7th 2023 Post – Daughter Goes to South Africa

Blog Posts Where Race is an Aspect of the Themes

Uluru - Ayers Rock

My daughter Sonja Kristine was born in October of 1991. President Mandela’s autobiography was published in 1994. He was elected President in 1994. His autobiography became a passion for me. So as family nature would have it, my daughter grew up with me at the dinner table frequently speaking about Nelson Mandela and his amazing life. Further to family nature, it was not uncommon for my daughter to give me the old eyeroll as I launched into another comment about Nelson Mandela.

My wife was particularly adept at always knowing and planning what the next best step should be for our daughter. As a result, as an extroverted only child, she went to an excellent camp three summers running. As she neared 16, she was asked to apply to be a camp-counselor – one more positive steppingstone.

So, it was to my surprise when she came home from school one spring day and said, “I do not want to be a camp counselor. I want to go to South Africa and work in an aids clinic in a shanty town for the summer.” She had heard about such a program possibility at school and immediately expressed interest.

Of course, as a protective father I was concerned for her safety and interviewed the head of the program. All seemed well put together. To this day when I go to the Minneapolis airport, I remember where I stood watching her disappear into the airport after checking her bags. Sonja has always had a tremendous angel and we needed to be trusting.

After a month or so, my wife and I flew to South Africa. We had a fabulous trip. All of our tour guides due to my wife’s thoughtful request had been members of the African National Congress (ANC). Hence, we received great tours. They included the full and complete history of South Africa, including the history of the anti-apartheid movement led by the ANC.

I will not do a trip log here; other than to say I have been fortunate to do extensive world travel and South Africa was the best trip times ten of any other trip. Of course, the Bush and the big five were great, but so was Soweto, Robben Island, the People and so much else.

The true highlight of the trip though was visiting my daughter in her workplace in Khayelitsha township in Capetown. This non-profit where she was volunteering was a hospice for those dying of aids, also an orphanage for kids left without parents due to aids, and a clinic for health care. She helped set-up the clinic which was a dream of a Dutch doctor from the Netherlands. But at least a few times a day Sonja would take groups of kids in the orphanage outside for planned group activities and play.

It was heartwarming beyond description to observe from a short distance my rail thin, blond, Swedish, 16-year-old daughter leading very beautiful Black children in Minnesota camp songs. She was full of energy; the kids loved the singing and they learned to make Moose noises amongst other fun and uplifting Minnesota camp songs. A camp counselor after all. It is a small world.

The hospice, the orphanage and the clinic were all exceedingly well run with high professional standards and exuberant, palpable love.

It brought me to tears to observe the gifts my daughter was receiving from the staff and the kids. To this day when I reflect, I am so grateful to my daughter for all she has taught me and how frequently she has led the way.