Home away from home


Washington with Mbesa, a child from the Cape Town day care who lit the desire in her to teach abroad.

When Skyline student Latasha Washington, found out she would be going to Cape Town, South Africa to build houses over the summer, she was thrilled at the opportunity to give back to the community what had been taken from them decades earlier. She had no idea that she would find her purpose as well.

“The family we worked with had been waiting 30 years to get a house from the government,” Washington said. “It hurt my heart to know that if maybe they had a little more education or had better jobs they could have purchased a house instead of waiting. They would have known they could succeed.”

Washington, an accounting major, came to Skyline with the intention expanding her career opportunities. “I didn’t want a job to predict where I was going, I wanted to predict where I was going,” Washington said. Though it hadn’t been clear to her at that time exactly where that would be, it became clear to her when serving the Cape Town community.

Throughout her enrollment at Skyline, Washington has been active within Skyline’s community, this semester as president of Parenting Without Partners, a single parent’s club on campus that she hopes to leave well rooted before transferring to Howard University in the spring of 2015.

Her desire to be involved and of service continued alongside her full-time student schedule, and extended from Skyline, where she was affiliated with Enactus and Associated Students of Skyline College, to the neighboring community through work with Habitat For Humanity.

“I’ve done Habitat For Humanity locally before amongst other programs, putting up drywall in Daly City on Mission, and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve always been a traveler but I’ve never traveled for missionary or humanity work before, and thought this would be a great way to give back, traveling abroad to build houses.”

Washington began her research of travel abroad programs by looking online, following suggestions to look within the HFH organization. That was when she stumbled upon a link hosted by Nelson Mandela Week for college students to go to Cape Town, South Africa to build homes in honor of Nelson Mandela. She jumped at the opportunity.

“I didn’t get a response right away, and didn’t think I got in,” she said. “I applied in January and didn’t get a response until March.”

Once she was accepted, the race was on to raise the over $5,000 cost of her trip, and after reaching out to family and friends she looked to Skyline for support.

“I started really utilizing my resources, reaching out to students, and even went to the extent of meeting with President Stanback-Stroud to ask for funding as well,” Washington said.

President Regina Stanback-Stroud had granted Washington a Presidential Scholarship in addition to the $500 she gave her personally out of respect for Washington’s hard work. Equally important, she saw Washington’s opportunity as an experience that could be shared back at Skyline, bettering the campus and world at large by promoting world peace.

“It was my pleasure to support Latasha and her experience abroad,” Stanback-Stroud said. “I admire the determination she has and her commitment to working to make the world a better place. Indeed, she made her life’s work for this small portion of her life, be about something other than herself.”

As well as her support, Washington started a GoFundMe campaign. However, the bulk of her funding came from engaging students and faculty by selling hotdogs on campus, in the quad and at events.

“I was known as the hotdog lady,” She said with a laugh. “If I mentioned I was the one going to South Africa, they’d say, ‘Oh, OK,’ but if I said, I was the one selling hotdogs, everybody knew who I was.”

Her efforts paid off though, and July 9 she boarded a plane that traveled from Dubai to the United Arab Emirates, and eventually landing in Cape Town, South Africa, two days later.

“We were there for two weeks,” Washington said. “Each day we had to get up about 6 a.m. because we had to be at the jobsite by 7, 7:30 the latest, and each day they had a very empowering speech by one of the locals or sponsors who came just to get us motivated and start our day.”

Working with her were over a thousand volunteers from all over the world, coming from Dubai, Ireland, Germany, Malawi, and Zimbabwe to name a few.

“Our beneficiaries who actually received the houses worked with us too, so we were actually able to meet them,” Washington said.

The beneficiaries were those who were affected by the South African apartheid, a structure that had been in place for decades, separating people based on race and skin color, according to professor of anthropology at Skyline Lori Slicton.

“Black people suffered incredibly under that system,” Slicton said. “Nelson Mandela is probably the most famous person who spoke out very effectively about the injustices and the violence of a system like that.”

For Washington, the apartheid hit close to home.

“It touched me in the sense that I come from a biracial family, and to know that my dad because of his ethnic background, and my mom because of her ethnic background would have been torn apart,” Washington said. “I would have lost both of my family members because of my skin color.”

In addition to interacting with the beneficiaries, Washington’s group also visited day cares and preschools still open during the summer.

“I fell in love with this little girl from this tribe called Xhosa and she didn’t speak much English, she spoke her native language, but was beautiful, about 3-years-old,” she said. “Her name was Mbesa. To this day she touches my heart and made me realize this is something I should be doing.”

John Ulloa, instructor of history and anthropology at Skyline, encourages students to study abroad, recognizing the growth that can come from experiencing life in other countries.

“It’s always beneficial when we step out of our own comfort zone and get into somebody else’s space to try to get a better understanding of the host culture and society,” Ulloa said. “It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own experiences and then to bring all that cultural vitality back and implement it, either comparing it to how we live, or to be aware of how other people live to further expose that here as we navigate in our own spaces.”

Washington is planning to do just that, deciding to not only continue accounting at the university level, but to double major in education as well.

“I realized there is so much more than just living in a capitalistic economy and society, and that people abroad in these third world counties are not as privileged as we are,” she said. “One thing I can do is give back, whether it’s teaching English, sustainability, math, or how to foster and grow a business.”

For Washington, following her heart to serve in Cape Town taught her a lot.

“Do what makes you happy, what feels good in your heart, and travel, travel, travel,” she said. “The world is your oyster; you will not believe what you learn about yourself and see when you do.”

For more information about HFH visit: http://www.habitat.org/