Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 66: 29 January - CHANGE

Ok, i want to start off by saying i do not intend for this blog to have any political affiliations or ties. However there is a unavoidable relationship between politics, governments and activism. That means sometimes it is difficult to avoid a "political" conversation. So let me just say that any political views, opinions, or statements are my own and are not necessarily those of the other authors of 365 Days of Activism. Now that that is out of the way...

I have been thinking a great deal lately about change. I must say that i am thrilled that Obama is now the president of the United States. I think Obama being elected president is one of those milestones that my generation will be know for. Over the election campaigns the word "change" was cleverly linked with Obama. He is in fact "change" in many ways, shapes and forms and I do feel that he represents the "change we need". I really believe in him as a leader and i have alot of faith in him! What i do not believe is that he is some magical being that will take away our problems, make everything "ok", and bring happiness to America and the rest of the world. Though he may be a representative of change, and even a powerful catalyst, he himself will not solely be or bring the change we need. I watched a documentary called "Barack Obama: People's President" on Tuesday night and as much as i enjoyed it there was one specific part that stood out to me. Several young voters were being asked about Obama, and one of his young female supporters said something along the lines of, "We cannot sit around and wait for Obama or the government to bring the change we need. We are responsible to bring that change ourselves." This statement hit the nail on the head for me! As much as Obama is a representative of change WE as the people are responsible to bring mass change, and push for him and the government to stand by the change that they have promised. I think that true change comes when average people make small intentional decisions to bring change in their day to day life; this could be smiling at a stranger, donating to a charity, helping someone who is broke down on the side of the road, adopting a child, or as simple as switching off the lights when you are not using them.

I have noticed that certain people are already putting enormous amounts of pressure on Obama. He has been president for a little over a week and i hear people say things like, "Obama has been president for a week and gas prices are still going up." I find this hilarious and frustrating. Whether a person is an Obama supporter or totally against him, we cannot afford to put too much responsibility on him. We have to trust him as a leader to have the best intentions of his country in mind, and trust him to do the things he says, but we also cannot be unrealistic (whether we are for or against him) and expect things to just magically change. We have to be agents of that change.

So since i am already writing a political post i just want to speak briefly about the South African political climate. They are labelling this up coming election as "the most important election since 1994", and i believe it very well could be. I want to challenge all South Africans, and especially the young voters, to get out and register if you are not, and vote! Your last chance to register is the 7th & 8th of February. American just saw a record number of young voters, and groups of people that have never traditionally voted, come to the polls and vote. South Africans can follow this example, educate themselves about the candidates, and make an informed vote. Because whether we like it or not, the government lays the structure of the system in which we are fighting for change. But no matter the outcome of the South African election, and no matter what happens with Obama in America, you can count on the fact that i will do everything in my power to see much needed change brought to the lives and communities of people around me. I hope you will commit to do the same!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 65: 28 January - Did Freud Mention the Defense Mechanism of “RUN”?

Suppression, Repression, Narcissism, Humor, Regression, Denial, Projection, Distortion, Passive Aggression, Acting Out, Displacement, Dissociation, Intellectualization, Isolation…to name a few. We all adapt to our environments by developing these wonderful defenses! I say wonderful sarcastically because though these tools are subconsciously (usually) created to protect us from unwanted feelings or emotions, they often end up hurting us further.. Defense mechanisms are not all bad. When used healthily, and to the proper degree, they can be quite helpful. I know Humor, Suppression, and Intellectualization helped me through many tough years! Then again everything cannot be joked or laughed off, suppressed (or repressed if one is acting in an immature defense) emotions and feelings make their way up to the surface at some point or another, and some things just plain don’t make sense no matter how you look at it!

There is one Defense Mechanism that I commonly see with the children living on the streets that Freud failed to mention: RUNNING! Sure, there are certain Defense Mechanisms that come into play when a child, or adult for that matter, decides to run from a situation, but Freud did not specifically define the act of literally running from a problem (or at least, not that I know of). Running, however, is a well polished Defense Mechanism that these children know so well. I have seen it over and over again. It usually starts at home with a problem, series of problems, or an environment of continuous, ongoing pain and hurt. The child cannot cope and eventually runs from that reality to escape it. Insert a little Suppression of the previous hurt experienced, and the pain of leaving certain loved ones behind, a bit of Projection not wanting to take credit for certain aspects that may be his or her fault, and maybe even a sprinkle of Acting Out.

The child will find his or her way to the streets, or an organization, or maybe other family members in another community, but unfortunately the “system” is built around this Defense Mechanism that the child has now discovered. Most organizations (apart from Places of Safety and Juvenile Reformatories) have an “open door policy”, meaning the child can run away any time they feel. This is obviously not encouraged, but one could argue as long as the child knows it’s an option, we are basically giving him or her permission to do so. This makes it easy for the child to run whenever a problem occurs. For instance, little Johnny might run away from home because he got in trouble at school. He then finds his way to town and joins a group of kids that come from similar backgrounds. Johnny lives with them until one day he steals from one of the kids in the group. Instead of confronting the problem he may run back home, or not seeing that as an option may run to another group in another part of town.

Unfortunately, the problems never disappear. They are still there waiting for Johnny, or whoever, but it is Johnny that is in a different place where those problems do not exist. Today I bumped into Julian, who is a perfect example of this. I met up with him about two years ago on the streets when he had run from the shelter he had been staying in. I worked with him for a while and got him back home staying with his family. Eventually he was not coping in that environment and ended up running away again. Back to the shelter he had run from before I met with him at that time. I saw him at the shelter a couple of weeks back and he seemed happy. So today I bumped into him and he told me he had run away from the shelter on Sunday because he had gotten in a fight with another boy. He is back on the streets. That is, he is back on the streets until something happens that will cause him to run to the next place.

