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South Africa 3A • July 15-July 31, 2019

Goodbye from South Africa!

July 31, 2019

Goodbyes are never easy after a trip of a lifetime. This session has been incredible to say the least. Serving at the children’s home, adventuring through the African bush and soaking up the sun in Mozambique has brought this group extremely close. All of us are leaving this trip having 12 new best friends. We will dearly miss each and every student that has joined us on this journey.

I’m going to miss waking up in the morning and not seeing the way Morgan and Emily brighten a room with their smiles. These two young woman are extremely well-mannered and brought such joy to our trip. Morgan and Emily share a special bond and have been best friends for years. They were always inclusive on the trip and both pushed themselves outside their comfort zones while trying new things. Although these two are best friends, they are different in many ways. Morgan is never one to complain, no matter the circumstances. We could always count on her to have a positive attitude. Emily is one of the funniest people I have ever met. She is also the most grateful person in our group. After each new activity, she was always thankful and reminded the group how lucky were to be able to share this experience together!

It will be strange not to hear Maeve or Eleanor’s voice tomorrow. There was never a dull moment around these two. They made game drives so entertaining with their insightful conversations. We would always look forward to their unique responses to questions.

We will miss waking up and not seeing Emma T. and Virginia. These two make such a dynamic duo. When these goofballs are around everyone is laughing. At times they had the guides along with the group laughing uncontrollably from their hilarious impersonations. Virginia has a special energy about her that people gravitate towards. I always found myself seeking Virginia’s positive attitude and outgoing personality during activities. Emma T. has a very bright personality that lifted the group’s spirit whenever times were tough. Emma T. spoke often of dreams and the goal-oriented approaches she will take to achieve them. I admired for always seeking new ways to challenge herself.

We will miss Mary Margaret and Mary Weldon’s intelligent additions to every conversation. These two young individuals are extremely responsible and polite. They shared their knowledge and amazing photography skills with us throughout the last couple of weeks. Mary Weldon radiates excitement for life. She lives every moment of her life to the fullest. We were moved throughout the trip with Mary Margaret compassion for animals. She would capture our special encounters with animals with her amazing photography skills. We would not be surprised if these girls were hired by National Geographic in the future. Whatever career path they choose, we know they will make a notable impact in the world.

We will wake up tomorrow longing to see Julia and Tatum. Julia put her full heart into each activity. She was driven and enthusiastic throughout the trip. There is no doubt in my mind that she is the hardest working player on her volleyball team along with being the hardest working student in her school. We could always count on Julia to have insightful, mature responses during Moonup. She fostered an environment to allow other students to be vulnerable. Tatum brightens every moment, whether we are eating or having a dance party. She would have the whole group laughing with her dance moves or her hilarious lunch lady impersonations. Tatum is very easy to talk to and people feel comfortable around her. She is very caring and intellect and brought a ton of energy to each activity.

Tomorrow We will wonder what’s missing and realize Emma P. isn’t here to offer help to anyone in need. Emma P. quickly became a favorite among our group with her quirky personality. Emma P. will be an incredible leader one day. She is goofy and adventurous, yet so aware of herself and how infectious her energy can be. Our group admired Emma P. for being her natural self. We knew people like Emma P. are rare to find.

Thank you for sharing these incredible students with us this summer. We are so grateful that we got to spend time with them the past few past weeks. They have taught us so much and we are excited to see where life takes them. We miss them beyond words!

Kind Regards,

Kelly and Rebecca.


July 29, 2019

Olá Moondance friends and fam!

We just concluded our time in Mozambique, and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a tear or two as we drove from Tofo to the Inhambane Airport. The girls yet again crushed this section with their positive attitudes, curious minds, and adventurous spirits. We are so happy we were able to experience the wonder of Mozambique with them!

On our first day in Mozambique, we arrived in the afternoon and were greeted with fresh coconuts. You might think that an early wake up, two flights, and two rounds of border security would deter the group from heading to the beach and jumping in the water, but not this group! The waves were a blast, and everyone took it as an opportunity to body surf. We wrapped up the day with dinner at a restaurant that overlooks the ocean. We went to sleep eager to wake up the next day and explore the beautiful villages along the Mozambican coastline.

