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August 21, 2008

Return to Bushwick

Posted: 02:56 PM ET

“I don’t want to leave,” Tasheema Walker told me as we walked onto the plane at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The bubbly, pony-tailed 13 year old had spent two weeks in South Africa meeting new friends and helping to deliver supplies to grannies and orphans living in shacks with no utilities, no mattresses, limited food and lots of trash. There was mud and garbage and evidence of extreme poverty everywhere you looked, and yet the people who lived there were happy and joyful. They were also grateful for the attention and supplies Tasheema and her friends brought to them.

Soledad OBrien consoles Tasheema Walker, 13, in the Tambo International Airport before leaving South Africa for home. Tasheema told Soledad “I don’t want to leave.”

The “Journey for Change” experience touched Tasheema and the other 29 participants deeply. Almost all of them returned to Brooklyn convinced they were permanently altered by the trip. “I am really happy that I came because this trip has changed me a lot,” writes 15 year old Jeremy Baker. “I learned how to do better service work and I also learned how to stop cursing.”

Their Global Ambassador contracts require them to continue to talk about their experiences, and to continue to do service. They are all eager to do that. Twelve year old Queen Clyde wants to have a bake sale to raise money for a South African family who lost their home. Sixteen year old Yolaine Calixte would like to help out at granny led homes here in the U.S. Malaak Compton Rock, the founder of the program, would like some of the children to speak before Congress to advocate for better resources in the inner cities and for better resources for South African orphans. Many of the Journey for Change participants – Donovan Rogers, Joshusa Hall, Shawn Todd and Tasheema Walker among them – are eager to do that.

The day after the trip, nearly all 30 of the Journey for Change kids showed up at the Salvation Army in Bushwick, Brooklyn to discuss how they will share their experiences in their community, and how they will continue to do service work back here in the United States. It’s all very impressive, but the goal of this program is to take these ‘at risk’ kids - children raised in a poor neighborhood with plenty of drugs, a high teenage pregnancy rate and struggling schools - and make sure they stay in school and make good choices for their lives. Will they do it? We plan to stick with them and find out. Eventually their experiences will be turned into a documentary here on CNN. In the meantime, they’re sharing their thoughts here on our blog.

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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August 20, 2008

Con Man on Campus?

Posted: 06:00 PM ET

You can lose a lot of money in a Ponzi scheme. And the international scheme investigators and plaintiffs say was concocted by a graduate of the University of Miami is no exception.  Investigators say investors may have been bilked out of more than $30 million.

According to the FBI’s definition, a Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud where the bad guy promises high financial returns that are not available through traditional investments.  The scheme generally falls apart when there are not enough new investors to keep the money rolling in.  This type of fraud was named after Charles Ponzi of Boston, Mass., who offered his investors a guaranteed 50 percent return on their investment in postal coupons – of course, the scheme fell apart in the end, and the investors lost fortunes. 
 
Authorities say there tend to be more Ponzi schemes in a poor economy where desperate people seem to fall for pitches on easy ways to make quick cash.
 
But universities are filled with smart people.  They wouldn't fall for one of the oldest tricks in the book, would they?
 
Investigators and some of the alleged victims say that's exactly what happened:  The accused perpetrator was allegedly allowed to use a university conference room for investor meetings and UM computers to track all the money.  University employees say they chose to invest, lured by promised returns, in some cases, of 18%.

The university says it's aware of the investigation into the alleged scheme, and that "a few current or former employees" invested.

“University funds are not involved,” UM spokeswoman Margot Winick told CNN. “The university will cooperate fully with the investigation.”

When CNN found out about this alleged Ponzi, we set up an interview with a current university employee who says she lost a substantial amount of money, and who said she would tell us what she knew.
 
We actually drove to her Miami home to interview her on camera.  We showed up on time, knocked on her door, but there was no answer.  I called her to let her know we had arrived, and that’s when she told us that the university media relations spokesperson advised her not to talk to CNN.  I was surprised, considering it was her own money that was lost, not the university’s money.  So, why were they stopping her from sharing her story?  She told us she was concerned she could lose her job if she told us everything she knew, so, at the last minute, she understandably backed out.
 
It got us wondering: is there more to the story?
 
We're going to keep digging.  Meanwhile, tonight you'll get to see what we've learned so far.

