South African mission fuels teens’ dreams

Emily Pepper and Kendal Querry share similar hopes for the their futures: They want to join the Peace Corps.

This decision was sparked after a recent youth service-building trip to South Africa with fellow State College teen Sara Barnett and YMCA Director of Community Outreach Cameron Frantz.

In July, the group joined other teens and YMCA youth counselors from New York City to serve on the mission trip as part of the International YMCA program that visited orphanages, schools, juvenile detention facilities and other YMCAs.

“It’s a chance to really step outside their comfort zone and embrace another country, and reach out and help other kids who are just like the girls,” Frantz said. “It’s also really a chance for them to build their service learning and experience the mission aspect of it.”

Frantz said the girls were able to interact with children from all over different programs in South Africa.

Two years ago, Frantz, Pepper, Querry and three other Centre County teens were a part of a similar trip to Peru. The South Africa trip was Barnett’s first.

“Going to South Africa, I just assumed that people from around the world disliked Americans,” said Querry, 16. “But we got there, and (they) were so invested in learning about the U.S. and how we live. It was a good chance to really interact with the other kids and learn each others’ lifestyles.

“It’s really empowering and we learned that we’re all kind of the same. Just being able to hangout and meet them, was the most rewarding.”

Frantz said for two years, the trio of teens worked to raise money for their trip, which cost about $5,000 each.

“Everything the girls did to be a part of this trip showed just the kind of girls they are,” Frantz said. “They opened themselves up to new experiences, even it that meant being far out of their comfort zone and really had a feeling of self accomplishment.”

Frantz and the girls said they were exposed to extreme poverty, which made them thankful for what they have. They said many of the people they interacted with slept on floors and were only able to eat one meal a day.

“When you experience that kind of heartache with others, it makes you not want to take what you have for granted,” said Emily, 17. “We got to know people and their struggles and acted as friends to them instead of tourists.”

One of the most inspiring ladies, they said was “Auntie Rosie,” a village woman who took care of dozens of children.

“She had so little but just kept saying, ‘I don’t need anything,’ because she had so much love around her,” Kendal said.

And although no longer in South Africa, the teens said they still keep in touch with their newly made friend via Facebook.

Frantz said she is working on scheduling another mission trip but can’t be certain if it will pan out. Emily said that next year, she wants to go to Thailand with the International YMCA program.

“It’s an experience where we’re there to help and interact with them,” she said, “but they shed light on us more.”