We spent the next day learning how to make “mapata”, a typical local dish that has a sauce made of peanuts, coconut milk, mapata leaves and is served over rice. As some girls crushed peanuts, others made coconut bread. Virginia was super involved during the entirety of our cultural immersion section and was always the first to offer to crush peanuts, drink coconut water, and try something new. Emma T was particularly creative with her bread-making and got many compliments from Rebecca, the local who was showing us the ropes. Meanwhile, our main guide, Tony, was spotted climbing trees to get more coconuts for us to drink. Emma P took a break from cooking and quickly befriended Tony’s niece. We aren’t quite sure exactly what they were doing, but there was a lot of chasing each other around, screaming, and laughing.

In the afternoon we geared up with rash guards and surfboards and amped ourselves up to *shred*the*gnar*. Mary Weldon, Mary Margaret, and Julia blew us away with their surfing skills AND their endurance. Mary Weldon caught wave after wave with a super athletic stance, while Mary Margaret took on a more chill stature.

Julia knocked our socks off with her perseverance. She had the most hilarious surfing stance: standing facing forward. She somehow made it work. The girls’ different ways of reaching their goals of catching waves was a good reminder that there is not always a right or wrong way of doing things, which has become a theme of this trip. We’ve come to appreciate that the differences in our cultures versus those that we have encountered are just that: differences. Neither is more superior than the other, and we’re grateful to be able to share in that humility alongside your children.

That night, we sat on the beach in search of shooting stars. Mary Margaret, who had never seen a shooting star before, saw the most GIANT and long-lasting shooting star we have ever seen. We’re now worried that she won’t be impressed by the more “mundane” shooting stars, but seeing as she’s super appreciative of nature, I think she’ll be just fine.

We woke up the next morning and headed out on our ocean safari! We saw humpback whales, swam next to a group of dolphins, and spotted giant manta rays. Mary Weldon was the lucky one who was quick enough to jump in the water and swim with the manta rays before they darted off into deeper water. The waves on the ocean safari were intense, and Morgan’s bright smile and positive attitude was integral to maintaining good group morale. Kelly and I are forever grateful for her sweet, shy kindness.

We spent the afternoon exploring the local market where Eleanor was savvy with bargaining with the vendors and walked away with an impressive amount of bracelets. Maeve finally got her bright blue and pink elephant pants she had been looking forward to and hasn’t taken them off since!

On our last night, we took a surprise sunset trip on Dow boats to a small island with an abundance of huge, intact sand dollars. Morgan, Tatum and I lagged behind the group a little and spotted some of the most beautiful shells I’ve ever seen. Despite having gotten her shorts wet while getting out of the boat, Tatum maturely laughed it off and took in our last Mozambican sunset.

We closed out our time in Mozambique feeling grateful as ever for our time there. Emily particularly wowed Kelly and me with her tolerance for adversity during some of the more challenging and tiring aspects of our trip. She constantly reminded us to be grateful and that our challenges here are more so opportunities for growth and adventure.

We can’t wait to spend our last days together on a safari! Who knows what cool animals we have spotted by the next time we check in. Until then!


Rebecca and Kelly

Safari WOW!

July 23, 2019

Over the past 5 days, we have fallen in love with the African bush. We rise with the sun now, ready to learn about the incredible animals that call this place home. Each game drive we drive deeper into the bush gaining more knowledge from our exceptional safari guides. Each drive we are amazed by the breathtaking views. Each drive our group grows closer and closer. When the sun sets we know that it’s time for dinner and Moonup. It feels like we’re in a movie, falling asleep under the bright stars and Milky Way listening to the various types of animals that live in the area. 

On the day we arrived at camp, our LOD’s, Tatum and Emma T., helped the group get situated. We unpacked quickly, excited for our first game drive. As we were getting into the safari vehicles the guides told us to go on the back porch of the lodge. Confused, but pleasantly surprised we headed back to the porch and were greeted by an elephant. The groups jaws dropped as they watched this magical creature drink from the watering hole located twenty feet from the porch. The elephant radiated a special energy that made the group gravitate closer. Although large and intimidating, these creatures are very intelligent and quite gentle. Out of nowhere, his friend came to join him. The two elephants drank and sprayed each other with water. These majestic creatures looked as though they were smiling and putting on a show for us. Mary Margaret and Mary Weldon, both with an eye for photography, captured every angle of this beautiful moment on their cameras.