Julian is still young, but he is getting older. The most unfortunate thing about a lifestyle “on the run” is that, as I said earlier, problems do not disappear and they only end up piling up all over the place. The older the child gets in this “life on the run”, the more bridges he or she burns, and the more unresolved problems he or she faces in the world, and the more difficult it is for them to ever settle down and realize that life is full of problems and the only way to get rid of them is to face them head on. I do not think it is a mere coincidence that in our society where we have so many children running from their problems, and a system that supports that decision, that we would also have such a high rate of “fatherless” children. Because these children that learn to run from their problems grow up, get girls pregnant, and act in the defense they know best: RUN!

give oprah to the dogs.

yesterday while cooking dinner, our tv was on the station that plays the oprah show. for some time now i have had very adverse reactions to oprah. examples include swear words uncontrollably flying out of my mouth, my eyes shooting out laser beams at the tv screen, my fists clenching and palms starting to sweat. i remember one time she had this homeless dude on there and she was such a you-know-what to him. i actually wrote about it on my blog (

anyways. so oprah was on (because, as much as i loathe her, i get sucked in. it's a nasty cycle) and the entire episode was dedicated to people with dogs who can do weird things like hop on two legs, nurse lion cubs, add basic numbers and count out the sum with their paws, and so forth. it was really entertaining, i'm not gonna lie. minus the freaky dog with two legs that looked like a malnurished kangaroo. that was traumatic to watch. towards the end of the show, lynette from desperate housewives came on. i love her on that show. but on oprah, she was going on about this large number of dogs who were "orphans", abused and neglected. she even said "these dogs have never had their own bed to sleep on". ok, now let me insert a few sentences about my love for dogs. i love them. i have one. they are sweet and cuddly and make me happy. but at that moment i wanted to punch lynette.

i live in a world where kids live on the streets, smoke crack from the single-digit ages, are neglected and abandoned, have no bed to sleep in, kinda like oprah's homeless dogs. i live with a man (my husband) who has made it his life's work to fight for the rights of such kids. it's a huge passion in my heart, and my heart breaks when i see certain situations these kids face. but what doesn't break me heart is when i see passionate people with really famous tv shows and huge public platforms who some people follow religiously NOT giving kids in need the same attention and support and awareness as they give animals.

is it because dogs are cute and cuddly and easy to control? are kids on the street too scary, confusing, guilt-producing, dirty?

i hope a day comes when oprah lets dogs be dogs and brings attention and passion to people's lives about these children. and not as a trendy topic to throw around for money and glory, but a heart-cry that bring people to a place of brokenness for the reality that children live, work, cry on the streets of the world's cities.

don't hate me cause i bash oprah and her dog-loving self. she's just giving the people what they want. and what they want is animal rescue and dogs with cute little tricks. it's clear that society doesn't yet want children invited to the show to express their pain and abandonment. so i guess it's not really oprah's problem, but society as a whole. our hearts aren't yet longing for the equality and justice so many of us preach.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 61: 24 January - Tattooed in Our Minds and Hearts

I have been fairly “quiet” for a while. My “online silence” does not, however, reflect the business I have found myself in over the past two weeks or so; I have been very busy with follow up meetings and plans from my 16 days on the streets, because my 16 days were followed by the time of the year where everything on this side of the world kind of slows down, and even stops, for the holidays. Things are moving again. The conversation as to “what to do with the hardened kids” in town needs to continue, and action needs to follow, but as that dialogue continues I am aware of how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the “problem”.

I started this conversation on here for several reasons. I felt it was important to highlight the complexity of the situation. As the conversation continues it becomes more and more obvious that most avenues have been attempted for these specific children at one time or another, that something drastic needs to happen, but that we also are not quite sure what exactly that “something” is. I can see a true concern for these children along with a frustration in not knowing what to do in many comments people have made in this discussion. I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the size of the problem when we focus on it, and especially when “solutions” seem to be far and wide. Yesterday I was reminded again of a powerful tool for change.

I went to the Southern Ink Exposure Tattoo Convention last night. Wildfire Tattoo , where I get my work done, is hosting the event and it is the first Tattoo Convention of this caliber to be held on African soil. There are artists from all over the world. It is truly an amazing experience and I would recommend anybody, whether you like tattoos or not, to try and make it out to the convention! Anyways, I had a couple of conversations at the convention that were very important reminders for me. The first conversation was with Tyler Murphy. Tyler used to work at Wildfire but has recently gone out on his own and opened his own studio, Sins of Style . He excitedly greeted me last night when I saw him.

The last time I saw Tyler was smack dab in the middle of my 16 days on the streets. I was walking around one early morning, waiting for Crippie to open. I remember that morning because I did not have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, vital for my “wakeup routine”, AND soup so I was just walking around like a zombie and hoping for a caffeine intervention. Just when I thought my cause to get coffee was impossible I bumped into Tyler sitting outside a little café on Long Street. I stopped and chatted. He told me about his new tattoo studio he had just opened, and because of the “state” I was in (unkept, dirty, smelly, hairy face, etc.) the topic of my time on the streets arose naturally. Without me having to ask, or express my desperation for coffee, he offered to buy me some. Sigh of relief. We then sat and chatted over coffee and talked in great depths about my time on the streets, the reason I was doing it, and the current situation of children on the streets. He was a great audience!

