Keamogetswe Bopalamo | South Africa
What do you do in your home country and what do you hope to do upon your return? In particular, with the integration of your experiences here?
I work full time developing policy for local government, especially for the department of human settlements. I make sure that whatever policy is being developed not only speaks to providing housing but also creating well sustained and happy communities. It is not just about the house, we create local economic opportunities as well so that person is not only given a house but can then also have the capacity to feed themselves.
My passion, however, is for mental health, as I am a mental health care user as well. I have linked up with other organizations as well that help users with mental health, connected to the South African Federation of Mental health, where I am the advocacy leader for mental health in the North West province. I recruit others who are interested in mental health advocacy and I run mental health workshops for people to help them advocate for themselves. Because not everyone can make it, I also do a lot of advocacy on social media as well. I try to share my own experiences with mental health as well to help others – I have a book that I wrote about mental health, and I will share my story on TV, to help people realize that it is something that we should be advocating for.
What I am excited about having come here is linking up with mental health care professionals and experts, learning from their approaches to mental health care and advocacy. Speaking with professionals here, it is not just about giving a pill every day but that there need to be other things in place to make recovery possible. I have also changed the way that I see my own mental illness as well as what I want to be doing when I return home. I want to move over to working with mental illness full time. I have a foundation named after my grandparents and I want to open a school that, from the bottom up as kids, the children will be able to access alternative teaching methods to help students get access to teaching that educates in accordance to each child’s innate talents. This is not going to be easy but it needs to be accessible. Again, while I am here I need to use this time to consider how to get this up and running when I return home.
What is your favorite thing about your home country? How about Philadelphia?
My favorite thing is the diversity that we have in South Africa. You have black people who speak different languages, you have white people that speak black languages and black people who speak English. I like how we all interact and how we all identify as South African and are respective of the differences between us. There are things that are purely South Africa, such as the Braai, you will never experience a BBQ until you experience a South African Braai.
My favorite thing about Philadelphia is how it randomly rains. I love how rain is calming the environment when it is too hot. This is my favorite thing, but I also want to say that the most amazing thing about Philadelphia is how everyone is so polite and how the cars actually stop for you when you cross the street. People are polite, everyone is accepting of color and culture.
Do you have any hobbies or an interesting fact you wish to share about yourself?
I love to talk, I think of myself as a good communicator. I like to write and say things the way that they are. I am doing yoga today with my peer collaborator and I am hoping that that carries over to a hobby even when I return home. I see art everywhere in life. Every time I write a new book, I design the cover myself, and am even partnering up with another fellow, Timothy, to maybe collaborate and create the cover together for my next book.
If I were to come to your home country, what is the first thing I should eat?
The first thing you should eat is Ting. It is sour porridge. We would have that with our home grown free range chicken. This I would make with the intestines too, which I would make you try, even though it is an acquired taste. I would also say to drink gemere, which is a fermented traditional drink that we make for celebratory events made with raisins, water, pineapple. It is sweet and refreshing.