Posted by:
Filed under: Abbie Boudreau


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Journey for Change Notebook: August 19, 2008

Posted: 04:10 PM ET
Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves. The group returned to the U.S. on August 13th.
 Queen Clyde, 12, proposing the idea of a bake sale to her Journey for Change friends.
Queen Clyde, 12, proposing the idea of a bake sale to her Journey for Change friends.

 When we got back from South Africa I was so excited. We landed in Dulles Airport in Virginia on the 13th of August.  It was a long ride up back to New York, N.Y.  When we actually got to New York we had a meeting at the Bushwick Salvation Army. The meeting was mainly about how we're going to continue this journey in America.  

So there's a shack that burned down in Diepsloot. Malaak wants to rebuild it before the woman who lives there comes out of the hospital. She has burns from her neck down and won't be coming home for a while.  So to support her I'm having a bake sale. Its going to be on the 23 of August. All the money we raise will go towards rebuilding the shack.

-Queen Clyde, 12


   The hotel we slept in the last night we were in South Africa was absolutely beautiful. Sharing a room with Zulianna was interesting. I can’t believe how fast the trip went by. Everyday was full with visiting houses, schools, and families. I loved being with the kids. It was interesting learning about other kids my age from a different culture. I loved the gumboot dancing. It kind of made me understand where stepping came from.

 -Dasia Carr, 12


  My experience in Africa was wonderful. The saddest part of leaving Africa was the farewell to Soweto. I was happy that I made a difference in the lives of families but I didn’t want to leave them.  It was so nice when we went shopping for them; I just felt so good picking up things for them.

 This trip has made me a better person. Now I am more grateful for what I have and I learned to appreciate all the things that my parents do for me. When I hugged the granny from the house visits she was full of joy. The kids were playing and running around with stickers.  I was watching them and saying, ‘WOW I never knew it takes so little to make someone happy.’ I am going to continue to make a difference in people’s lives because I feel that it is the right thing to do.

 Leaving Zama and Cornelius (the South Africans who helped to organize the trip) was also sad. They helped us all the time. We should reward them because they are so amazing.  Also Malaak, she is so beautiful and caring. If it wasn’t for her none of us would be here and the trip wouldn’t have even started.

-Jenee Lawson, 14


 “Wow” is all I can say about this journey of a life time. The two weeks are finally over and I’m back to reality. I have to say South Africa is way different than America. It took me awhile to get used to the American ways. The sleeping time –for some reason I’m getting tired at about five o-clock eastern time. The Rand- when I write the money symbol I end up writing the “R” symbol. I admit it will take me about four days to get my head straightened. So the plane ride was shorter coming back. I was less worried than before. Most of us sat in the same row, row seventy three. I guess it was shorter for me because I was sleeping and I was listening to Shawn’s mouth and Jonathan’s mouth the whole time. On the plane I reflected on my time in South Africa I and tried to think about what I can do now that I’m a Global Ambassador. I feel really important calling my self a Global Ambassador, and when I say it I feel full of confidence.    

Now I’m in America home of the ‘Free and the Brave,’ ready to fulfill my Global Ambassador Contract, and ready for all the obstacles life throws at me.

Post Script. I really miss my mentor and can’t wait to see her soon and also everyone else.

 -Sydney Smart, 12


 

 Sydney Smart, 12, addresses her Journey for Change friends at a meeting in Brooklyn on August 14.
Sydney Smart, 12, addresses her Journey for Change friends at a meeting in Brooklyn on August 14.

 Right now I miss being back in Africa.  I feel sad because I left all the kids there.  I really want to go back.  I wish we could have stayed a little longer.  I’m happy to be with my family but I feel like I left another family in Africa because I got so connected to them.  I’m excited about the Global Ambassador program because there are a lot more ways I want to serve in the community and globally.  I would like to have a clothing drive, and raise money for kids who don’t have a home.  There are a lot of ways I’d like to make a difference.  Being in Africa changed me a lot.  I feel like I wasn’t grateful for what I had.  It really changed me.

 -Zuliana Burnett, 13

 

 Ever since I got home, my friends and I miss the fun and want to go back to Africa. Unfortunately we spent only two weeks in Africa.  I really enjoyed the time we spent with the families we visited and the kids in the orphanage.  It was fun experiencing how the culture is and how the school system is compared to what we have here where we live.  Before we left Africa, we had farewell ceremonies in Diepsloot and Soweto .  It was hard to say goodbye because we will miss everyone we visited.  We have drawn close to them and showed them a lot of love. They showed us love as well. 