So last night when I bumped into him he excitedly asked me how the rest of my time on the streets went and how I had adjusted back to “normal” life. Then he said, “You don’t know how much that conversation that we had impacted me that day! I couldn’t get it out of my mind! I have continued our conversation with so many people. You would not believe how many people I have talked to about it! You really achieved what you were trying by starting conversations!”. Tyler simply reminded me of one really important “solution”: awareness. People cannot make a difference in something they don’t know, or don’t care, about but by simply starting conversations, and feeding important information to people, we are educating them of the problem, and laying down a foundation of awareness to build real and lasting change. For Tyler, our conversation seemed to be tattooed on his mind and heart and he will not soon forget it.

I also had a conversation with a group of artists from Kansas City. We had the normal back and forth about where we are from in the States, and then they were asking what I was doing here and for how long. When they heard I work with the kids in town the one girl brokenheartedly spoke about one of the younger kids that they bumped into on Long Street. I knew who he was based on her description. I expected to hear the typical “foreigner response” about the “cute little kid” that she gave a bunch of money to, but it was nothing like that. She said she could see he was hyped up on drugs and her heart broke for him. She said she felt like “picking him up, taking him away from that reality and taking care of him”; her sentiments coming very close to some of the “solutions” that we have come to in the discussion about these kids. She felt it was wrong to allow a child to be in that place, and that a child addict should not be treated as an adult and something had to happen before he literally kills himself in his cycle of self destruction. I could see that the image of his face was tattooed on her mind and heart!

These conversations were refreshing for me! They did not bear fruit of amazing solutions to the problem we face, but they were a reminder of one simple thing: we cannot be overwhelmed by the “problem” and have to focus on simple, achievable “solutions” for these kids. And as we continue to seek long term, sustainable and permanent solutions for them, I am reminded that one very simple, doable solution is to merely continue with conversations. Because these informed conversations lead to an awareness. Information is power. And based on this informed awareness of the general public, we are able to build true and lasting change in the greater structure and in the lives of these children. We have to come to a point where a vast majority of society feels strongly that it is wrong to allow children to live on the streets. Once this simple belief is tattooed in the minds and hearts of many, I believe that we will begin to see real and lasting change come!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Moving the discussion along - Hardened Street Children

Instead of following on with Ryans blog, I thought to carry the conversation along a little in a freash post. Just finished another meeting in my discussions of what to do with the drug addicted street kids and some ideas flowed, so I have some ideas and questions to run past you guys. So here we go, the question is what if we get creative and out of our comfort zone?

First some points to understand:
1. These kids are addicted to drugs, their mission is to get drugs, nothing else.
2. They make a lot of money from begging, working in the taxis, working for the restaurants, asking for shoes/cornflakes which they then sell and so on.
3. I cannot find an appropriate service for them, ie no detention drug rehab for children (if any of you do know of one please let me know).
4. We cannot just let them carry on regardless, but at the same time we cannot seem to do anything for them.

So what about this:
1. We target all their money streams, drug dealers, child labour and so on as never before.
2. We empower the security gaurds, firstly so that they understand the position of the kids, what we can do for them (not much at the moment) and so they understand that these kids are addicted to drugs, how they go about getting the money, their behavour, etc.
3. We then set up a wet-shelter (they can come in high or drunk) where they can sleep during the day, have a shower, start to get medical and psyhcological/drug rehab treatment and then they are allowed out at night if they want.
4. We assign a security gaurd to each kid to follow them around, educate and stop people giving them money, basically make sure that to get drugs is very difficult because they are being followed all the time.
5. We slowly change their behaviour and move them into the normal system.

So what do you think, I will expand on this or any point if anyone is interested. The main point is that the kids have a safe place to go and sleep, the street environment is made difficult for them to continue begging and using drugs and boundaries are put in place. Yes there are problems, like the kids will just move to the waterfront who refuses to look at anything programme to reduce begging. I however think it is worth starting to serioiusly discuss this idea.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Not us?

I have just watched Barack Obama get inaugurated. He makes people excited to help.  Why don't we all just find something else to do good instead of thinking about the bad?  You don't have to be a big famous person or even a adult to do something great. People are mistreated on the streets like Ryan helps. We can all help them.  People have diseases like diabetes like I help. We can all help them.  Children could give toys to an orphanage. We can all help them. You can even just do kind good deeds for your neighbors. We can ALL help them. What are we all using our bodies for? Why aren't we using it for the good? President Obama sees what I am talking about! Now let's all join together throughout the world to help the ones that need us the most and to be the person that we want to . Now let's be the people that know what to do !

purveyors of fine... hope and humility

for any of you that have been in the "business" of transformation for some time you, i am sure, will remember a day... maybe a moment... or an incident that took the wind out of your sails and left you feeling a bit hopeless. a kid that keeps making the same stupid mistake over and over. an addict that just can't let go. women who don't walk away when they should. the list could go on and on. (at least for me it could :)... life at beth uriel- visit for more information- has presented me with quite a "list")

all of these incidences are evidence that the human will is indeed quite strong and unable to be controlled by anyone other than the body in which it dwells. this may be common sense to some-- but is a wall that i bang my head on over and over and over again. needless to say, i wake up with headaches often.

this past december i was reminded that if i dwell on these disappointments too long that my hope takes a hit-- which is the greatest gift i think i have to give people. hope that change is possible. that our past does not dictate our future. that the gifts buried in the rubbish of this city's difficulty can be dug up and displayed with pride. many of the beth uriel family members are examples of such treasure. young men with matric certificates-- the first in their family to graduate. others with jobs and safe places of their own to stay. still others who are early on in their journey but show the desire and discipline required to grow out of brokenness.

in the midst of one of my most recent "hopeless" spells a light went on. very small. again, maybe common sense to some. but enough to shine in the dark corners of my hopeless mind. it occurred to me that if i chose to look at things a bit differently that instead of being without hope (which is of no benefit to anyone) that i would find better company in humility. the difference being that the focus is off myself. i alone am not capable of being responsible for the transformation of individuals or society. i alone can not climb over the walls i keep banging my head on. i alone will drown in the difficult circumstances that lie ahead. however, in the company of other people and in the knowledge that the here and know is only a shadow of eternity, transformation is possible. walls crumble. lives change.

so... leaving hopelessness behind and grabbing on to humility... i say thank you. for those that share in this journey. that speak truth in dark places. that walk with individuals that have been discarded by many. that see lilies and flowers (gerald) where others see mud. thank you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Holy Cows ,Hard Work and Turning the Tables.

