School supply drive to support study abroad in South Africa

By Ashlyn Korienek | 3/22/17 10:54pm

GVL / Courtesy - Ayana Weekly

Providing students with rich, global experiences and friendships to last a lifetime, study abroad at Grand Valley State University combines academics with service to communities as part of the “Laker Effect.”

With this in mind, the women, gender and sexuality studies department (WGS) and the GVSU Women’s Center teamed up in 2012 to start a six-week program held abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.

This service-learning trip is partnered with SHAWCO, a non-governmental organization focused on local gender issues and global feminist perspectives. During their time abroad, students participate in academic lectures and adventures around Johannesburg and Cape Town.

To provide supplies for the children and students in the program, a donation drive will be held until Tuesday, April 4, where items can be dropped off at Lake Ontario Hall Room 229.

Ayana Weekly, WGS associate professor at GVSU, said the supplies provide more value to the program and supports children engaging in the lessons coordinated by GVSU students. Items accepted include: pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, erasers, tape, paper and other items.

“We try to make sure we are providing all of the materials needed for the trip,” Weekly said. “We want to make sure we are not a burden to the school, that we are adding value to it by bringing enough to support our work with the students and meet the needs other students might have at the school.”

While studying abroad, students are registered for six credits while taking “Women and Gender in South Africa” and a community collaborative course. Though WGS credit is not required, “Introduction to Gender Studies” is suggested.

"Studying abroad in South Africa really helped to challenge me and to build a sense of complexity in the way that I understand the world and systems of power," said Skylar Wolfe, a GVSU student who went on the trip in 2016. "I think the classes that I took really helped me put theory into practice and to challenge some oversimplified assumptions and understandings that I had about other countries such as South Africa."

Adding more hands-on experience, trip participants partner with 6th graders at Manenberg Primary School and teach lessons in topics like math or social studies — the subject lessons rotate days.

In addition to completing class readings, Wolfe said he mentored two students for 15 hours a week and developed several lesson plans for the class with about 20 to 25 students.

“I think the program offers a genuinely unique opportunity to critically reflect upon globalization, 'service' work and to really challenge one another to engage with communities abroad in more meaningful ways than perhaps typical," Wolfe said.

While South Africa provides a historical and cultural experience for its visitors, students have the chance to explore a plethora of local museums, the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders National Park, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and many other locations.

“There's a lot to do while we're there, kids are learning and of course, we have weekend excursions," Weekly said. "We go on a safari and give the students a chance to have fun and take time off from work."

Over the past few years, student attendance on the trip has varied. In 2016, 14 students participated while this year only ten students are traveling to South Africa. In the past, the department offered the program every other year, while now students are able to participate in the South African program on a yearly basis.

“Dr. Danielle Demuth was the initial faculty that led the program. I am now rotating that with her,” Weekly said. “Up until now it has been every other year. So, this is the first year we are getting to go two years in a row. We're super excited about that.”

Any questions about the South Africa program can be sent to or The group is set to leave for Cape Town Tuesday, May 9.

Those interested in studying abroad can use financial aid, scholarships, grants, personal funds or alternative loans to fund expenses. For more information on funding, visit

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