On the 20th of February 2015, at 18:00 in a rural black community , on the University of the Free State Qwa-Qwa Campus, 700 students walked into the Mandela Hall, ready to take on 12 hours of Relaying, not exactly sure why but ready to embrace the change it will bring in their lives. A very brave and amazing staff partner, Maryna Kriel, taking on this campus and the challenge in educating them on how to Relay and why we Relay.
These students did not know about cancer, why it is so dangerous, why is has to be stopped, why we celebrate survival, remember loved ones lost or why we have to fight back. By 6:00 the next day, all 700 students left the hall not feeling tired or drained, but emotionally hyped up to fight cancer.
This Relay was definitely different from any other event that I have ever attended. The students were extremely energentic, more than any other community I have been to. They actively participated in each and every activity throughout the night. They danced, or shall I say Celebrated, the night away.
My big highlights were definitely the opening ceremony. Words can not describe the impact on us, as staff, who have seen numerous opening ceremonies, as to what we experienced there. The Survivors Lap was incredible - Survivors actually danced their hearts out around the track, showing us real celebration. They sang as they danced to the music, clapping hands, moving hips, just rejoicing in their will to live. The Survivor that spoke was also a very special moment, telling us his life story with cancer in his native language, Setsotho, with a translator explaining to the handful of us that did not understand Setsotho.
The Luminaria Ceremony was very moving. A student came to hand in her bag minutes before the luminaria ceremony. The bag was wrote to her mother who passed away and it had the most beautiful words on, stating that the daughter saw how hard she tried to fight but that cancer was bigger than her. As I was standing on my knees, taking photos inside the arena, with 700 students around me, I noticed that this students words had a big impact on them. The emotions were felt.
The part of the Relay that made me realize again, that this is why we will never, ever stop relaying is the part where we could educate the students on different cancers that can affect them at their age. To see that they were not aware and to see that it scared them and changed their minds on paying more attention to their bodies, was absolutely amazing and a peaceful moment for me.
Somewhere between all these students, we saved lives, we educated, we supported, we engaged and most of all Relay made an impact again into a community that desperately need all the information on cancer they can get.