I’m happy to be a Global Ambassador so I can show everyone else my experience and maybe one day they will be able to experience what I have.  I’m excited.  I’m looking forward to speaking in public even though my nerves get to me.

 -Latoya Massie, 14

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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August 11, 2008

Journey for Change Notebook: August 10, 2008

Posted: 04:59 PM ET
CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O'Brien shares a photo with Jonathan Severe, 14, a Journey for Change participant.
CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O'Brien shares a photo with Jonathan Severe, 14, a Journey for Change participant.

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

Today was a very good day. First, we went to church, which was very inspirational. At first I was not happy about going to church, but then when I heard my favorite song I was as happy as ever. Then after a few songs it got boring. I think it’s because I don’t go to church so I don’t know what church is about.
- Vandesha Walker, 12

Today it was a simple plain day to me. First we went to church. After, we came back to Heron Bridge (the place we’re staying) to have lunch. Then we went shopping at a flea market and I bought some fabulous items. I bought jewelry, key chains, and two mini female and male warriors. Later I have to go pack my suitcase because we are going to a hotel tomorrow night. I am sad this is my last night in Heron Bridge but I am glad that this is my beginning for Journey for Change.
- Imaan Williams, 12

Today I had an interview with CNN. It was a good interview. I had fun in the interview. They asked me some good questions. It was one of the best interviews I ever went to. I really liked it a lot. Next I went to a big mall. It was the first mall I went to in South Africa. Then I went to a basketball game. It was so fun. We won.
- Jonathan Severe, 14

Hello, my name is Laura DiFilippi. I am twelve years old. I live with my mother and two brothers. I got introduced to the Bushwick Community Center by Lt. Miranda. He brought us to church there! I was involved with Bushwick for two years when I heard about a trip where thirty kids could go to South Africa. I wanted to go so I could help some kids in South Africa! So I had an interview. Everybody told me I did a good job with my interview. Later, like a couple of weeks, I went to the orientation where Captain Locke read the list of people who were going to South Africa with Malaak Compton-Rock. As soon as I heard my name I was excited!!!
- Laura DiFilippi, 12

Leaving New York was the hardest thing for me to do to come to Johannesburg. I had to leave my family behind and a lot of my music. The eighteen hour flight, I would say, was the most nerve racking part of this trip. The people around me made it easier to rest, even though I barely slept. Every day was something new, but with the same routine. Wake up at six, be at breakfast at eight, and be ready to board the bus around nine. During the two weeks we visited homes and schools in Soweto and Diepsloot. Seeing the families was pretty hard. We visited granny led homes and orphan led homes. The first house was granny led. The last two were orphan led. The second house we visited was easiest to put myself into their situation. The house had an older brother who was around eighteen and two younger sisters who were around my age and eight. Their mother died from, I believe, arthritis and they don’t know where their father is because he left them a long time ago. In my situation there are three of us. My older brother who is eighteen, my younger sister who is seven, and me at age twelve. My parents are separated, so suppose my mother passes and my father resents the responsibility. It made me think that I should be grateful for them even when I’m angry with them. After visiting the homes the next day we went to Mackro (big bulk store) to buy supplies for the families. The first house, the granny led was a three room shack where twenty-three people lived. I absolutely loved the granny’s expression when we gave her the supplies. It made me happy to know that I can make someone else smile and give them hope. Earlier we had visited an orphanage where I had played with the zero to six month old babies. They were so adorable. I enjoyed making them laugh, but there was this one baby who wouldn’t smile. Katelynn and I tried to make him smile but he just wouldn’t. When he FINALLY smiled it made me so so so happy. It turned out that he was the baby who had a twin. I didn’t realize that they looked alike and they were complete opposites. His sister was so sweet and she smiled like there was no tomorrow. When we had to leave it was almost impossible, but when we all finally left the babies cried as if it was the first and last time that they were ever held and cared for in that way. If it was up to me I would definitely adopt them and bring them back with me. If only it were possible.
- Dasia Carr, 12

