Understanding South Africa

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Written By: Aditya Todi

Amongst all the stories that I have read and heard growing up, there is one that has long stayed with me. It is a story about six blind men and a elephant. Many of you may already be familiar with the story so I will only recount it briefly. An elephant comes to a village that has six blind men. The blind men had heard of elephants, but did not know what it looked like. Some thought it was a powerful giant as they had heard it could go to war and carry huge burdens. Others thought that it is majestic and elegant as the royalty rides it. With these preconceptions the six blind men get to the elephant, each holding a different part of it. The one holding its side says that the elephant is like a wall, another holding the trunk says it is like a giant snake, the one holding the tusk says its like a spear, another holding the legs says its like a tree, another says its like a fan upon holding the ears and the last one holding the tail says its like a rope. The point is that none of the blind men were able to know what an elephant looks yet, each one of them was confident in their narrative and went back home thinking that they truly understood what an elephant was.

How we shape our narrative and reflect on our experiences are largely shaped by the lens that we choose to look at the world through. Over the past two months here in Cape Town, we have been on a journey to understand South Africa, but unlike the blind men in the story though, we have had a chance to explore the country from multiple sides. One of them has been service-learning.

Ever since I came to Stanford, the term entrepreneurship has highly frustrated me.Entrepreneurship back on campus meant venture capitalism, having a start-up, creating a new app, pitching ideas to angel investors or more simply put, entrepreneurship was a privilege reserved for highly competitive, overly ambitious, emotionally apathetic people whose sole purpose in life was to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. However, at TSiBA entrepreneurship was more about small businesses where people were just trying to make a little money and expand their business. Entrepreneurship was about a student who dreams to open his own dance studio. It has been about a street vendor who hopes to open one more store in town. It has been about the woman who needs that additional oven to expand her business. It has been about the Radio Jockey who hopes to gain a wider audience. It is these very real life challenges that people encounter and must overcome. Entrepreneurship has been about that process, about that journey of exceeding your own expectation.

Further, unlike the blind men though, we have had the opportunity to sit together and discuss. I have learned from the experiences of my peers. Some of us may have felt the trunk, some the tusk or some the leg, but in reflecting and talking we have all become richer and have a better sense of what South Africa truly is. I feel that I would have been just like one of the blind men without the shared experiences of everyone. I have understood service learning better because of the experience that everyone else has shared. Thank you for an amazing, unforgettable quarter

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