The family and I went to Darling yesterday to have lunch at Evita se Perron and grab a show "Evita Praat Kaktus", and while we had a great day with lots of laughter, great food and the country life I was astounded at how Pieter Dirk Uys can still make one think, can still teach you a think or two and especially show you what true activism is all about.

It was Pieter who in about 1988 taught me that there are no holy cows when it comes to fighting for what is right, who through his show "The SA Bothatanic" lifted the veil of apartheid propaganda and confusion and set me on my small little activist road. It was his waving finger PW Botha, his drunk Pik and his big-eared Piet Koornhof who showed me the ridiculousness and selfishness of the politician, and who taught me that we need to hold our politicians to account.

Yesterday the message was all up to date, using the Sunday papers, Barrack Obama, quick wit, stand-up comedy and what I call a "re-history" lesson, he pushed us to question everything, to use our vote and that every little bit, even one vote can and does make a difference. This of course got me to thinking about the elections ahead, the ridiculousness of our current crop of politicians, whose agendas remain selfish and narrow minded, and the importance of us not wasting our vote and voting with an activist mindset.

Activism, in the form of Pieter Dirk Uys of course does not end with a vote or even a laugh or two, it goes along with hard work. Pieter is one of those people who always astounds me at how hard he works, he never stops, is always fighting for what he believes is right. He has shows all around the world, has a trust to help the people of Darling and surrounds, runs a museum, art and craft workshops, is a prolific writer, has TV shows, voter education, HIV education roadshows, and so on. Stay in any city for a while and you are bound to bump into him or his message in one way or another. His message is only so clear, to so many, because he works so hard to put it out there, to stand up for what he believes and to challenge, through satire and direct confrontation that which he knows is wrong.

Pieter's activism however has a very clear methodology: "Turn the Tables". He does not accept boundaries or limitations set by others, especially those in charge. Instead he uses these boundaries and limitations against those who set them, he strips the power from the high and might by refusing to be intimidated by it and even using their speeches and actions as his script. He has a special knack of using the very tools of a bad programme against itself. For instance I never forget his piece on the banana and the Condom. The government was using a banana to teach kids how to use a condom, he went right to the failure of the governments HIV programme by telling a story of how the kids were now putting a condom on a banana by the side of the bed before having unprotected sex.

So what does Pieter teach us activists for children's rights. Well we can all make a difference even if it is just a well considered vote. Also it is not enough to just think something, we need to act, we need hard work if we want to see a change in the life of the kids on the street. We must not limit ourselves by the agendas set by others and we must use the failure of the system as a point of departure. Thanks Pieter for a great show, for teaching us activists how it is done and for showing us all that anyone, even a small white ageing gay from Darling can make a huge difference and be a symbol of strength to so many.

Friday, January 16, 2009

We look with our Eyes yet to SEE is to UNDERSTAND.

Ok I’m no great writer but I am a Christian :) so here I go.

I’ve realised that although we look at the world through our eyes, yet to SEE, is to UNDERSTAND. "Oh now I see" Many times we are influenced by what we looking at, and less by ‘understanding’ or truth. Yesterday Ryan made the example of giving a child a R10 on Long Street as the equivalent to kneeling down with a lighter to light his or her rock pipe. But because what we look at a small child in need of food we react according to what we looking at out of pity, or just to get them away, we give them the R10 which is the same as saying ok just go and smoke your pipe and leave me alone. The truth is that you are lighting a pipe but people will look at you giving him a R10 and not lighting a pipe for him. So there is a difference between what we look at and the truth of the situation.

Relating to one of the boys at the shelter the other day (for those who don’t know me I work at and organisation called Homestead…hello) I took him in our imagination to the scene of a swamp and asked him to tell me what his eyes behold. He plainly said… Mud. I then said that just because his eyes declare mud didn’t mean that it was the reality of the situation, there is a deeper understanding. There is always a greater truth or understanding to what our eyes behold. Although there was mud the reality is that this is where you find lilies, and lilies need mud. Beneath all the mud there was a seed that was not going to be hindered by mud or the darkness of its bed but was going to push through and stand out in all the darkness surrounding it and shine as one of the most beautiful flowers of creation. I believe that the unseen is more real than the seen. Although we need the material things to survive its things like love,courage and perserverance that are unseen, that really matter in life.

Many times we are to focussed on what we looking at (which can be subject to so many different interpretations) and fail to really understand or see. We walk with mud on our faces blinded by circumstances. As long as we continue to look and make decisions upon that we will continue to make decisions that are not in the best interest of children, we will always be fighting, blaming and cursing yet if we seek to understand we will start seeing our responsibility as citizens in society and find our place and position in this world. We can judge kids who sniff glue which many of them use as an escape from reality, and we could be doing the very same thing in a different form, but because our methods of escape are more acceptable by society doesn’t make us any better or better off the difference is that we look at the one doing it but fail to SEE the other one doing it. And this is what we should strive to SEE.