In reference to We Are All The Same by Jim Wooten, a known author who wrote a book inspired by Nkosi Johnson, a boy who died at the age of twelve and only weighed twenty pounds. He had the AIDS virus which he had from birth. His mom died when Nkosi was only two years old. He also had a lot going on in his life, and at age eleven he spoke at an International Conference on AIDS held in Durban, South Africa. Well, Nkosi as a young child impacted a person like me at age 14. That he inspired me to talk about him many years later after he passed is a great thing for me. Nkosi Johnson mentions that, “We are all human beings. We are normal… We can walk. We can talk. We have needs, just like everyone else… we are the same.” I also think that any child with AIDS should always live a healthy life and people in general should always: “Treat everyone the same as they would like to be treated.” That’s my favorite saying.
- Latoya Massie, 14

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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Journey for Change Notebook: August 9, 2008

Posted: 04:58 PM ET

 

15 year old Jeremy Baker shows off his moves at a school in Soweto, South Africa.

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

Today was a very fun day, because first we went to an amusement park. Then, we went to the Apartheid Museum. After, we went to Constitution Hill were we learned about different things that happened in the prison cells. After that we went to this beautiful court house were we learned about the difference between the South African Bill of Rights and the U.S. Bill of Rights. After we came from the court house, we saw Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. There were a lot of interesting facts inside. Then we had a nice barbeque. The food was delicious. I can’t wait until tomorrow for another exciting day. We are going shopping tomorrow!
- Vandesha Walker, 12

Today was very fun because we went to Gold Reef City and the Apartheid Museum, and we went to a place called Constitution Hill. We had a fabulous South African barbecue at Constitution Hill.
- Tasheema Walker, 13

Today we went to a place called Gold Reef City. It was an amusement park and I got on this ride called the Tower of Terror. After, we went to the Apartheid Museum to learn about my history and my ancestors. After we went to a prison called Constitution Hill. There we saw Nelson Mandela’s jail cell and other people’s jail cells who I really don’t know. After that we went to have a barbecue at the entrance of Constitution Hill that was fun. Now I’m leaving and I’m having fun back at Heron Bridge (the place we’re staying).
- Benjamin Goode, 11

Today we experienced many things. We saw one of Nelson Mandela’s cells. It’s located in a prison called Constitution Hill. It was a very unique moment. At the prison we also met a lady who was imprisoned there. She gave us a tour. She was very detailed and she showed us her cell also. As we walked around we noticed how cruel things were in the prisons back then and how they have changed for today. When the tour was over, we had a barbeque. At the site we were able to look around and see the whole prison. As we left we noticed how the prison was in the shape of a fort.
The day before, we went to an African village and we had a tour guide. We went around to different parts of the village and we greeted them and experienced how they lived. They love to eat fried caterpillars. My opinion was that they tasted like salty shrimp. When we finished the tour of the village, they put on a show for us. And then we ate. And that ended a full day.
- Albert Brunn III, 12

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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August 7, 2008

Visit to a Shantytown

Posted: 06:30 PM ET
CNN's Soledad O'Brien plays with children in Diepsloot while Journey for Change participant Laura DiFilippi takes her picture.
CNN's Soledad O'Brien plays with children in Diepsloot while Journey for Change participant Laura DiFilippi takes her picture.

Soledad O'Brien
CNN Special Correspondent

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Diepsloot is a massive shantytown on the northern edge of Johannesburg, about 30 minutes from the city center.

Cornelius Xulu, a project coordinator with Hope Worldwide points over a low hill to show me the scope of these thousands upon thousands of shacks, made of tin and wood and brick. Many are collapsing, with gaping holes and sagging ceilings.

Cornelius guesses the shack-city goes for 3 miles one direction and several miles the other - an indication of how entrenched the poverty is in this section of the city.

In the shantytowns the poor often pay rent for four tin walls, a mud floor and no utilities.
Here a shack can cost about 350 to 700 rand per month ($47 – $93 USD), which means many families are often too poor to buy food or clothing.

It is in Diepsloot where we start our fifth morning in South Africa, delivering bags of rice, boxes of soup, and packages of toothbrushes to the grannies - women who are raising their grandchildren because their own children have died.

The kids from Bushwick are excited. They've quickly grown to love the act of giving, and there are playful tussles over the soccer balls and toys to hand out to the small children who line the narrow and dusty streets.

