During the summer, Colgate students are applying their liberal arts know-how in a variety of real-world settings, and they are keeping our community posted on their progress. Brady Pearlstein, sophomore cross-country student-athlete from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, writes on his summer internship at an NGO in South Africa.

This summer, I interned for Student-Athletes Abroad, a company that offers opportunities for student-athletes to do service learning and volunteer work across the globe. My specific internship took place in Cape Town, South Africa, with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Great Commission United Academy (GCU).

GCU’s mission is to reduce the high levels of gang activity in Heideveld, the largest town in the Cape Flats, southeast of Cape Town. It does this by providing a school system, soccer league, and other organized activities for local youth.

Founder Mario Van Niekerk is a former gang member who escaped this violent life because, “I had enough,” he told me.

After years of watching loved ones perish — and committing crimes that he regrets to this day — Mario saw this organization as his call to action. During one of our conversations, Mario stated how watching GCU develop during the last 17 years has allowed him to find inner peace. “My life is full of regrets,” he said. “But doing this kind of work and giving back to the community brings me peace”.

I spent my three weeks trying to make GCU as marketable as it could be to donors. I did this by creating flyers, pamphlets, brochures, and newsletters on different digital forums that advertised GCU.

Developing this material was the easy part; putting them together required extensive research on what donors find appealing. I explored the websites of successful NGO’s, their newsletters, and the websites of popular donors. During the last week, I reached out to local companies to see if they would be interested in funding GCU. A few of the representatives showed interest and said that they would make plans to speak with Mario. I also spent most of the afternoons at GCU bonding with the children and staff.

This internship, more than anything, has reoriented my outlook on life and the world. Prior to the experience, I was hardly aware of what lies beyond America’s borders — difficulties and political issues of the developing world.

During my last week in Heideveld, I spoke to a young boy who explained how his parents cannot afford to feed their family every day. What stuck out to me the most was that he was not frustrated when talking about his problem; this was normal to him.

Ever since this conversation and the internship, I cannot describe how grateful I am for the life I have been given. The ability to study and run at a place like Colgate is something I will never take for granted. Therefore, I will make the most of the opportunities that come my way and always remember what this experience has taught me: humility and gratitude.


Fun(d) in the sun: Summer research with the Upstate Institute
Fútbol or soccer? Behind the scenes of the 2018 FIFA World Cup