Are we making a difference?

“Give me the foolishness to believe that I can make a difference in the world”

          I can’t remember the exact quote, but when I went to the Methodist Church last Sunday, the ending prayer contained a phrase similar to that. I’m starting with this quote because it is how I have ended up feeling the last few days when I go to bed. Even with the frustration with the world and with humanity in general, that one understandably feels when there are so many awful things happening in the world, I believe we can do something positive and constructive.

          I’ve thought about what I would want to write for this post, and we have been through so much in the last two weeks that I didn’t know where to start. One of the things that has struck me the most during this trip though, is how willing everyone around me is to talk about what we are experiencing, to have in depth conversations about the history we are learning and about how it is affecting South Africa currently. This is one of the places that I think that all of us can make a difference.

          The past week in Johannesburg was an incredible, extremely packed week, filled with information that made me feel that I could serve the community that we are working in, in a much better way. Arriving in Cape Town with this awareness of where we are, makes the trip that much more meaningful. We visited Freedom Park, which is a way of celebrating South Africa ’s past and learned about this memorial for South Africans who have died in war and fighting the Apartheid. There, ideas of nation building, reconciliation and remembrance were brought up. Not only did we visit museums and monuments, but we talked to people who are South African and who have lived through Apartheid. We spent various afternoons and evenings talking to people who all care tremendously about their country, yet have different opinions about its current state, such as Dr. Noor Nieftagodien from Witswatersand University and the journalist Allister Sparks.

          Every time I came out of our meetings, I felt inspired and motivated. I found it fascinating to see how their individual stories and pasts had big influences on what they thought of the future of South Africa. One of my favorite questions was what could be done about the poverty gap, and answers varied. For example, Allister Sparks sees education as the answer to this growing problem, while Paul Verryn believes that everyone needs to be seen as human beings. We spent time together learning about what the freedom fighters went through for an equal society. We have had multiple in depth studies and discussions on the horrifying Marikana massacre, watching a documentary before it was released and asking all of our speakers to discuss their takes on the situation. This massacre has really struck me, and watching the movie and writing about it, I had a really hard time understanding why it happened. More than that however, I have a hard time understanding how there are people in the government who continue to defend themselves and the police, without seeing the horrifying conditions that the miners are going through to have higher wages. There are groups that have been on strike for 6 months, and I’ve been told that there is no way for them to recover from the financial burden that this is putting them through. These miners are fighting for the dignity to be treated as humans, and it is disheartening to see them treated as animals.

          However, the most valuable aspect to this was the time spent processing and discussing this information with the group, and that to me makes me feel like not only I, but everyone in our group, can make a difference. We can make a difference by engaging with each other and talking about what is happening in the world we live in. We can go home and talk to our friends, family and peers about issues such as race, socio-economic status and basic human rights. We can use what we learn to question our own microcosm. Maybe this is a foolish viewpoint, but I believe strongly that knowledge can shape the world in a better way.

 

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