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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Journey for Change Notebook: August 6, 2008

Posted: 06:26 PM ET

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

Today was a great day. We got to go to breakfast in our pajamas. We left our resort at 10:30AM and the first place we went was a home in Diepsloot. The Grandmother was a part of HOPE Worldwide, so she had most of the things she needed. After, we went to OVC Kids Club (OVC stands for Orphans and Vulnerable Children). Some of the time I was interacting with the kids, but I was really stepping most of the time. During the program the mentees in the lemon heads, which is the name of my team on this trip, did a step for all the kids. It was fun today and I wish it didn’t end.

- Imaan Williams, 12

Today all the teams went to Diepsloot to visit families that were previously helped by HOPE Worldwide. The first house we visited was a granny lead household. They had a very nice house. The sad thing about having a house with nice things, they told us, is there have been a lot of robberies happening. I felt bad. The next house was lead by a granny also. She had hard times feeding her family. She had many people living in three or four rooms. I felt her strength and happiness when I gave her my lunch. I felt warm inside also. Later we went to the school and played with the children. They were adorable. We sang, talked, played games and shared. At the end we passed out goody bags and showed them dance moves and they showed us back. After we came back to the resort and had free time. FUN! Now we are writing.
P.S. I saw a vulture today! Freaky.

- Sydney Small, 12

Yolaine Calixte, 16, plays with children outside of ‘granny-led’ home in Diepsloot
Yolaine Calixte, 16, plays with children outside of ‘granny-led’ home in Diepsloot

Today and yesterday were like two of the best days ever. My group had so much fun. We went to a granny led home and we talked to her and we sang songs with her when we gave her all the stuff she needed. She was so happy when she received the stuff. I also felt happy when I saw the smile on her face. After we came from her house we went to this school. It was so nice there except for the bathroom. It was horrible in there. There were no doors and it smelled worse than a baby after it poops. I promised myself I will never go in that bathroom again. Other than the bathroom it was a pretty good school. They also performed for us which was really good. My favorite part was when they did a play. They can really act. It was so cool. I also liked it when they were dancing. They were pretty good. I really enjoyed it. I am looking forward for the rest of my days here.

- Vandesha Walker, 12

Today was a good day for me but not like yesterday. Yesterday was so cool. It was the best so far since I came here. I had so much fun when we went to a school and we saw a lot of things. We saw an African play. We saw a dance and sang some songs. Africa has so many talented people. We also gave food to some of the houses we went to see. I was so happy that day.

- Jonathan Severe, 14

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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August 5, 2008

We Are In South Africa!

Posted: 11:52 PM ET


Soledad O'Brien
CNN Special Correspondent

August 4, 2008

They say jet lag really hits you on the third day in South Africa. If that’s true, I’m dreading tomorrow. We’ve hit the ground running in Johannesburg. Thirty kids from around Bushwick, Brooklyn, matched with 30 college-aged mentors as part of Journey for Change, a program started by Malaak Compton-Rock, that brought disadvantaged kids to South Africa to volunteer. Plus the CNN crew—me, my producer Michelle, photographers Fred, Kevin, Tawanda and our soundtech Ted. Our days are long, our body clocks way off.

But it’s hard to be anything but joyful when you’re surrounded by teenagers discovering and uncovering South Africa. The kids began their service on Monday — and it was a tough day. A visit to an orphanage, filled with young children who’ve been abandoned or lost parents. Some of the babies are HIV positive.

The Journey for Change kids sat with smaller children on their laps, or rocked tiny babies. It was surprising to see the teenagers quickly bond with the babies—it was heartbreaking to leave the babies behind.Later in the day a short ride to the shantytowns that dot Soweto, where the kids were shocked by the depth of poverty of the grannies, raising their grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren in tiny rectangular shacks … with holes in the roofs, no food, no heat, no running water, no electricity.

Part of the service is to take notes on what these impoverished families need—so they can go shopping and deliver it tomorrow. It was emotionally wrenching, some of the kids cried while they described having to prioritize the shopping list for their families. The families have nothing, and it seems brutally unfair to have to pick and choose among necessities like warm clothes and food.

