South African group bonds with Oakland students

February 2, 2010 7:12:42 PM PST
A group of teachers-in-training from South Africa is a long way from home; they are on a three week tour of schools in Northern California.

The two groups of students thought they had nothing in common. One was from South Africa, the other from East Oakland.

For many of the South Africans, this is the first time they left their impoverished townships in Cape Town and Johannesburg. What they knew of America came from TV.

"I like watching American TV shows; for me, I thought it was all going to be perfect and stuff," Lindelwa Mini said.

But the future teachers on a three week tour to study American schools found out that life in United States is far from perfect.

They have been staying with families in Marin County and San Francisco's richest neighborhoods where they saw few others who looked like them. Some had been missing home, and then they came to visit the East Oakland School of the Arts.

"I really wanted to see that side because I feel more comfortable when I see someone who is similar to me, who is going through the same things that I'm going through as a young person from South Africa," Yanela Dlokweni said.

The teachers-in-training formed a bond with members of the school's a capella singing group and learned they all share so much more than a love of music.

"We all kind of grew up in places it wasn't so easy; from education to racism to the conditions of living to the way people look at you," Oakland student Dillesha Oliver said.

Most of the young South Africans were born after the end of apartheid, but it is still something they live with everyday and something they never want to forget.

"When sometimes you're lazing around and you don't want to do your work you just think of the people who died for what you are doing now," Mini said.

Their teacher remembers the time all too well, he grew up never seeing any black people he says, even when they were right in front of him.

And now, his students will return home having learned so much more about themselves as well as gained a new circle of friends.