My message is to urge a search for understanding and truth which lie beyond the surface of what we "look" at. It is when we find understanding we begin to see our role and then start taking responsibility not only outside ourselves but also inside ourselves. We are not isolated from the issues in our society and are very much a part of it whether we choose to LOOK or SEE is our responsibility.

Is that Ok?

Day 52: 15 January - How Far is Far Enough?

Ok, with this post i would like to get some real conversation going. I want feedback and input from anybody and everybody, but most especially from parents! I sat in, what i felt was, a very productive meeting today with a couple of the key role players in the "street children" sector. To be exact, we sat and talked for almost five hours. Majority of our conversation, and the reason for our meeting was to talk about a small hand full of kids in town that are considered "hardened street kids". These are children that have pretty much been in and out of every facility, addicted to heavy drugs, totally sucked into street life, and extremely out of control of their lives (because of their drug addiction). Their families know their children need help but don't know how and feel disempowered. If you caught one of the kids in a rational moment even they themselves would admit they need help, but the addiction has a stronger hold on their lives than ration, reason, programs, family or any other outside force.

So one of the big questions today was "what do we do with these kids?". It is a small, workable group. But we know that whatever is done will have to be extreme, holistic, and most probably not optional. You see, these children have been allowed to make the choice to go and live on the streets, use heavy drugs, and partake in this destructive behaviour. They were not mature enough to make that decision in the first place, so we can equally not expect them to be mature enough to make the decision to leave this destructive cycle while they are still alive, especially considering the power an addiction can have (specifically crack cocaine) over a grown adult, much less a child! At what point do we as adults intervene, whether the child likes it or not, whether he or she is happy with us or not, for his or her own good. I know my mom would have gone to drastic measures to insure my safety and health, and though i may have been irritated with certain punishments or consequences from my actions, i know that she acted in love and looking back i appreciate it.

So now let's just put the case of these children aside for a second. i want you to get really personal with this. I want you to imagine that YOUR kids (let's just say ages anywhere from 12-17) are in this position (if you don't have kids you will have to take it a step further and imagine you have kids); they are addicted to crack cocaine, their drug addiction has taken them to the streets, grown adults give them money to feed their habits, grown adults sell them the drugs, sometimes grown adults smoke the drugs with them, your child often sells his or her body to get money for the drugs to wrinkly, old men, your child is totally spiralling out of control in a self destructive manner and you are literally watching him or her come closer to death with every day that passes by. Ok, got the mental picture? Now here is where i want your input...

1) Would you care?

2) If so, what extent would you go to to see your child get help?

3) If your child resisted all forms of "help", knowing that he or she is a minor, would you go to the extent of forcing him or her to go to a treatment facility/healing program against his or her will?

4) How would you feel about the "grown adults" in your child's life that are enabling his or her addiction? and

5) what would you suggest doing with them?

I would really appreciate your feedback!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

a parentless generation in the making.

a few years ago i fell in love with a small community between lavender hill and muizenberg call capricorn. at the time i was working with a group of boys from this community who were leaving home for extended lengths of time, sleeping and getting into trouble in muizenberg. through that work, i met each of their families, which led to meeting other families and people in the area. quickly i got connected to lots of random people, especially since i was the only white person i saw roaming the streets of this overlooked community.

one family i met really took my heart. it's a complex web of relationships, but basically there is a grandmother named auntie m with 5 children (was 6 but the youngest died 2 years ago). M, S, B, S and Bru, in order from oldest to youngest. Now, M's (19 years old) girlfriend "fell pregnant", as they say in cape town, and they have a son michael. S's (17 years old) got 2 kids from her ex-boyfriend (she was 14 when she had the first son. Her oldest son is 3, his name is Leshwin. The little brother is baby Ryan (yes, named after mr brown himself!) and he's maye 1 1/. B is 14 and wanders around selling herself to guys on the street. S and Bru, 11 and 8ish, are in school and have somewhat normal lives for kids (minus the continuous drug use going on in their house and the random people who shack up there).

ok so the reason i'm writing this blog is to share w. you a bit of s's situation. after birthing two children before the age of 17, she started realizing how much of her life she was losing b/c of these kids. so sometime in this past year a shift occured in her behavior : she started staying out for days on end, she lost lots of weight cause of the tik she is smoking, and now she has moved out of the house and is living in a car on the harbor with "an old man" as her little sister told me. So yesterday i got a call from her mom, auntie m, desperately asking me to go look for stephie. it was all-pay day and s needed to be present to collect the R400 she gets each month from the government for her two kids. s needed to take her i.d. to collect the money, no one else could stand in for her.

so off i go with a carful all intent on finding s. we get to the harbor and a few of the kids jump out and run towards the docks. they returned a few mintues later with the information that s and the "old man" had made their way to a community 30 minutes east and there was no word that they were coming back anytime soon.

s with her kids.

two of the many people in my car were s's two motherless children, leswin and baby ryan. clueless as to what we were doing, why we were all concerned, and what impact this would have on their next month, they were busy climbing from lap to lap, grabbing my dog's face and shaking it, popping their heads out the window to catch a view of the beautiful blue ocean water, speaking in half words and sounds that it takes much time and patience to understand.

what struck me about this experience is hard to put into words, probably because i know this family so well and i have had 3 years to watch the ups and downs of each family member. so, what i still struggle to sit with is the "normalcy" of behavior such as s's. while disappointed, no one freaked out that she was (a) living with an old man in a car, (2) off on some adventure with no one aware of how to find her, (3) neglecting the welfare of her two children, as well as the financial state of her family who relies on that money to feed her kids, and (4) most likely coming home with a new bun in the oven, thus making her mother of 3 by her 19th birthday.