We’ve asked the Journey for Change kids, aged almost 12 to 16, to blog about their experiences while they are here in South Africa, to give you a better sense of who they are, what they hope to gain by giving and what changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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August 4, 2008

Journey for Change Notebook: August 4, 2008

Posted: 04:49 PM ET


Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We’ve asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

"Hello my name is Tasheema Walker and I’m going to the 9th grade in high school. My birthday is November 20.  In life some of the things I like to do is stepping, dancing, singing, and playing basketball. I also have a very great family who I love and adore for the rest of my life. But when I was a little girl I used to attend the Salvation Army Day Care Center which I really loved a lot because they were like my second family. So then my grandparents decided that my sister Vandesha and I should go to the Salvation Army Camp which we actually have been attending since we were about five years old. But this year they told me and Vandesha that we were no longer campers there but we are junior counselors and when we were told that my heart lit up like a Christmas tree on Christmas.   “

- Tasheema Walker, 13

"Today was a great day!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes in Soweto.  First we went to the Salvation Army orphanage. They take care of children from the ages of 0 months to 3 years. All these children were abandoned in all types of places you can imagine: garbage bins, toilets, in abandoned homes, and so much more. I had to cry when I heard all of this. It makes you think about how much of a great life you have. There was a little boy named Blessing and to me he is a blessing. Not was a blessing but is a blessing. We played with them and laughed with them and it was a joyful experience. I love these kids so much. I just wanted to take them home with me. After I had to leave, but that wasn’t the end. We went to a granny headed home and that is where the real drama begins.When I got to the house and looked inside it was dirty, musty, and had a little room. There was one twin bed and six people in the house. There are four boys, the granny, and her daughter.  Two boys are 17.  One is eight and the other is 18 months."

- Imaan Williams, 12  

"Today was so emotional.  I mean when we went to the orphanage to see the infants – when I first went in – I didn’t know what was going on.  When I saw my friends Mariah and Zuliana crying I started to realize what was really going on with these infants.  It kind of made me soft inside. When it was over and time for me to go I kind of wanted to go and adopt all of those infants.  Kids this young shouldn’t be going through what they are going through without knowing their actual parents.  That’s kind of hurtful. After we left the orphanage we went to a granny led home which wasn’t in good shape. Her furniture was all ripped up and she was taking care of two kids plus herself which was a hand full being that she needed a lot of things she can’t get.  After, we went to a child led home which was kind of better in some ways but not in other ways. Here a 21 year old girl was taking care of two other teenagers. They needed certain things like food and clothing. This is all for now.  See you later."

- Benjamin Goode, 11

"Today we were split up into six different groups.  We each went into different households here in South Africa.  My group went to two households — one led by a granny and another one led by a child.  The child led house was led by a girl that was only twenty one.  She has been taking care of this household since she was only sixteen.  She has been doing this for about five years now.  I’m not even in the situation and I was feeling sad.  What I noticed is that they kept their heads up and they stayed positive.  There are three children living in this household.  They only have one bedroom and mattress.  The granny led household was more compact.  There were nine grandchildren living in the household. There was only one bedroom and one mattress.  All of the covers were ripped up and had many, many stains.  The grandmother and the oldest grandchild had to sleep on two chairs.  The granny never has any spare time on her hands.  I think this is crazy.  That’s why tomorrow morning my group is going shopping.  I will keep you updated on everything that is going on here in South Africa — also about the households and the people in them. Have a nice day."

- Albert Brunn III, 12

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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August 3, 2008

Journey for Change Notebook: August 3, 2008

Posted: 04:48 PM ET
Jeremy Baker, 15, plays with an infant at the Ethembeni orphanage in Soweto, South Africa.
Jeremy Baker, 15, plays with an infant at the Ethembeni orphanage in Soweto, South Africa.

Editor's Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in "Journey for Change," a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. We've asked them to share their experiences by blogging about the changes they expect to bring about in others and hope to see in themselves.

 

"I can’t believe we made it. We are in South Africa at last. It is so cold, that it feels like an oversized freezer. Maybe in the morning it will be a bit warmer. Right now, everybody is either writing in their journals or getting ready for bed. I am so happy to be in South Africa right now. I can’t wait until we start doing service work and helping out others. I am so happy to have been chosen to go on this journey. If it wasn’t for my wonderful essay, and Mrs. Malaak, I would not be here right now.  Most people don’t have opportunities like this. I am truly blessed, and all my thanks go to Mrs. Malaak, the Hope Worldwide foundation, my parents, and most of all God for giving me this opportunity to be here right now. After this trip my whole life will be different and my whole personality will change, and I can’t wait to be different."