Upon starting our first game drive, we saw a momma cheetah with her two cubs. Cheetahs are very calm and rather photogenic, allowing humans to get quite close to them. We watched the two adorable cubs wrestle each other and then snuggle with their mother. After many “awe’s” and pictures we were off to see more animals. As our game drive continued, we saw zebras and wildebeest majestically running in an open field while the sun set behind the mountains. It’s hard to explain how content everyone felt during this beautiful moment.

The next morning we rose before the sun, ready for another fun day filled with game drives. Three giraffes greeted us on the way to breakfast. They walked slow, swaying steps as though they were dancers. The sun started to rise behind the mountains casting small rays of pink and orange light on these two-story giants. We ate our breakfast, while watching the giraffes eat their breakfast. With our bellies full it was time to leave for our morning game drive. For the second day in a row we came across not one, but TWO adult male cheetahs! These creatures are the loudest purring cats that roam this beautiful planet. We watched as the two cheetahs walked right in front of our game drive vehicles. Before heading back to our lodge for brunch, we come across a herd of buffalo. 

The evening game drive was nothing less than impressive. Immediately after starting our game drive, we spotted a group of elephants snacking on nearby trees. The herd consisted of at least 15 elephants, including a very cute, baby elephant that was about a year old. This evening we were able to see a large dazzle (group) of zebras. Maeve referred to them as, “the Kardashian’s of the bush.” 

Our game drives are always filled with in-depth conversations along with many laughs. Emily is always aware of the group’s needs and knows the best moments to uplift everyone. She has the perfect balance of being the funniest person in the room and the person you go to have a deep conversation with. Emma P. also brings a smile to everyone she is around. People are truly happier after spending time with her. As leaders we need fearless students like Emma P. to help guide fellow students and help maintain a positive group morale. She is always the first to offer a helping hand. We enjoy having her on our trip so much. 

After animal sightings that evening, we watched the sunset on a small lake that overlooked the mountains. This sunset was a special treat because we were able to see 18 hippos in the water! 

Morgan and Maeve led a heartfelt Moonup this evening. Morgan and Maeve have a natural leadership style that is casual but collected. Their responses during Moonup are always genuine and encourages other group members to be more vulnerable. After another amazing day in the bush, we headed to our tents for a good night’s rest. 

The morning of our sleep-out carries anticipation and does not disappoint. Bundled up from the South African winter morning we set out in search of lions. Each day we learn so much from our guides. They are experts in tracking any animals; they track every subtle clue that our untrained eyes miss. Our guides read the land easily, allowing the ground and bush to narrate the story of which animals have recently passed through the area. In minutes, the guides brought us to three lions relaxing by a watering hole. We watched the lions in awe, while the sun rose behind mountains allowing the water to reflect pink and purple rays. 

That afternoon we set out towards the mountains to sleep in the bush. We are very lucky to have this opportunity, since this a privilege many native South Africans do not get to experience in their lifetime. Our first activity is to set up our cots and sleeping bags. We then take an hour to sit still in silence in the African bush and reflect on our adventure. The guides situate us away from one another just far enough so we feel secluded and instruct us to face outward, staring into the bush and beyond. Eleanor spots two rhinos in the distance and watches them in silence, taking in this unbelievable moment. You can tell that Eleanor is wise beyond her years. She always listens with purpose and her answers are clear and mature. When Eleanor speaks everyone listens, intrigued by her wisdom. 

Every Moonup we dig a little deeper. We are grateful to have a space to share things we would not normally tell people. After each Moonup, we feel relieved and closer. Our group has become closer than friends, we are now family. We conclude Moonup and it is time for our watch shift to begin. In pairs we were responsible for shining a spotlight in the distant tree line, looking for eyes and listening for creatures in the bush. During Virginia’s and Julia’s shift they spot two rhinos in the distance. These two brave girls remained calm and collected. They watched the rhinos for a few minutes, making sure they did not get too close to camp. They quietly woke each student and guide, giving everyone a chance to see these beautiful creatures. Eventually the rhinos disappeared into the bush and unfortunately did not make another appearance for the remainder of the night.

