Volunteering at a Lutheran AIDS ministry in Soweto, South Africa, gave a group of Concordia students a personal view into global challenges.
The 23 students participated in a religion, sociology and global studies summer school led by Dr. Nick Ellig, Dr. Elna Solvang and Dr. Jan Pranger.
“Our goal was to introduce our students to a multiracial, multiethnic society,” says Pranger. “South Africa is a microcosm of the social, economic and environmental issues that our global community faces today. We gained personal experiences from people directly affected by racism, poverty and injustice.”
Students spent mornings in class, then met with local experts or did volunteer work in the afternoons.
Pranger’s class focused on the religious response to the struggle against apartheid, the process of reconciliation and the building of a democratic post-apartheid state that is racked by economic inequality and the world’s highest infection rate of HIV and AIDS.
“South African churches that led the movement against apartheid are now in the middle of the AIDS fight,” Pranger says.
“The spread of HIV/AIDS is one of the legacies of apartheid, and churches realize they must practice a theology of compassion instead of retribution,” he says.
At a Soweto orphanage for children of AIDS victims, one group of students led activities at an after-school program that included cooking, tutoring and playing with children of various ages, while another group accompanied healthcare workers on home visits.
“Our time together gave us a glimpse into the struggles and joys of their everyday lives,” says Rebecca Asheim ’15, West Fargo, N.D., about the school children she met. “We learned so much more from them than we were able to teach them.”
Those experiences brought global issues to a personal level.
“By being with people nearly their own age, our students began to see the world through the eyes of others,” Pranger says. “Our hope is that our students will discover passions and talents that will have them continue to help others in less fortunate situations.”