Sunday, 28 July 2013
Very Good Advice
It's been one week since my last confession, erm, blog.
And the week has been life changing, and yet, to be honest, more of the same. More stories of abuse, rape, poverty, disease. But also, more joyful kids, and such hope and inspiration from the people we've met. The communities we're working in are devastating - while they may not necessarily be as physically poor as those in Malawi or Uganda (the real Africa, as many people say here) the social issues are so terrible that conditions here are amongst the worst in the world.
But amongst the devastation is a sense of hope. There really is. Perhaps not on a societal level - you really do have the feeling that the problem is unsolvable. But on the individual level, I believe there is a great sense of potential and optimism. It is about reaching one child at a time, like the parable of the man throwing starfish back into the ocean. You can't save them all. But maybe you can save one. And that one makes all the difference.
Let me tell you about Advice. I met Advice in an extremely rural village, approximately 50 km from the Mozambique border. The village was poor. Poorer than poor. And so remote that it's more common to see lions wander through town than white people. The vast majority of the population has no work. HIV is rampant. And the majority of the population is Mozambiquan, which means that without South African ID, they can't apply for government subsistence grants. They can't work. They can go to school, but they can't graduate with a diploma, should they even get that far.
Advice came up to me at the Care Point to introduce himself. He said he was so interested in speaking with people from different places, and he wanted to know all about Canada. His English was very good, and he looked smart in his school uniform of crisp white shirt and pressed black trousers. While the other boys had untucked their shirts and loosened or removed their green school ties, Advice's tie was still tight to the collar, and he wore a wool scarf with European panache. I wish I had thought to take a picture of him.
He told me that he was 17 and in Grade 12, which is a feat in itself in these communities. He said he wanted to be a lawyer and go to University in Joburg next year. While many of the kids have unrealistically lofty ambitions ("I want to be a doctor!" says many a kid who can barely count past fifteen), Advice struck me as a kid who could actually do it. I told him that I worked with lawyers in Canada, and he asked me very intelligent questions about the Canadian legal system - frankly, questions that were beyond me.
We had an excellent conversation, and the whole time we were talking I kept thinking: Yes! This kid is something special. This kid has a bright future. I asked him about his practical opportunities to go to school, and he said that he was applying for scholarships, and was hoping he would get in to his first choice school. For a couple of minutes, I felt like was talking with a bright Canadian kid - a kid who has every opportunity in the world at his feet.
Talking with Advice (what a wonderful lawyerly name) gave me such hope. Not for all of these kids, unfortunately. The situation is too dire for that. But hope for individuals like Advice who might have the potential to break the cycle of poverty and abuse.
I'm determined that I'm going to stay in touch with Advice. And I'd love to connect him with a Canadian lawyer or two to be pen-pals as well. And rest assured, as soon as I hear via the Hands network that this kid has gotten into university, I'll be coming knocking on your door. Poverty should not put a complete stop to ambition. And a little bit from here and there can go a long way.
I'll keep you posted.