Thursday, July 14, 2011

Durban, South Africa

You know. When I write these blogs I usually am thinking of what is it that I need to say that’s deep, but what I need to do is just write so here we go! I have been in Durban, South Africa this week and it is quite a beautiful place. There are beaches, palm trees, good food, lots to do, and also some beautiful people. This is the place where the World Cup took place last year and I often hear stories from local people about how great that experience was! It is winter in South Africa now, so I have been going to bed with my 3 shirts on and a bed full of blankets. Today, the director of the children’s home loaned me her space heater for the night. I am soooo grateful for that. Sometimes, it’s the little things that are big things! I have been volunteering at St. Philomenas Children’s Home this week. The girl’s ages range from 7 to about 18. Meeting these beautiful young ladies on the street you would never think that they were living in a children’s home because of abuse, absentee parents, orphans whose parents died of HIV and AIDS, behavior issues, etc. The girls are warm, beautiful, intelligent, and playful. Throughout this week while working with them I have heard several of their testimonies. It is a blessing to be present to see God work in these young girls lives. The staff and volunteers at St. Philomenas are assisting these young girls in their healing journeys at such young ages. What a blessing to have the opportunity to observe this. Now, there have been times where I have watched a couple of them behave as off the chain as my former 6th grade students, but overall these girls are doing the hard work of healing quite young. I pray that this type of support is available to them for years, and years, and years to come!

Understanding race has been quite interesting while in Durban. My intro to race issues showed up while on my flight here. I had wiped my mouth with the airplane napkin. The Black man sitting next to me took my trash and stopped the airline stewardess who was either Indian or of mixed race (colored). He placed the trash in her hand. She looked at him, then me with disguist. She then shrugged her shoulders and stated, “How rude.” I’m thinking, “ummmm, isn’t this your job!” Little did I know that the dynamics and division of race was quite separated. The children and adults have made it very clear to me that there are 4 divisions of race here in Durban. The hierarchy goes as follows: White, Indian, Colored (Mixed race), Black (African). I am considered colored here because of my complexion, but I clearly note that I am Black. Apartheid only ended 17 years ago. I have heard so many people here in Durban clearly separate their ethnicity. And when it is done, for those who are at the top of the hierarchy it seems to be done with pride. “Yes, I am WHITE, I am INDIAN, and I am COLORED.” I have not heard many people say with pride, “Yes, I am BLACK.” Although, one of the young girls pronounced, “I am Zulu” with her head held high during my first night here. Tonight, I saw a young Zulu (Black) woman perform. She was encouraging the young people to embrace their beauty as African people, to embrace their hair, to embrace their color, to embrace their rich history as a people. I can’t help to be reminded of the many times where I as a kid wanted “good hair,” lighter eyes, and skin that was brighter than my own. It’s interesting how I see so many parallels with the history of apartheid in South Africa and the history of racism in America. It’s interesting how people can face similar struggles and live thousands of miles away from each other. The world and life is interesting in that way.

This week I also connected with some nonviolence education educators at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal and the International Centre for Nonviolence (ICON). It was a blessing to see Gandhian principles taught in Durban. It was also a blessing to hear about what’s going on at the Gandhi Trust Institute. They are working with government and the education system to integrate a nonviolence education curriculum into the life skills programs for primary school children in public schools. How awesome is that! I wish we could integrate such a curriculum in our American life skills programs in public schools. Maybe this is something I am called to help make happen. It’s definitely needed. And the thing is the resources are already out there, they just have to be integrated i.e.. the Students Against Violence Everywhere curriculum. Ideas, ideas, and contemplation…

Yesterday I went to something called an informal settlement with a youth community development worker. These communities are like slum areas where there are hundreds of shacks, lots of pollution, and houses are made of garage doors. These are the communities we may see on SAVE the Children or something like that. The interesting thing is though there was much poverty, very intense smells, lots of teen pregnancy, large numbers of HIV, Tuberculosis, etc… the people seemed to embrace a very proud sense of community.

Today, amongst other things I went to a graduation for the girls. The older girls have been participating in a leadership institute for high school students. Each one had to speak today. It was so powerful. Tomorrow I will go with them to celebrate at Shaka Marin (Waterworld park). This week I preached, taught, danced, read the bible with, watched movies, etc with the girls. But you know what? The most important learning is what I have learned from them. Learning’s: Healing is possible, enjoy life, be grateful for the small things that are actually big things, laugh like nobody is watching, and sing anytime you feel the need. When things seem rough, God makes a way out of no way. God has made a way for these girls… for you and for me…

I have a few more days in Durban. Talk to you soon.

Argrow “Kit”

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