as i dropped her kids back home to their kinda-creepy stepgrandfather and their uncle m, i just felt really sad. i felt helpless. i felt determined to take leshwin and ryan away from s and raise them myself. i felt angry at the injustice of their situations...the cards they have been dealt while i drive away in a nice car to a nice flat to eat nice food and hang out with nice people. i felt compassion for the community of capricorn and even for stephie who i know is just being a teenager, not much more rebellious than i was at her age.

i want more people to feel burdened for families such as this, cause they are all around us no matter where we live. i want hearts to be touched for the great power we have to change a life simply by being available and choosing to walk through life with others. i want pity and apathy to create action and creativity and ideas. i want to drive by capricorn and see trees and flowers and rubbish bins and kids with shoes on and families with lovely food-smells drifting from their homes and smiles on people's faces.

wherever you live, whatever you do, however you live out your values...i challenge you to be inspired by the world around you, to embrace the power you have been given, and to bring change to the world.

"Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." --Desmond Tutu

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Child Trafficking in the Mother City (Published previously in the Weekend Argus)

Photo by Alexia Webster
Lured with promises of work and a new life in the big city, children as young as 13 are being poached from rural towns and brought to Cape Town to work on fruit and flower stalls. When they are not working, these children are virtual prisoners in a Wendy House in the back garden of their “employer”. Occasionally they are fed bread – if they are lucky - and are rarely paid. Most of them run away and, alone in a strange city, take to the streets like so many other poverty-stricken and uneducated youth. It sounds Dickensian at best, cruel and criminal at worst, yet the man accused of abducting them walked out of court a free man earlier this month after charges against him were dismissed.

Although the Children’s Bill signed by the President in 2006, is a progressive legislative tool that deals specifically with child labour and child trafficking, it will only come into effect next year, or possibly as late as 2009, leaving many children like these vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the interim. A man known only to the children in question, as, “Boere” has, allegedly, been trafficking children from places like Upington and Mossel Bay to work at his fruit and flower since 2006. According to Sandra Morreira, Director of The Homestead and Chairperson of the Western Cape Street Children's Forum, a number of boys from upcountry have been released into their care claiming that “Boere” had promised them work but that they had run away because he did not pay them. One of the boys aged 14, from Mossel Bay, claimed that he ran away because he was being kept in the city against his will by “Boere” who had invited him for a weekend in Cape Town. Fortunately, his parents had reported him missing and the social worker at The Homestead managed to re-unite him with his family. “It’s because of us that those boys are now safely back with their parents”, says Morreira.

Earlier this month, “Boere” was arrested by Woodstock police and appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate Court for charges of abduction. In some instances, parents had given “Boere” their consent to bring the youth to Cape Town, so the charges were withdrawn and the case dismissed. Sandra Morreira is dismayed at the outcome and says, “He is now free to keep bringing in children who then end up on the street”. At the time of going press, the South African Police Services (SAPS) had not responded to questions regarding the case, despite a number of emails requesting them to do so. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could not comment directly on the case or respond to the issue of why “Boere” was not charged with child labour. However, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Bronwyn Pithey indicated that the matter is being investigated and that the police docket will be re-opened.

To date, prosecutors at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have been unable to identify any cases prosecuted for trafficking specifically, and practical measures to address human trafficking have been limited despite research showing that it is occurring regularly in South Africa. According to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), part of the problem is that the concept of trafficking is not widely understood or even regarded as an urgent problem. The absence of a specific trafficking offence within the legal system has also made it difficult to identify or track cases that may have included an element of trafficking, but were prosecuted under other laws. An IOM report suggests that due to a lack of statistics, some law enforcement officials have even gone so far as to deny that there is any human trafficking in South Africa. Patrick Solomons, Director of Molo Shongololo, an organisation that actively campaigns for children rights, says that because the current legislative framework does not deal with trafficking specifically, offenders can only be brought to book through legal action related to common law and statutory offences that are often committed in the course of trafficking. Solomon says, “There is very little protection against child trafficking besides charging [perpetrators] for offences such as kidnapping, sexual assault and child labour.”

According to the IOM, one of the main problems with relying on existing laws to prosecute offenders is that they do not adequately address the various elements that make up the distinct crime of trafficking such as sexual exploitation, fraudulent employment recruitment and the exploitation of migrant labour. What is equally problematic is that current legislation does not account for the all the individuals who participate, directly or indirectly, in the crime. For example, in the case of parents who consented to “Boere” taking their children to Cape Town, with the explicit purpose of working for him.

According to the Department of Labour, some of the worst instances of child labour occur where children are taken from rural households to work in urban areas. In many instances, as in the case of “Boere”, the children are offered no payment in return other than board and lodging. Some children are held captive by their employer and there have been reports of psychological and physical abuse. According to Sandra Morreira, although there is no evidence indicating that “Boere” had sexually or physical abused the boys, they had told her that “Boere” had kept them locked up in a Wendy-house in his garden in the evenings when they were not working and hardly provided much in the way of food except for some bread. She says, “These boys are extremely traumatised by the experience. It’s straight, disgusting exploitation.”

Although commercial sexual exploitation of children is being addressed in the Sexual Offences Bill, child slavery, forced labour and debt bondage, are not specifically designated as criminal offences with South Africa’s current legislation. Morreira welcomes the Children’s Bill and is confident that it will plug this loophole but she is concerned about what will happen to children in the year, or more, it may take for it to be implemented. “It can take a while before it can actually be promulgated and now people like him [Boere] is free to keep bringing in children who then end up on the street”, she says.

