SPEAK UP FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES, FOR THE RIGHTS OF ALL WHO ARE DESTITUTE SPEAK UP AND JUDGE FAIRLY, DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF THE POOR AND NEEDY. PROVERBS 31:8-9
The four dilapidated pieces of scraps merged together serves as a home for a family of five. An open, festering room with a few chairs and tables adjacent to a toilet that doesn’t flush serves as the old age home for the disabled and elderly. Under four wooden posts with a tarp cover sits the shoe tailor- his services greatly needed in an area where buying new shoes is not necessarily an option. The supermarket the size of my bedroom, followed by a few outside stalls of fruits and vegetables serves as the local grocery store. The arrangement of shoes hung from the electric wire indicates the location of the deviant shebeen, where heroine is sold and police are bribed with nothing more than $15 to let the dealers off the hook. Despondently enough, next to the shebeen is the elementary school, comprised of colorful painted crosses, pleasant teachers, and most importantly, wholehearted children lingering in an instant ambiance of a hope for their future: A future that may never exceed the boundaries of this South African squatter camp.
A place where poverty and adversity is so dominate made me wonder how people fight against the melancholy of waking up in the mornings for another day of desperate despair. However, as we traveled to the township, Olievenhoutbosch, on a Saturday morning in a car filled with hotdogs, freshly-made desserts, face paints, and eager hearts, my viewpoint was instantly altered by a day filled with the more joy and sincerity than I ever would’ve imagined. The people welcomed us unconditionally, possibly because they knew we had food, but certainly because they were genuinely friendly people. I realized that the true atmosphere of an impoverished place isn’t necessarily the misery that we see in the movies or on charity commercials. Although these people live with next to nothing, they get by. It’s as simple as that: their life goes on. It showed me that maybe the people are content with their circumstances; maybe this unadorned life is all they really need.
As we made out first stop at the elementary school, the elation of the children sparked immediately. We gathered a few children and started to plant a vegetable garden outside of the old age home.
Seeing as how we had more than enough help, I went on a stroll to see if I could gather more children. I started out chatting with a young girl and her three little siblings, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by over 20 children, covetous for my attention. I suggested a dance-off, which was a bad idea on my part because I was quickly outshined by their rhythmic talent, especially the teenage girls!
As we proceeded to the face painting, I tried my best to properly draw Spiderman and Batman and Superman on the precious little faces of the boys, and crowns and watches and necklaces on the girls.
We handed out hotdogs and I noticed the kids shoving their leftovers into plastic bags to take home to their parents.
I could feel the sense of consideration among the siblings, especially as I watched a little boy taking care of his one-year-old baby brother. As it was time to leave, the kids clung to us with eager faces as we promised we would see them again soon.
The group that I accompanied on the trip, from Moreleta Park Church, has made a commitment to the area, promising that they will come back consistently, to detect the most urgent needs among the people. This made me realize that charity is not just visiting somewhere once or twice to observe the conditions and play around for the day. Charity is rather forming influential relationships with the people, praying for them continually, and finding out their deepest desires.
After all, behind the smiling faces of the little children and hospitable nature of the adults is still a deep need for the things that we so easily overlook and fail to really appreciate as we go on with our own intricate lives. I hope that every time I walk into Publix, every time I buy new shoes, and every time think back on my childhood memories, I think about the children of Olievenhoutbosch; the children who may never know of anything better than the minimalism of what their informal settlement has to offer, but the children who are so happy with so much less than what I have. I hope that I turn my trivial expectations into deeper appreciations, and as I return to the materialistic pressures of America, I will surely never forget the impact that this simplistic society had on my life: for THAT, I am truly thankful.