Ms. Sarah Luft, a junior at the University of Connecticut and current President of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship on the UConn campus, gave an inspiring and heart-felt presentation in front of the Holy Trinity community on Sunday, October 5, 2014, in which she spoke of the four months she spent as an exchange student in Cape Town, South Africa.
Ms. Luft was one of 26 students who participated in the UConn in Cape Town Study Abroad Program at the University of Cape Town during the Spring, 2014, Semester. Leaving America on January 13, Sarah returned to the United States on May 14, staying an additional two weeks at the end of the semester in order to assist with the 2014 presidential elections, which marked 20 years of democracy in South Africa.
Ms. Luft arrived in Cape Town just 45 days after President Mandela’s death on December 5, 2013. In addition to her classroom studies, Ms. Luft worked with the Electoral Commission in the Western Cape. Her extended stay at the end of the semester allowed her to fully participate in the election of a new president for South Africa. On Election Day (89% of registered voters participated), Ms. Luft was one of the first people to meet political representatives and media staff at the provincial reception desk; she also visited polling station on the ground level, meeting voters firsthand.
Mr. Mandela is an historical figure and his legacy is far reaching. He was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was South Africa's first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality, which worked to foster racial reconciliation.
Despite 20 years after the end of apartheid, Ms. Luft reported there is still a tremendous amount of psychological pain, even among those who she lived, worked, and studied with.
A Connecticut resident, Ms. Luft spoke of the natural beauty of South Africa, yet was terribly saddened by the extreme and abject poverty she witnessed first hand.
Looking back wistfully, Ms. Luft spoke of the vibrancy of the South Africans, and those who have little yet are willing to share whatever they have. She looks forward to the opportunity to return, yet will do so as a much different, and better, person.
“Like most young people, I had always romanticized about travelling the world,” Ms. Luft said. “I wanted to see places and visit countries. I still do, but now for entirely different reasons. I want to go and serve; I want to make a difference. I want my life to be meaningful and not just self-serving.
“I am a changed person because I lived amongst such beautiful people for four months. I used to study in most of my free time. Don’t get me wrong, I still study; but now I take the time to establish relationships with people. That’s what I value the most. That’s what I learned most from those I lived with for four wonderful months.”