Forming stereo types and making assumptions is something we all do. As much as we can tell ourselves not to, it's inevitable that we still at least think it.
Travelling to South Africa many will tell you about the two D's; danger and disease. What a lot of people don't realise is how big Africa is - South Africa in particular - and the diversity between all of the African countries.
I was personally was told of some 'horror' stories that made me feel unsafe to travel to South Africa, but what I have realised since arriving is that bad news travels faster than good news.
Yes, you need to have your wits about you and to be safe, but please tell me this: in what country do you not have to do that?
Having only been in South Africa a few days I have already experienced so many amazing things I will remember for a life time.
The condition people live in in the township communities is shocking - tiny tin shacks with multiple people living in them and usually no running water, electricity or toilets. However, even though these people and children don't have a lot, you wouldn't know it. I have never met happier children, so full of life. It also amazes me how outgoing they are and not shy at all to meet new people.
So the question is: who is worse off then?
In Australia, people and children have beautiful homes with running water, electricity, toilets, TVs, iPads, laptops and more.
Most children know how to use iPads and iPhones and have such expensive toys, yet you find they can still be unhappy. They are also shy and won't approach new people or get involved. When playing a game at home kids would need to be rewarded with a lollie or something, whereas as the children here simply will celebrate with a high five, or if rewarded with a simple sticker and paper plate to draw on, they will go crazy with excitement.
Sometimes the more you have, the more pain you can have.
We all need to step back and stop and think.
So I guess my advice from these first few days of joining the project would be to enrich your life with memories and experiences, rather than with things. You cannot take your house, car, clothes and money to the grave. When you're lying on your death bed you won't remember the things that you bought. It will be the things that you did and the things you didn't do. So choose happiness, choose travel, choose love, choose your life and live it.
Lauren from Australia is currently participating in our Teaching and Youth Development Project in Cape Town.