Tuesday, April 27, 2010

the land of the free?

Today is Freedom Day.  How ironic is that.

We woke up at the normal time, all set to spend the day at 1000 Hills Community Helpers, where they host a baby clinic on Tuesdays.  St. Leo's is closed (yet again) for the public holiday, so I'm not starting my week there until tomorrow.
Just as we were about to pile into the car, we got two phone calls-- the first from Meg, who was being sent home from the Respite Center to have a day off for the holiday, and one from Karen, telling us that 1000 Hills was also closed for Freedom Day today.
So there we were, four volunteers who'd cried off early from a party last night because we had to work today; "Volunteering never takes a holiday!" we'd said as we excused ourselves.  And we had nowhere to work.
I decided there was a good opportunity to get my missing invoice from my toe procedure back in early March and then I'd finally be able to send off my insurance claim, so with eager roommates in tow, off I drove to Pinetown, where the process was shockingly painless.  With form in hand two minutes later, and it now being only 8:17 am, Mary-Kate suggested we drive to Wyebank to visit Sbu, an 11-year-old who had been released from the Respite Center a couple of weeks ago.

Sbu was admitted for TB and thankfully tested negative for HIV, even though he lives in a child-headed household because his mother died of AIDS.  He lives with his siblings and young cousins in a one-room shack managed by his 16-year-old cousin, who herself has a baby boy just 10 months old.
They were pleased to see us, I think, though the presence of an umlungu, or white person, always comes as a surprise in the valley.  We had brought them a cake to share that the priests had given us, so we left that in the one room they call home and headed out to the yard to play a very pitiful game of soccer, though Sbu showed some pretty impressive moves when he wasn't coughing.
We played for twenty minutes or so, then got ready to leave.  As we said our goodbyes, Sbu and his older sister Pamela approached us.  Pamela goes to an Indian school up on the hill with a very good reputation, and her English is excellent.  She drew close to Mary-Kate and then said, "My cousin (the 16-year-old head of the house) has asked me to see if you can get us some bread.  For breakfast."
There we were, three people trying to say our goodbyes, and then suddenly, we're hit with the question.  Several other questions began to run through our minds: If we buy them bread, are they going to expect us to provide bread every time we visit?  What if we can't visit sometimes?  What about the food parcels they're supposed to be receiving from the Respite Center and the Islamic Center up the road?  And then, the hardest question of all... How are we, in our right minds, supposed to walk away from a household run by a mere child feeling like we did absolutely nothing to rectify the situation?

 My image of poverty has shifted a lot because of things I've seen here in South Africa.  The Sinead on a Villanova mission trip would have demanded that we get some bread immediately.  But unfortunately, though those seven children would have eaten bread instead of cake for breakfast, that would have just been today.  What about tomorrow, or the day after that?
The question of sustainable aid in situations like Sbu's takes center stage now.  Their poverty is so much more than just no bread for breakfast.  And I really don't know what hell I'm supposed to do about it.

As we drove home in silence, the happy buzz from an unexpected day off had long since evaporated into the humid air.  Back in Hillcrest, people who had more than bread for breakfast yesterday, today, and tomorrow, donned bright white shorts and t-shirts and played a rousing round of tennis on their day off.

After all, that is what Freedom Day celebrates after all...... isn't it?


  1. Good blog Sinead.....Food for thought in many ways....

  2. Sinaed
    More people read your blog than you may think.
    Does Shu's family have a garden? A few seeds go a very long way. During WWII, there was no food. We all had gardens just to produce a few vegatables needed for vitamins. You can teach far more than English. If you teach how to start a small garden, and recycle the seeds from the eaten fruit, you taught a man to fish.