In the morning, we sipped hot chocolate and coffee warming our hands after a chilly night. To conclude our sleep out, we sat on the roof of the safari vehicles and watched the sunrise together. Moments like these are so special and I can honestly say this was the happiest I have ever felt. Every person was smiling, the guides were laughing and I was so proud to be these girls leader. 

Yesterday afternoon we were able to witness a rhino notching. This is a privilege many South African aren’t fortunate enough to experience in their lifetime, yet here we are again. To begin, our group follows a helicopter carrying one of the best veterinarians in Africa, who is also the general manager of the national park where we are camping. He has devoted his life to land and wildlife conservation. Today he focuses on the endangered rhino population, but on other days he looks after elephants, giraffe, and lions if they are in need. 

The helicopter pilot and the vet finds an undocumented bull (male) rhino. The vet uses an air-powered rifle to shoot a sedative into the rhino’s behind. The helicopter then chases the rhino into an open field to collect samples. When the rhino is fully sedated, the vet radios it is safe to approach the scene. When we arrive the volunteers are quickly working alongside the vet taking measurements and documenting the rhino’s vitals. The vet takes time to explain why they are performing each test and taking each sample. He explains that the game reserve is building a DNA database for the rhino population. The goal is to collect samples from every bull rhino from the park and continue to collect samples from other game reserves in South Africa. The poaching of these creatures has led to one of the most endangered species in the world. He estimated that all white and black rhinos will be extinct in the next 20 years if the poaching crisis is not resolved. When samples are collected from the rhino a microchip is inserted into the horn. If a horn is later sold on the black market it can be traced back to its origin here. 

Our time in the bush has been absolutely incredible. Rebecca and I are beyond grateful to be apart of such a loving and intelligent group filled with inspiring young women. We are now off to explore the beaches of Mozambique!

Kind Regards, 

Kelly and Rebecca 


Mary Margaret –Hello parents. I finally saw an elephant and it was the most beautiful thing ever. Thank you for sending me on this trip because now I have a selfie with it. Also, the place we are staying at has heated beds and it’s amazing. We go to Mozambique in a couple days, cya in a week ish!

Julia-Hey family!!! I’m having the time of my life in South Africa! Thanks so much for letting me come on this trip! Say hi to Duke for me!! Miss you and love you guys!! 

Mary Weldon- Hey fam!! I am having sooooo much fun!! Y’all would love it! Miss you so much! Hope Baby is doing okay:/ Thank you so much for sending me!!

Emily- What up fam, South Africa is super lekker. Hahaha too bad y’all don’t know what that means but don’t worry I’ll tell you when I’m home. I miss everyone so so much and wish y’all could see how amazing this place is and I thank you for this opportunity. Moondance is the best. Love y’all, adios muchachos!!

Morgan- Hey mom and dad!!! I’m having sm fun but I miss you and everyone and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. So far we have done service and gone on 2 safaris. Thank you sm for sending me this is sm fun. But can’t wait to see you 

Eleanor- Hey! I am having so much fun. We have gone on a couple of safaris and have seen a ton of animals and it’s so cool. I hope y’all are having fun and can’t wait to see y’all! Thank you so much for sending me here it has already been so much fun! Love y’all!!

Emma P-Wassup fam and friends! I am having a blast and I can’t wait to tell you guys all about it! Hey Julia Anna Katie Olivia Camille gab and Georgia! Miss you guys! Hey mom dad and Georgia! I never wanna leave! PS- I saw Nelson!

Emma T- Hello family. South Africa is so hype I love it here and all the amazing people I have met! Mom, you would get so car sick in the safari cars but Dad you would love Elephant Camp I love it there and the people are incredibly nice! Tell boo boo and William hello. Miss y’all! 

Virginia-Hi Mommy!!!!! I’m having the best time ever-thank you so much for sending me. I can’t wait to send y’all the pictures we’ve taken. I SAW AN ELEPHANT GO TO THE BATHROOM!!! love and miss you! Tell princess I say hi and I miss him :)))))) 

Maeve –Hi! Hope everything is going well in Chicago. I’m having the best time here and making some amazing friends. Just came back from the safari part of the trip and saw soooooooo many cool animals! Can’t wait to see you. I miss you! 