Article by Raffaella Delle Donne

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day 49: 12 January - Change Is Most Definitely Inevitable

Today I have been overwhelmed by change; or maybe more the concept of change...wait, let me back up…

In my first year of studies at U.C.T., I had this course called “Text in Context”. I remember having a discussion in one of the first days of class. We were all trying to wrap our heads around this concept of “texts in context”, and the professor seemed to be taking it to the next level of “deepness”. Of course as first year students, eager to impress, we were all trying to show how deep we could also think and express. I am sure we were real impressive. Anyways, I guess the general idea was that contexts can be changed by texts…or was it texts are changed by contexts? Ok, obviously it did not really stick with me, but that doesn’t really matter. The discussion that day in class got me thinking about “contexts” and how we (the texts) change them.

For instance, I thought about the place I would go every Tuesday and Thursday night, at that time, to do boxing training. It was actually a church hall in an old Methodist church. Some nights it was used for boxing, other nights Tai Kwan Do, some days it was used for yoga, Sundays it was used for “children’s church”, and other days it was used for NA meetings. The building didn’t ever change, but the context did depending on who was in it and what they were doing in it. A heroin addict who has been clean for three years knows it as a place of accountability and safety, a little boy knows it as a place where he draws different pictures and plays with clay while his parents are in church, and I know it as a place where I exercised until I worked up disgusting amounts of sweat and punched a punching bag until my knuckles bled. So the building never changed, but depending on what day of the week, the people actually changed the context of the meaning the building has.

Where am I going with this?

Ok, so back to today. I was just overwhelmed with change in all different ways. I had the opportunity to show a couple of American girls around Cape Town a bit today. I got to town early so I went to check my email. I went to the same internet café that I went to every day during my 16 days on the streets. It was really weird. The place was exactly the same. It looked the same. It smelled the same. It was the same temperature. I even sat at the same computer that I usually sat at. Everything was pretty much the same but it felt so different! I had changed. I was not dirty, or self conscious of my smell and worried that the other customers might complain, or desperately needing to make use of the toilet, or craving one of the Cokes that sat in the ice cold refrigerator but not able to buy it. I was showered, didn’t need the toilet, and had just drank a wonderful, expensive latte on the way to town. The place was the same but I had changed, which changed my experience of the place.

I met the two American girls, Blanca and Liz, and we drank some coffee and then went to Crippie. Again, it was the same building that I ate in for 16 days, every single morning. It was the same place that provided a very important meal in my daily schedule. And within it was the same stew that I loved so dear during those 16 days! I remember standing in line and looking at the stew being served to other people in front of me in the line and my mouth would water. So when I walked in today, many of the people excitedly greeted me and said, “Ryan! It’s stew!!”. I hadn’t eaten this morning, but knowing that I could easily obtain a meal elsewhere, the stew did not seem as appetizing as it did during the 16 days. That made me sad! Crippie had not changed, the stew had not changed (except I think they may have added some noodles), but I had…and it was weird!

I took Liz and Blanca around town a bit after that and then we decided to go out and visit Town Two, Khayelitsha (a community that I worked in for a few years). I already felt a bit of guilt in going out there because I had not visited in a LONG time! And of course, when I got there, what was I confronted with but…change. The kids all seemed three feet taller, my favorite spaza shop is going under because the owner is sick, and many of the kids that were in the programs we had running are now standing on the street corners and getting into trouble; one of them was arrested over the holiday season and he was one of our star boxers in our sports program just a few years ago! The community, as in structure, had not changed all that much; a little bit here in there. But the kids had, and I have too. It was kind of eerie. It was really sad to see some of the kids that had so much potential making absolutely nothing of their lives and just getting into trouble because of lack of support structures.

That is when I realized…

They are being changed by the “context” around them. And until that context sees serious change, it will continue to impact the youth in a negative way. It is unreasonable for us as adults to expect young people not to be changed by the context in which they find themselves in. But it is our responsibility to teach them how to interact with the different contexts, bringing positive change, when needed, both within the contexts and in they themselves.

I don’t know if this makes since. I questioned even writing this blog. It is kind of profound, but might not even be. It is late, and I have alot running through my head! I hope you managed to grasp some sort of concrete thought from this!

Monday, January 12, 2009

a sense of community we don't know...

one of the things that struck me during my time with ryan on the streets, was the sense of community that existed with the people that lived on the streets. there was a serious support of one another that is not so prevalent in our more affluent societies. Ryan told me how money and food that one would find oneself with would be shared, no matter how little there was to start with. the concept being, i have today, but who knows about tomorrow... of course there are some who do not share, and sooner or later, they will not be shared with either. i too experienced this one day, ryan's last day on the street: it was late in town and i had left my lights on and when i got to my car, my battery was dead. not a great moment. around the courner came the two biggest smiles you can see in the picture to the left. they were running from the police or something. when i explained the situation, they got completely involved - watching my car while i found someone with jumper leads, when that didn't work, pushing the car down the street; when that didn't work, waited while i called the AA; when my phone died, offered me their R3 so i could call and get some help; waited with me until the AA came...... they were the champions of champions. i had luckily gained access to their hearts in that moment and it moved me. especially when they offered me their money.... the community is strong on the street. we can all stand to learn from it x x x

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Horrendous New Year!!

Shocking...that is the only word that can come to my mind right now after watching the video of Oscar Grant being shot in the back by a police officer, while he was being restrained by another. A young man, only 22 years old, was shot in the back when he was completely defenseless and was causing a danger to no one.

I had hoped to say more, but I think the video speaks for itself...

We have to bring an end to this type of police brutality!

Monday, January 5, 2009

my love for kids go beyond the streets

This boy is the image of me when i was in the streets,my first year and in him i see a great person his name is innocent and his mother is doing time in Pollsmoor.i last saw him on Christmas Eve only to see him still smiling and as witty as ever in a brand new year like this!wow he is just an amzing little boy who plays chess and can do nice photography work.

