LUMBERTON — Having grown up in Robeson County, Becca Hansen has seen poverty. But not like what she experienced during a recent trip to South Africa, from which she says she returned with a greater wealth of appreciation for the opportunities that she has taken for granted.
“In the townships we visited we saw a bunch of mansions, and then the poor part of the townships, something, an equivalent to a trailer park but much worse. Homes created out of scrap metal, with nothing to stop the rain from getting in,” Hansen said of her late May visit to South Africa’s Cape Town. “It was really sad to see people living like that, but the great thing about it was that the people we found did not feel sorry for themselves. They were very proud.”
Hansen, a Lumberton native, is a 21-year-old senior who is majoring in political science at Emory & Henry College, where she also plays for the women’s soccer team. According to Hansen, the private liberal arts college located in Emory, Va., places an emphasis on exposing its students to international experiences, which was one reason the school chose to send the soccer team more than 7,000 miles away to play against three South African college soccer teams and to do some volunteer in May.
With many of their players having to remain in the United States because of the expense of travel, Hansen’s team was outmatched and managed to lose all three games against their South African challengers, the University of Cape Town, the University of Western Cape and Santos Football Club. But Hansen says she gained something far more valuable than a soccer win during her visit, which was from May 12 to May 24.
For Hansen her greatest takeaway was putting smiles on the faces of those who would seemingly have so little to smile about. The current unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25 percent, with more than 31 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
As part of the trip, Hansen’s team visited with students of elementary schools to both offer lessons in soccer and give away free equipment, sports jerseys and protective gear.
The experience was eye-opening for Hansen, who points to one memory in-particular as something she feels she will not soon forget.
“On our way to the field, I was walking with a couple of my teammates and these children started to gather around us. They were mesmerized. They were so happy to see us,” Hansen said. “We had a bunch of kids just come up and hug us. One kid held my hand. They weren’t afraid of us. I remember this little boy who didn’t say anything to me. He just hugged me, looked up and smiled at me, and didn’t say one word. It took me aback. That stood out to me. I never caught his name … That was really sweet. It was a brief moment but it was really awesome.”
While the boy looked up to her, she said she found herself thinking back to her own tendency to take for granted all of the opportunities afforded her growing up in the United States.
“I take for granted what we have, I really do,” Hansen said. “Those townships don’t have a Walmart, fast food places. Just being able to go to the store to grab a carton of milk. South Africa isn’t as developed a country yet there was a sense of community and of pride. No one wanted pity. No one asked for help. They are proud of where they came from and want to make it better. They are appreciative of what they have. They aren’t going to feel bad, if it doesn’t get better they aren’t giving up. They’re doing the best that they can with what they got.”
Hansen says she spends about two months out of the year in her hometown of Lumberton; she credits a trip halfway across the globe for reminding her how important it is to have pride in the place you come from.
“I would count it as a life-changing experience. I don’t think I would trade those days in South Africa for anything,” Hansen said. “ … It taught me to appreciate what I have, what opportunities I have been born with and highlighted how important it is to love your home and work to make it better. People in the United States complain about what they don’t have. We complain about the little things that we don’t have and we lose sight of what we do have. There is just no room for it.”