- Vandesha Walker, 12

" 'Oh my' were the first words out of my mouth when I heard about the South Africa trip. “Definitely” was my reply and then the journey began. Next thing you know, you’re attending your first meeting, signing your contract, getting your passport (THE MOST DIFFICULT) and you’re off to Africa. The tears of happiness and joy cover your checks and you’re so happy that you let them roll down to your shirt. The hands waving to us on the bus encourages us to do our best and have a great time. Soon enough you’re on your flight.  You have great inspirations in your mind and you can’t stop them from coming.
When you have finished your 18 hour ride across the Atlantic Ocean you wake up the person next to you and whisper, “we’re in Africa!” and they’re fully awake in a second ready to pass the good news to the other sleeping passengers.  Truthfully, I was relieved that we were traveling above land not water anymore. We got off the plane excited for the next two weeks in South Africa.  The first things we did was claim our luggage, take attendance, and get on the bus to the resort that we will be staying for ten days.  When we got there I have to say it was quite chilly.  I wasn’t expecting that at all. My roommate is Laura. She is really funny. Later we ate our first made African meal.   It was stew beef and rice.  It was really delicious.The second day in Africa was fun. We first ate breakfast and then had a press conference.  We discussed why we think we are in South Africa and how and why we will make a change."

- Sydney Smart, 12

"Hi. My name is Imaan Williams and I am a Journey for Change participant. Over the last few weeks I have been interviewed, and been at several meetings for this trip. I believe this trip will be something like I have never experienced. We drove for five hours on Thursday to Dulles Airport in Virginia, and then flew to Africa, arriving on Friday.  It was an eighteen hour flight with a one hour stop.  I will be staying in South Africa for two amazing weeks.  Already I have been at a press conference, orientation, a museum and I have been on a tour of Soweto. Today we went to the Salvation Army Church.  At the museum, I learned a lot of things about apartheid and children my age standing up against apartheid.  Tomorrow the rest of the Journey for Change participants and I will be going to an orphanage.  When I reached Johannesburg, I had whole different idea about what it would look like. I couldn’t believe my eyes, with all the stars and the sunset. I love meeting new people and getting to know them. The part that I really feel sad about is that I miss my family. Anyways I have to go to bed. Goodbye. Peace!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Xoxoxoxoxo"

- Imaan Williams, 12

"Hi.  My name is Benjamin Goode and I am 11 and a half.  I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn and go to The Salvation Army. When I first heard about this trip I was so happy.  I always told myself that I was going to go on this trip and I never doubted myself.  Everyday I got closer and closer to the time for the interviews, and I was getting very scared.  When that day came I had a butterfly in my stomach.  My name was called and I thought, ‘here I go. I’m in the spotlight,’ but it went by like a breeze. When I had heard that I was going on this trip I got so excited because all that I had done had paid off. A few days pass. Now it’s time to pack and I need a bigger suitcase for my clothes. Even though I have a big suitcase my clothes are still not fitting– time to go to my grandmother.  She’s the best. She can really help with some problems. When I go to my grandmother and tell her my problem she jumps right on the case. My suitcase was packed in a matter of twenty minutes ”

- Benjamin Goode, 11

"Hello everyone.  My name is Albert Brunn III and I am a Journey for Change participant.  I’m twelve years old.  My favorite sport is football.  From the day I heard I was accepted by the one and only Malaak Compton- Rock, I really wanted to get involved with this Journey for Change. That’s because I told my Dad if I could ever help someone less fortunate than me that I would always take that chance.  I’m here now and I feel so special because of all the things people have donated to us, and to the people who have made this dream for us.  Part of Journey for Change is for kids to come to South Africa and make a change.  We have met so many people that have been nice to us.  The thing about this trip is that it was completely free for all 30 kids and their 30 mentors.  I feel that this trip will be a big change in my life.   I say that because I think it will give me a greater appreciation of how wealthy I am compared to the people here in South Africa.  I think this trip will also stop my huge amount of waste with food.  I want to cut down because I feel that why waste food that other people can eat?  So I will keep you posted.  Have a nice day."

- Albert Brunn III, 12

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien


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