Soledad Reports from Soweto, South Africa

CNN's Behind the Scenes series lets correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

In a recent post, Soledad O'Brien writes about her travels with 30 Brooklyn, NY schoolchildren on a volunteer mission to serve the impoverished and AIDS orphans in South Africa.

Here is an excerpt from Soledad's report:

"It's late Sunday morning inside a cavernous Salvation Army Church in Soweto, South Africa. Services, complete with African and traditional music, have just finished and a catchy drum beat with a distinctly American hip-hop sound is coming from the stage.

The group of teenagers dancing around the drums is 8,000 miles and an 18-hour plane ride from their New York home. They are mostly from Bushwick, Brooklyn -- a community of about 109,000 people only five miles from Manhattan.

For some of these kids, it's their first time away from home.

Unfamiliar with Bushwick? It's mostly a working class neighborhood where families have often struggled.

For years it was a community with a thriving drug trade, severely under-achieving schools, extreme poverty and a staggering rate of teenage pregnancy. It was ravaged by fires and looting during the summer of 1977 and hit hard by the crack epidemic in the 1980s.

Bushwick is recovering now, but half of the children under age 18 still live below the poverty line. A quarter of the adults never make it past the ninth grade and more than half never graduate from high school.

The children on this trip to South Africa are what educators and social workers call "at-risk" -- at risk of having babies as teenagers; at risk of never finishing high school or achieving their dreams; at risk of never knowing the world beyond their neighborhood.

Thirty of these children, between the ages of 12 to 16, have been paired up with college-aged mentors and brought to South Africa by Malaak Compton-Rock, the wife of comedian Chris Rock. She brought them to volunteer -- to serve the impoverished and the AIDS orphans in this country with the highest HIV-infected population in the world."

Read the full article at http://www.cnn.com/
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