For many children, summer means playing at the beach or hanging at the mall. For a select few, this summer means an unforgettable experience in South Africa.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica recently took nine club members to the Boys & Girls Club in Soweto, South Africa for two weeks to volunteer at the local club, learn about the culture and participate in workshops about poverty and race issues in Africa.

The children and their adult mentors helped renovate club buildings and create community gardens, which will help feed locals in the future. The children also immersed themselves in the local culture, and learned from their African peers, creating friendships that will last a lifetime, organizers said.

For many of the children on the trip, this was the first time they left the country. The teens also traveled to Cape Town to see the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, to the Slave Lodge where the slaves that were forced to participate in the slave trade were kept, and to the Apartheid Museum.

They also went on a safari in Kruger National Park and saw animals including lions, elephants and zebras. They visited the Cape of Good Hope, the southern-most point of Africa, as well.

Their trip to the Karongwe Game Reserve offered them a chance to see where over 40 mammal species reside and learn about the preservation and restoration of the natural environment and the promotion of biodiversity. They also visited a settlement in Masiphumelele, and were able to experience life in the town as a local.

The experience was enlightening for the participants, not only because they learned about the culture of Africa, but also because many were greatly impacted by the stories they heard from community members describing the hardships they experience while living in South Africa, club officials said.

One of the club members who attended, David Ramirez, said, “One of the most important pieces of wisdom we took home was that we came to understand that we are all one in the same, we just live in different countries.”

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