations to prevent typhoid and swine flu, he also consumed daily malaria prevention pills.
Well aware of the dangers overseas, Gillivan’s parents were cautious about their son’s pending travel.
“At first they were extremely hesitant and probably wondering why I wanted to go,” Gillivan said. “After I came back and they learned everything I did there, they loved it.”
Two months into the program, Gillivan began helping a 22-year-old high school graduate run a tutoring business. He attended the local high school every day and offered nighttime tutoring sessions. Gillivan tutored students on every subject from math to science to English.
During his three-month stay, Gillivan adapted to South African culture by attending weekly language lessons to learn Xitsonga, the native tongue.
He was also exposed to unfamiliar customs.
“Everyone in the village holds hands, so whether you’re a boy or a girl you’re always holding hands,” Gillivan said. “As I started to live there you just got used to it and it was actually something that you just had a connection with the person at all times, because you were just holding their hand. It wasn’t anything out of love or lust it was just friendship.”
Gillivan and 30 other Quinnipiac students recently returned from an alternative spring break trip in Nicaragua. In addition to building a wall to stop flooding at a local elementary school, students also helped improve the farming conditions at a local high school.
In the near future Gillivan plans to save money, return to South Africa and partake in ThinkImpact’s team leaders program.
“When I’m in America I feel like there is always something to do, there is a time limit for everything,” Gillivan said. “In South Africa you can kind of enjoy life more and feel yourself more as a person.”