03/06/09 — Southern Wayne graduate takes trip to South Africa

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Southern Wayne graduate takes trip to South Africa

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 6, 2009 1:46 PM

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Jerome Frederick Jr. of Dudley, displays some of the artifacts from his recent trip to South Africa. The Southern Wayne High School graduate spent six weeks there as part of a college trip. He graduated in July from Morehouse College and now works at Talecris in Clayton.

If you think the economy's bad here, you ought to visit South Africa, says Jerome Frederick Jr. of Dudley.

The 2004 graduate of Southern Wayne High School spent six weeks there as part of his course of study at Morehouse College, where he received his bachelor's degree in economics this past July.

The opportunity provided him with many insights into pervasive poverty.

"It's nothing like we researched," he says now. "They say poverty's bad but once you lose a job in the United States, you have numerous routes you can take. In South Africa, once you lose a job, you either have to go begging or robbing."

Crime is rampant, he said, and mostly because of high unemployment rates. People stealing typically did so to survive.

It was almost beyond his comprehension, Frederick said.

Soweto, for example, he likened to the U.S. version of the projects or the "slums of South Africa."

"But it's actually worse because there may not be any lights, and as far as a physical address, there wouldn't be one," he said.

Although it was a beautiful country, the backdrop is one contrasted between rural areas and small versions of New York or Raleigh. And while South Africa may be considered a democratic country, where officials are elected, that doesn't mean the government is looking out for its citizens, Frederick said.

"I would say that they're in a depression and we're in a recession," he said. "If we were where South Africa is now, it would take years to turn it around. It will probably take 15 to 20 years to turn it around (there) because they don't have a strong government. There's not a lot of aid that's being done in South Africa."

Frederick went with a group of 25 students from Morehouse and Georgia State. They traveled and toured during the month and half, studying the economy and the people. The group stayed mostly in hotels but also in modern huts.

The food there was good, he said, likening it to New Orleans cuisine because of the spices added to most dishes. But one lesson learned about the food, he said, was to be wary of bringing leftovers outside.

In a land where wild animals are prevalent -- and poverty affects animals just as it does humans -- they are not flourishing.

"The baboon is the official animal to fear," Frederick said. "The advice you get is, once you get outside of a restaurant, to hide your food."

Two members of his college group learned the reason firsthand, encountering a baboon and quickly making the choice to surrender their food rather than face attack.

"It's the No. 1 crime-stopper out there, the baboon," he said.

All in all, Frederick said he was appreciative of the opportunity to make the trip.

"I love that I went, just to get more in touch with, I guess, struggles," he said. "Here, we go through what you think are really big struggles and life situations, but to go there, you become more thankful once you get back. You also have a bigger drive to be a pillar of your community and the world -- if you can make a change, why not do it?"

His mom, Hattie Frederick, was also grateful, aware at the outset that it could be a "life-changing experience" for her son.

"I believe it has been, just to see that poverty level there versus what we see here," she said. "The thing he told me that stuck with me the most is how grateful people were. The very basic jobs, they were still happy and proud even though things were as bad as they were over there."

The World Cup in soccer is supposed to be in South Africa in 2010. Frederick said that's incentive enough to make a return trip.

"I definitely would love to go back as soon as possible," he said.