If we can allow a kid this age to be in the streets,how do we feel when we eat,when we sleep ,when we go out for fun?

I am still getting to know the boy better but i promise you i would like to make sure that this little angel gets a good life and live a normal life as much as he can.In him there is innocents,there is wonder,there is joy ,no pain like what i feel for i have been there and i wont,in my life time ,let a kid be in the streets.

its good that i have moved to Cape town and i will be able to work with everyone on this blog as much as we can to see to it that we care,we wanna see the kids living normal lives.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Day 41: 4 January - With My Own Two Hands

This blog might come across as controversial or maybe offensive to some. I personally do not believe that it has to, but I know that what I am about to type may question certain people’s beliefs a bit, and in so rub them the wrong way. My intentions are not to offend or irritate people, so if you find that this entry does in fact rub you the wrong way, I ask that you finish reading it, think about it a bit, and give the subject matter a little more thought; before you just cast it aside. And though this blog has a “spiritual” slant to it, I feel that it is relevant to people of all walks of life and faiths.

I guess it is important to start off by saying that I am a Christian. I have a strong faith in God that is a very important part of my life. Lately it seems I have been confronted with a certain “theme” over and over again; through conversations, observations, movies, music, and so on. Summing up or defining this “theme” in few words is difficult, but I guess the easiest way to describe it is I have noticed how people seem to put too much blame, and responsibility, on God when it comes to the negativity that they see in their life and in the world around them. Not only do they blame God for the bad that they see or experience, but they also put too much responsibility on Him to fix it.

Ok, now I guess that is the controversial part that I was talking about but hear me out. I think prayer is important. I think it is equally important to ask God for strength, hope, help, comfort, and whatever else you may need in life. But I also think that we are sometimes way to quick to look up and blame God for bad things happening, or good things not happening, when we have the power to change those things ourselves. An example would be a man that passed by a hungry, half-naked, shivering street child on a cold winter night. As the man passed the child he truly felt moved with emotion, outraged that a child would have to live in such a situation, and broken hearted thinking about the child.

The man immediately began to pray, “Dear God please help this child! He looks so hungry and cold. I pray that you would send someone across his path that could give him shelter, food and clothes! It is not fair for this child to live in this situation for another day…”. The man did not even question or consider that he most probably was that very person! That he himself possessed the ability and power to immediately change that child’s reality. But it is easier to ask God to do it. A few days later the man may pass the child again, and see that he is in the exact same predicament, and nothing has changed for the good. The man might then take out his anger, and even guilt, on God, “Oh God why do you not answer my prayers?! How can you let this child live under these circumstances?! Why?”. God is probably asking the man the same thing!

I know that example is kind of extreme, but I hope my point is clear. I was watching Bruce Almighty the other day when it came on television. For those of you that haven’t seen it, Bruce (played by Jim Carrey) basically questions God (played by Morgan Freeman) on how he “runs” things and God gives him the chance to do a better job if he thinks he can. At first Bruce is drunk with power, and he misuses it for his own selfish will. Then he begins granting every single prayer that every single person prays! Things begin to utterly spin out of control and total chaos ensues. When things are totally devastatingly terrible Bruce speaks with God. God then tells him, “That's your problem, Bruce. That's everybody's problem. You keep looking up… People want me to do everything for them. What they don't realize is that they have the power. You want to see a miracle? Be the miracle.” From that point on Bruce starts to make “right” the “wrongs” he had made.

He doesn’t use his divine supernatural powers to do so either! He merely uses his free will, power to choose, and, most importantly, power to ACT. So he gives the job back to the guy he stole it from by misusing his powers, he realizes he cannot put a spell on his girlfriend to make her not be mad at him and he has to work to earn her love back (after he really messed things up with her), and he does things as simple as getting out in traffic to help a guy whose car is broken down. This does not take the role of God completely out of the picture, but Bruce realized an important lesson: So many of the things that he complained about in life were merely “that way” because good people decided not to act, but by simply choosing to “act”, no matter how small the deed may be, true change can come and slowly solutions are found for the problems that cause grief. He realized not only that we are part of the problem, but that we can also be a part of the solution; we can BE the solution.

Now as I said, this does not take God out of the equation; at least not for me. I still look to Him for wisdom, strength, hope, guidance and the other things I need to assist me along the way. But I just realize that, for whatever reason, we live in a world where God chooses to work through people; people that have the gift of free will. And so when we see something we see something that we feel is not right, or someone that we feel needs help, or a situation where change should come, instead of asking God, “How can you let that happen?”, we should look to ourselves and as the same question, and see what is in our power and capacity to see needed change come. Like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see!”.

“I can change the world
With my own two hands
Make a better place
With my own two hands
Make a kinder place

I can make peace on earth
With my own two hands
And I can clean up the earth
With my own two hands
And I can reach out to you
With my own two hands”

(Ben Harper, With My Own Two Hands)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Day 38: 1 January - Happy New Year!

I hope you managed to sit back and take stock of 2008; remembering the good and bad, what can be taken into the new year and maybe what shouldn't, and being grateful for another year gone by. I hope that 2009 will be a wonderful year for you! I don't know what is up with this, seemingly new, trend of trying to sum up how the year will be with a little rhyme (e.g. 2008 is going to be great!), but whatever rhyme you come up with, i hope 2009 is...fine, time to shine, be my valentine, all mine, every night we dine, walking the line, building a shrine, divine, not like a Philistine, time to lay off the wine, swing from a vine, oh, yeah.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!! Have a stupendous 2009!!!!!!!