July 30, 2008

help2read

a non-profit organization called help2read has been in South Africa for 3 years. this is the first year it's no longer a pilot project and is really gaining ground at the grassroots level. a friend and i have just gone through the training and were asked to begin at a school that has just joined the list of schools being served. we will each help 2 children 2 times a week for a whole school year. the aim is to help, not teach, children with their reading. the program is set up exactly like a program in England that has been running successfully for over 35 years.

after the training, i felt renewed with insightful tools to guide and facilitate the learning process with the children. the child must choose something of his/her own interest from a wide variety of materials in the help2read box -- the box contains a full range of new books and all kinds of learning and fun materials and games. the educator must be flexible and only encouraging with praise. it must be fun and full of listening and sharing. this box of materials provides an enriching and beautiful supply of books, activities and games which most of the children do not even find at their school, their home, or their neighborhood. there are 100,000's of children here, from backgrounds where English is the second language, who have no libraries in their neighborhoods, and who have no means by which to purchase books (the price for a book in South Africa is very expensive!). most of them have no adult to read them a book, and so a program like this is already making a difference in the lives of the children it has served.

as more and more volunteers arise to serve the children of South Africa, a whole new generation of children will begin to read well and be ready to advance along the path of higher education. the masses of children in South Africa still don't have the opportunity of a good education, but programs like this one provide hope and a vision of eradicating illiteracy as it spreads. i'm hoping to be a part of the process of seeing a child's eyes light up with confidence and self-esteem as reading becomes a natural talent in his life.

July 23, 2008

reflections from rain

it is the time of year when the rain can fall heavily at times, when life in general seems to slow down a little.


this is my favorite time of year in any land, when the rain or snow comes and the smell and taste of coffee seems even more delicious; when i feel energized by the cool air; when i can walk briskly without perspiring or be outside without the oppressive sunshine making me hide behind sunglasses all the time; and when i can snuggle under a warm and cozy blanket with the children and feel completely relaxed, without that sense that we should be anywhere else or doing anything else.


yet i cannot feel this way for more than a moment anymore -- now i am thinking about the 100,000's of our brothers and sisters in the region not enjoying this time of year at all. their lives are mostly in the townships. so many homes in these areas are inadequate for keeping a family warm and dry; the electricity is very expensive to keep a space heater on often enough, while the concrete, wood, and tin which are so abundantly used to put homes together are just not sustainable for one's well-being. none of us who can choose a home of our own choice would choose the kinds of homes that have been made available for people in this country -- but what's worse is how so many more people are now living in homemade shacks while struggling to survive (being paid little for the hard labor and work most of them do) because there is no work in the countryside. there are 100,000's of people living in shacks, side by side, wet and cold by the rain, many in flood zones now scrambling for survival make-shifting another shack nearby. there is no dignity to use a toilet in one's own home in these living conditions -- people walk to an area where portable toilets stand next to each other, often against the highway, with broken doors and surely an awful stench. in these same areas, tuberculosis and other illnesses run rampant. there's certainly no extra money to go purchase some medicine, let alone go to a doctor. the community hospital nearby has a waiting list that is all day long and at the end of the day you still are not likely to be seen.

in addition to the shantytowns there are 1000's of displaced refugees who are now living in even worse conditions (!), without their own home, without any sense of security or social welfare. they are displaced both within this foreign land and from their own homeland where they feared for their lives. when the xenophobic attacks began, they left their homes in the townships where the violence was exploding. many of them rented very small spaces from the local people, but they at least had a sense of stability. now almost all of them will not return to the townships because they fear for their lives, and the city does not have enough places of refuge for them to live...so they are basically homeless, living in appalling conditions while receiving some aid from individuals who bring food and blankets to them.


this is reality. it's not my own reality but it's in my heart and my mind all the time, and i cannot disconnect myself from it. i cannot sit under a warm and cozy blanket with my children and forget that my brothers and sisters a couple of miles away are in misery, are in danger, are hungry, are sick, and are without any sense of peace. i must arise each day and strive toward a sense of charity, generosity, consideration, respect, kindliness, and sacrifice in order to feel content that i am helping the world move toward its ultimate destiny of world peace. there cannot be peace until the forces of justice and unity are firmly established in all these lands where the extremes of wealth and poverty exist... and it is abundantly clear that it won't occur until the majority of people truly see each human being as a member of their family, with the eye of our oneness, through the eye of our Creator, Who loves us all as one people, no one better or worse, just beautifully one.

July 18, 2008

Madiba

Today the world is celebrating Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday. To be living in South Africa at this time is surreal, a moment my heart has anticipated eagerly for many years, and yet here i am, amongst his people, the Xhosa. Yesterday Dash visited Madiba's village where he was born, where his relatives still live. Dash expressed over the phone that it was an experience that one cannot fully relay. When he and Khonaye arrived, the people of the village greeted them and introduced them to the wife of the Chief. Then they gathered in one of the buildings to have a town meeting, discussing the purpose and trying to understand why Dash and Khonaye had come to visit. It must have been incredible, so far out in the countryside where traditional ways are still in tact, where milk comes directly from the cow and homes are built by tools held with one's hand rather than a machine....

Today South Africa faces many, many challenges, but certainly it will triumph in the future to be an example of unity in diversity. It is a land of many racial groups and cultures, with a national anthem in 4 languages speaking the universal language of freedom and peace. My heart feels happy to be a part of this struggle. Each moment here feels like it's alive with a spiritual force, the dynamic force of example, to live free of prejudice, to live upholding justice within the realm of one's decisions and actions, and to live in harmony with the beautiful array of its peoples. Madiba's 27 years of imprisonment for this country's freedom is such an awesome inspiration to all who live here -- and for all the people around the world who long for justice, equity and peace in their lands.