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Self-evaluation in Johannesburg

Travel inevitably involves meeting an abundance of people. You’ll probably make good memories with most, but few people leave an impression that will not fade. This isn’t necessarily a reflection upon a bland character – as anyone who has travelled will probably note, there are many faces that, upon reflection, a name or even a place cannot be put to. It’s just one of those things. An enduring impression is a unique thing to stumble across.

Therefore from the moment I met Flora Modiba, straight away I knew that she was unforgettable. I was absolutely struck by her.

Up until this point I hadn’t really enjoyed South Africa. Coming from the UK, a very western country in which anything remotely politically incorrect is highly reprimanded, it was hard to take a lot of the openly sexist, racist and generally prejudice conversations and opinions I was now surrounded by. It made me feel uncomfortable and, honestly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Flora opened my eyes to the goodness of many of the people in South Africa, and helped to see past my sweeping generalisations. Pushing 70 years old, Flora is more mentally and physically active than most 20 something’s I know. She wears a big smile and a big heart proudly on her sleeve and was kind enough to show me around her project – Arebaokeng Hospice.

The hospice currently houses around 160 children, many of whom are orphans. Arebaokeng feeds them, gives them books and toys to play with, and contributes to stability in the early stages of their life. They’ve got big plans for the future, and despite a few stumbling blocks, are pretty confident in getting to where they want to be.

This hospice was founded by Flora, and has grown substantially through nothing but hard work and perseverance. To meet someone so dedicated to the service of others for no reason other than that she cares is something that’s certainly hard to put into words – at least words that escape tired cliches and a sense of pretentiousness.

I’m not a fan of going into disadvantaged people’s lives and taking a look around whilst I’m traveling. It feels a bit too much like ‘Rich Westerner in ‘Is this really your life?!‘ But with my visit to Arebaokeng, it felt different. I walked in, whimpering and moaning at another bout of the flu, and was blown away by the reality of many people’s situations in Johannesburg. Not just the reality of suffering that is so often portrayed of third world countries in the Western media, but the reality of people who sacrifice everything in their lives to help others. Needless to say, I swiftly put a stop to my snivelling and nose-blowing.

Meeting people like Flora, and all the people that work and volunteer at the hospice for that matter, really is a rarity. To find this level of selflessness maybe it is necessary to remove yourself from the same old tired travel routes and backpacker hostels and go and experience a part of a country, culture or community that really makes a difference. After all, there’s more to exploring the world than a string of blurry faces and hazy memories – no matter how fun they were at the time.

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Gemma Fottles, a 22 year old English travel junkie currently living in Amsterdam. Embarking on my first backpacking trip in 2009 to Thailand at the tender age of 18, I was bitten by the bug and have been travelling ever since. Throughout University I worked and saved in order to spend my summers in amazing places, notably Australia and Hong Kong as well as an internship in Honduras and then a trip around Costa Rica. Since graduating, I landed a job as a travel reporter for SPAR International in which I was sent to four different continents over the course of four months. I then completed a ski season in the French Alps, and decided that the UK just wasn't going to cut it anymore. I packed my bags, did some research and have just spent the summer on a house boat in Amsterdam - my favourite city in my favourite country.

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