Tatum-Hiiii mommmm!!!! I am having so much fun, thank you soooo much for sending me on this trip. We just got back from the safari and we saw soo many cool animals. I hope you had fun on your beach trip. I missss youuuuu soooo muuuch! 

All Smiles at Service!

July 19, 2019

Hello Moondance friends and families!

What a joy it has been to get to know this incredible group of gals. From the moment Kelly and I greeted them in the airport, we knew our group was going to have a blast. 

On the first day of our service project, we headed to a local Youth Center (YC) that provides housing and community for vulnerable children here in South Africa. Our group bonded quickly with each other and with the children and ‘mamas’ (Youth Center caretakers) who work at the YC. We started by helping make a braai pit (a fire pit used by the children’s home to cook traditional South African foods, like a barbecue back home) and painted some furniture for a classroom. Our first leaders of the day (LODs) Virginia and Emma P, set the tone for the day right off the bat. Making the braai pit was no easy feat and required lots of manual labor. Virginia quickly rose to the occasion and became the queen of carrying bricks, taking a whopping total of ten at a time. Her positivity motivated the rest of the group, and we consequently finished that portion of the project much faster than expected. Despite having been on a transcontinental flight just the day before, the girls were energetic and constantly had smiles on their faces. While our group was gradually becoming goofier and goofier with each other, it was Emma P that truly took us there with her impressive wit, hilarious comments, and good spirits. 

In the afternoon, we played soccer and games with all of the children once they returned from school. Emily and Emma T absolutely crushed it with the kids, especially the little ones, who clung onto her from all angles throughout all our service. Mary Margaret impressed us with her photography forte and her eye for capturing the perfect angles. After a long day of getting acquainted to South Africa, working hard, and making new friends, we went back to our lodge and had braai waiting for us. We ate delicious chicken and steak skewers, cheesy potatoes, and salad around a campfire under the stars before going to bed. 

Kelly and I woke up the next day to find that all eleven girls had fallen asleep in one room. To see the group bonding this early in the trip is why Kelly and I do this job. Their care for one another, inclusivity, and golden hearts are so apparent. Eleanor has particularly stood out for her kindness and sweet nature. Before I gush on anymore about the group, I’ll tell you a bit about what we did on this day. 

We continued working on building the braai pit and painting. Morgan had us cracking up with her dedication to shoveling — she kept shoveling tirelessly (with the sweetest smile on her face) until someone would ask her for a turn and take the shovel out of her hand. Our afternoon was filled with fun: we played more soccer, watched a marimba performance, got our hair braided, and made and exchanged bracelets with some of our new friends from the YC. Maeve made such beautiful bracelets and was so committed to the cause that she had kids asking her to make them bracelets pretty much as we were leaving. When LOD Mary Weldon wasn’t showing off her soccer skills, she was taking photos with the kids and generously sharing her camera with anyone who expressed interest.

Last night, LOD Julia led us with the most fun Moonup yet, asking the question: What is your most embarrassing moment? We laughed hysterically and continued to tell more and more stories that we almost forgot to finish Moonup and announce the LODs for the next day. Drumroll please… Tatum and Emma T! 

Tatum adopted her role as LOD quickly by initiating a dance party under the South African stars. We all bundled up (it’s chilly here at night being winter and all) and used our headlamps as strobe lights (shoutout to Emma T for jumping into her role of LOD and leading us in FUN by doing the worm).  

We cannot WAIT to start our first safari section. Given that many of the girls are most looking forward to seeing animals they have never seen before, we surely won’t be disappointed. Until next time!

Reba and Kelly  

Safe Arrival in Johannesburg!

July 16, 2019

Hi South Africa Families!

All of the girls have landed in South Africa and are headed to their hotel for the night! We are so excited for them to begin their adventure!

-Moondance HQ


  • Eleanor
  • Emily
  • Emma
  • Emma
  • Julia
  • Maeve
  • Mary Margaret
  • Mary Weldon
  • Morgan
  • Tatum
  • Virginia