For the past few months, I have had the extreme privilege of spending Monday-Wednesday at St. Michael’s Child and Youth Center. St. Michael’s is a home for teenage girls who, for some reason or another, have been removed from their families and are living at this home. Currently, there are 20 wonderful young women who stay at St. Michael’s.

Originally, I did computer literacy with the girls. However, over the last few months I’ve had all sorts of roles. I’ve helped with hair, listened to relationship problems and dreams for the future, corrected spelling, played games, been the source of comic relief, and been a chaperone on countless walks to the park or to the shop for suckers (aka popsicles). My main role, as a YAGM and a volunteer at St. Michael’s, was to spend time with the young women, get to know them, and build relationships. I cannot imagine a bigger blessing than this role has been in my life.

Granted- it has not always been pleasant or easy. Take a moment to imagine the drama one teenage girl can cause. Now, remove that girl from her home and family and place her in a new environment. Now, multiply that amount of drama by 20.

 There were days when the amount of noise gave me migraines, when I had to pray hard for patience and understanding, when all I could do was cry, and days when I wanted to get up and leave. But there were also days when I laughed so hard I cried, when I felt inspired by their passion and talents, when I couldn’t imagine ever having spent enough time with “my girls.”

I have learned more from those 20 young women (and the incredible staff who work with them) than I could have ever hoped to teach, and they have changed my life in ways that are nearly as beautiful as they are. I’ve been wanting to blog about them since my first day, but I was unsure as to how to share their stories. After all, they are a marginalized and vulnerable population. And they are minors. And I’m terrified of giving you the wrong impression, or a narrow impression, or really any impression of them that they would not approve of. So, I’ve decided to let them tell you instead.

Earlier this month, I gave each girl a slip of paper and told her to answer the question, “What three things do you want to say to America?” There were also some guidelines: no names, no swear words, and it had to be in English. Participating was optional, and I didn’t give the girls examples of what they could say, for fear of influencing their answers.

So, here is what these wonderful, complex, beautiful, talented, creative, and funny girls had to say to you, the people of America (I’ve typed it exactly as they wrote it, with each new letter signifying a different girl):

  • A1. I love the people
  • A2. I want to go to America
  • A3. I love the places they
  • B1. Come fetch me in Cape Town!
  • B2. I love America!
  • B3. I love the USA!
  • C1. I love JUSTIN BIEBER
  • D1. Hello to the world out there 🙂 Be free & spread the love & peace! xo
  • E1. Bring me delicious food.
  • F1. Has nice people!
  • F2. Rich country!
  • F3. Is a beautiful country!
  • G1. South Africa is one of the best place you came and visite.
  • G2. I’m 13 years old, I love travalling the world.
  • G3. Would you want to come and visit I would love to see you I can’t wait.
  • H1. South Africa is an amazing country with lots of dramas.
  • H2. We love it when people come and visit us.
  • H3. We here want you guys to feel good and safe when you visit us.
  • I1. Say hi 2 rihanna for me… plz
  • I2. Is lyf good there
  • I3. Happy Holidays.
  • J1. It is a very huge country.
  • J2. I have heard a lot of America and would like to go there.
  • J3. They have a big rainbow nation and lots of people visit there.
  • K1. We love you guys
  • K2. We hope you will come and visit us
  • K3. Hello and goodbuy!
  • L1. Africa is not a jungle or a forest.
  • L2. Africa has got talent.
  • L3. The first humans evolved from Africa.

Looking back, there were better prompts I could have used. But, I kind of love this list. It shows the diversity in the group, the talent, the intelligence, and the vitality they possess.

Sadly, because of some upcoming changes in my life in Cape Town, I will no longer be spending my days at St. Michael’s. I had my last day there this past week, and said good-bye to the place and the people that have come to be my favorite part of my life here. Those 20 young women and my coworkers there have moved, permanently, into my heart. I will miss them dearly- will miss the headaches and heartaches and tears and laughter and noise and drama and joy they brought to my life.

Saying good-bye was sad, but I’m not one who likes to dwell on the sad parts. Instead, I look to how much of a blessing my time at St. Michael’s has been in my life. I am eternally grateful to my girls for all I’ve learned from them, and for their tolerance of my quirky foreign presence in their lives. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to spend time with them, and I cannot wait to see the ways in which they change the world.

 “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh