Couple weeks have passed since my return from South Africa and I’m still processing the gift of the vision and research trip. While our plans on starting our Poverty Organization has hit snags and increasingly difficult in light of the financial recession, I’ve returned with an increasing commitment to the vision. Before things get even busier, I wanted to share some reflections and pictures with you.
Let me begin by thanking Peter A. who hosted myself and several others from around the country on this trip. He also connected me to the anonymous benefactor that allowed me to travel to South Africa for the purposes of learning, connecting, and researching. I also want to thank the staff of Zimele – the non-profit organization we spent most of our time with. Zimele in Zulu means, “to stand on one’s own two feet.”
I spend most of my time in an area called Kwazulu Natal. Here’s some info about the area:
According to the Wikipedia, Kwazulu Natal “has the largest population (about 8.6 million) of any state in South Africa, with resources, such as water, coal, minerals and agriculture, along with timber, beef, dairy products, maize, poultry and fruit. Durban is the largest port in Africa. The province also has the most comprehensive tourist infrastructure in the country.
However, despite the presence of these resources, Kwazulu Natal like much of South Africa faces the growing problem of HIV/AIDS and poverty which disproportionally impacts the blacks in the rural communities due to the lingering effects of the now former Apartheid system.
Poverty | KwaZulu-Natal has the biggest collective poverty gap of all the South African states.
According to joint studies done by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Mr Andrew Whiteford, a South African economist, households have sunk even deeper into poverty with a widening income discrepancy between rich and poor. With its large, poor population KwaZulu-Natal has the biggest collective poverty gap of all the South African states. A recent report states that “Approximately 57% of individuals in South Africa were living below the poverty income line in 2001, unchanged from 1996.”
Kwazulu Natal has the highest poverty and unemployment rate of all the provinces in South Africa.
HIV & AIDS | HIV & AIDS continues to plague South Africa. Today, more than 5.5 million South Africans are infected with HIV with 1000 people dying each day from AIDS related causes. 71% of the deaths of those aged 15 – 49 years old are attributed to AIDS. There are more than 1.2 million orphans due to AIDS.
Once again Kwazulu Natal has the highest prevalence rate (39%) of all the provinces in South Africa. Sadly, the South African women are most impacted, as they are 4 times more likely than men to have the disease and over 30% of all pregnant women are infected.
Now to reflections.
 God is already at work in South Africa. God is at work around the world. Despite our pessimism and cynicism, it’s refreshing to be reminded of this.
 South Africa is truly beautiful. The cities are beautiful but even the rural lands are beautiful. It surprised me to be honest. I was prepared to see the extreme poverty but I couldn’t picture the beauty. And the safari was pretty dang amazing as well.
 It was great to meet local South Africans who care about their people and their poverty. Surprisingly, I returned examining my commitment to the local poverty in Seattle. But that makes sense: we have to care about our local neighborhood. #2 and #3 is what I struggle with: such disparity between the have’s and have nots.
 Great to see some of my convictions be confirmed. They don’t need “us’ [per se]. South Africans understand their context and culture like no one else and so our org wants to invest in these NGOs and CBOs that are already doing some amazing work. Our vision is to raise awareness and actions and partner with local NGOs that are kicking ass to build capacity, strive towards sustainability, create opportunities, and empower their people out of poverty.
 Compassion is critical but there needs to be more. Because of the proliferation of NGOs at work, I also saw a culture of ‘hand outs’ and the paralysis it can cause. We need people and NGOs to have compassion but also challenge people to help themselves. What we all need are opportunities: Education, Community, Jobs, a Better Infrastructure, Tools to help ourselves, etc.
Here are some pics and some brief explanations:
This was probably one of the more darker memories. The man on the right has the HIV and near death. Over 40% of the population in this one area of Kwazulu Natal is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. During my stay in this area, I was shocked at the few number of men I saw. Many have left to the cities [not to return] and others have died because of violence and war. It was painful to see. NGOs are investing in women and children which is good but it looks incomplete without the investment, challenge, and support of men as well.
We visited many women in their homes and huts. These women are part of a new business project to help uplift themselves out of poverty. They meet to create and sell crafts. What they haven’t learned before is learning how to save and invest.
They were working on these beautiful pens.
One of the homes we visited of two orphaned girls. I don’t want to share their picture here but they were simply two young teenagers. Too young to be living alone.
I will remember this young baby boy. I asked the mother, “What is your dream for your son?” and she replied, “That he would be a doctor.” It wasn’t the answer but the hope behind the answer that gave me joy. Hope is a beautiful thing.
HIV/AIDS is a deep cultural stigma here as it is in many places around the world. And so, much effort is being invested in educating people. Education is so CRITICAL.
We visited several homes and specifically, visited “Savings Group” which is a community of women that are working together in community, accountability, and micro finance ventures. They are given tools and education and they invest, make decisions, give and receive loans, start their private businesses, and re-invest in the group. The week after I returned, this group was to be visited by a local banker who would teach them [for the first time] how the banking systems work.
They were of course very gracious and prepared a great lunch. It was better then the bad sushi I had at Capetown. Here’s a few of these women. Among them are mothers and grandmothers that are caring for many children.
Opportunities. People need opportunities. And it was encouraging to visit couple NGOs that aren’t just distribution compassion but creating opportunities and subsequently, challenging people towards sustainability.