South Africa trip with FFA teaches Rebekka Paskewitz to appreciate life
Rebekka Paskewitz traveled to South Africa with the national FFA, touring farms and agricultural schools from Jan. 2-17. Although she learned a lot about different types of agriculture, Paskewitz said witnessing the African culture has changed her attitude about life.
“Life is more enjoyable when you are surrounded by people who care,” said Paskewitz. She found that care at many of her stops, at farms, schools and villages. “There is something unique in the way they treat others and truly appreciate the value in the places they have,” she said.
It started when she got off the plane in Johannesburg. Despite the initial shock of the ugly odor of the city, Paskewitz said she recognized how beautiful it was, a country filled with mountains and valleys. “There was a saying that God took a little extra time to make Africa,” she said.
Paskewitz, a 2016 Staples-Motley graduate and currently a FFA State Officer, went with 75 State Officers from around the country, plus six from Minnesota. They started the trip with an orientation in Washington, D.C., where they learned that the agriculture of Africa is different than U.S. agriculture, but is also compatible in some ways. They also had taken an eight week course about the the history of South Africa, which for centuries had been dominated by Dutch and British colonists and their apartheid government that prevented native South Africans from power.
Through the training, Paskewitz knew that the culture would not be stereotypical shantytowns of Africa, even though those places do exist.
Paskewitz said the agriculture in South Africa is about 30 years behind the U.S. in machinery and technology. A mango farmer told the group that they are still a third world country but they are farming like a first world country. He said the country has a problem creating enough jobs for the population so he is helping politicians realize that farms create a lot of jobs. He believes agriculture is going to grow in South Africa because they need the food and the jobs.
Paskewitz said she appreciated the hard work that was done on this farm and others, such as banana, macademia nut and avocado farms they visited, especially where they pick their produce by hand. White corn maize and soybeans are also commercial crops in South Africa. The country is a world leader in wine making and in goat genetics, through their Boer goat breeding.
Most of the food grown in South Africa is eaten locally, so they are way behind in marketing exports, said Paskewitz.
“In the United States, the main focus of agriculture is to become more sustainable and more efficient. In South Africa their main concern is ‘how do we get on the market and get crops to where we need them?’” said Paskewitz.
While the FFA students realized the U.S. is ahead in technology and marketing, they still found things they learned from South African farmers. One of the first questions asked, that kept coming up on the trip was “What are we doing wrong?” said Paskewitz.
The answer often times came back in the form of the African attitude towards life.
Every morning, no matter where they went, they were greeted with a big buffet breakfast. “Things like this don’t always happen in the U.S.,” said Paskewitz.
One example of the African attitude came from a woman from Ghana who talked to Paskewitz on the airplane. When the woman first came to the U.S. she was surprised by the stand-offish nature of the citizens here. In contrast, any time she met someone in Africa, their attitude was “so happy to see you.”
“In the U.S. we are always thinking about what to do next, while we are still doing something else,” said Paskewitz. A saying she learned in Africa is “live where your feet are.”
She saw that play out any time they went to a new place. “They would all come out to greet us,” she said. In the U.S. people might have small things they do first before welcoming the crowd.
“We take things for granted, we pick apart the small things. In South Africa, they have big problems, and don’t pay as much attention to small problems. It helped me see that bigger picture,” said Paskewitz.
One reason for the positive attitude could be that South Africa is a very young country, as their current form of government started in 1994. “The country is as old as I am,” said Paskewitz.
She learned how much the country reveres Nelson Mandela. She visited the Nelson Mandela Political Center, with his statue outside and visited Robben Island, where Mandela was held for most of his time as a political prisoner. Having that personal connection to the country’s founding father leads the country to believe they can continue to make positive changes.
The fresh political scene does have roots in traditional African culture. Paskewitz visited Kayamandi, a small town of 49,000 people that did have the shanties and tin extensions on houses. They were welcomed by a woman called Mama. “She gave each one of us a hug and gave us some ginger beer. She made great food for all 83 of us,” said Paskewitz.
The traditional culture was easy to connect to. After the meal “the tour guide sat at our table and talked to us for a full hour,” said Paskewitz.
People tend to shy away from traditional cultures like this because they only see the poverty, but Paskewitz found it to be a place to learn about life. They visited a Kayamandi school, where a three year old child came up to Paskewitz and called her “teacher” before giving her a hug and asking to take a picture with her. “The kids wanted to connect. It was a sweet moment,” said Paskewitz.
A community like that is even farther behind in agriculture and Paskewitz said she could see herself coming back to teach agriculture there one day. She is currently attending South Dakota State University, studying agriculture and communications. Her South Africa trip helped her realize how agriculture can help people around the world, and how cultural values can shape attitudes towards life.
“I’m ready to share,” she said.