April 08, 2010

Rebecca Coldwell '11, above, and Kristen Hinrichs '11, below, working with children in the youth program they've developed in South Africa.

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By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Two Bucknell University students studying in South Africa are leaving their mark on the Port Elizabeth community they are calling home this semester.

Juniors Kristen Hinrichs and Rebecca Coldwell started an after-school youth program for children three years and older.

"We wanted a way to get directly involved with the community and make a difference," said Hinrichs, who is blogging about her study abroad experiences.  || Visit her blog

"Our main goal, besides getting to know the kids and the community, is to show the kids that they can do and be whatever they want," she said. "This means our main focuses are building leadership skills and working on self-esteem."

Hour commute
Each Tuesday, Coldwell and Hinrichs who are studying at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, spend more than an hour commuting to the location of the youth program in the township called Booysen's Park.

"Getting there is always an experience," said Hinrichs, a psychology major. "We have to take two different Kombis, the big taxis that smoosh about 20 people into them."

The idea for the youth program, which the two have dubbed Vuka Phile (Xhosa for "get up and go"), came from a counselor they met at orientation their first week in the country.

"The idea was influenced by what our friend told us about his community and the kids. He's been our link into the community and helped with getting people interested," said Hinrichs. "It is very informal in the sense that we are doing it on our own. There is no community center for us to do it in so we do it in the street and at our friend's house."

Planning activities
The two students said they are making the program as structured as possible and meet each Monday evening to map and plan different activities for the children who are divided into three different age groups. "It's harder than we thought to plan out activities for three different age groups that will last two hours," said Hinrichs. "But it's definitely rewarding and I always leave feeling good."

"We've greatly enjoyed just getting to know the kids and some of the adults in the community," said Coldwell, who is majoring in environmental studies. "The kids are always incredibly happy to see us and start activities."

The two Bucknellians have a goal of making the program permanent when they leave in June to return to the United States.

"We are going to work on getting the school involved so that they can get other students to take it over and keep it going so that it doesn't end when we leave," said Hinrichs.

Contact: Division of Communications