My journey to South Africa with KCA was truly a wonderful experience. I learned so much from the townships, Blue Roof Clinic and the people of South Africa. Some people were facing obstacles I could never imagine. No matter how difficult they had wide open hearts and warm smiles for us all. The word faith comes to mind because growing up in a “ghetto” in New York City I have never seen a bond so strong between children and adults (some orphaned from the AIDS pandemic). They pushed each other to have hope and to know that somehow everything would be fine no matter what circumstance they were dealt. I came home with a new perspective and a deeper faith that we can truly alter any obstacle if we just remain faithful to our God a new beginning and a new chapter of life will begin.
Before I stepped onto South African soil for the first time, I mistakenly thought I would be entering unaccustomed earth: a culture, people, and priorities distant to the world I called home in northern India and the United States. Little did I realize that the native spiritual philosophies of ubuntu (an African ethic meaning “shared humanity”) and sanyog (a Hindi concept translated as “oneness”) that were taught to me on different corners of the earth simply and yet profoundly validated to me everything I needed to understand about the global HIV/AIDS crisis, about Keep A Child Alive’s efforts, and about our identity as humanitarians and as human beings. I began to understand that as our unique personal narratives and histories travel with us, we become intertwined with others in such a way that their problems become our urgent callings, that their bright destinies become our greatest hopes, that we are all the same. While traveling back and forth between the developed and developing worlds throughout my life, I inherently understood our interdependence on each other, but the connection I made between both spheres was rooted in our shared darkness. Doctors Without Borders physician Fady Joudah once said that more than 33 million individuals living with HIV/AIDS is a “number that cannot be ignored. These are people who define the other face of the mirror, the dark side that does not reflect us, or so we think.” Before this trip, I understood this to mean that we reflected each other with the darkness of poverty and despair on one side of the mirror and the darkness in our failure to respond to their suffering adequately on the other side. I also naively believed that among developing countries, we united by sharing an understanding of darkness stemming from government corruption, impoverishment, human rights abuses, and endless disease. Thus, I thought the greatest point of commonality between South Africa and my country of India was the notorious label of being among the most inequitable countries in the world. Just as South Africa’s makeshift townships comprised the backyard of the wealthiest city in Africa, Johannesburg, India was home to both the largest number of billionaires in Asia and also the highest number of malnourished children in the world. Just as South Africans experienced imperialism, enslavement, and apartheid due to British forces, so too had my people of India suffered under British power.Read more …
All good adventures begin with some definitive moment that sets all the events to follow into motion. Entering the Text Alive contest definitely was the beginning. Following through with the essays and the video was the continuation, but there was a moment the morning I woke up in New York City in which I believed I didn’t deserve to be one of the five. I chose to rise to the occasion though, to, as my junior year AP English teacher and Henry David Thoreau said, suck all the marrow out of life and see if I couldn’t learn what the experience had to teach.
I found something incredibly paradoxical about the whole of South Africa and its people. In places like the township we visited in Soweto, one of the poorest places in the area, where I expected to find sorrow, we found hope, joy, vibrance. In the midst of squalor, there was community and love. The youth we spoke with at Ikageng Ministries shared their experiences with us. These young people have endured more than any young person should ever have to. Despite all that, the first thing you will notice about them is the radiance in their eyes, emanating hope, joy, faith, and love that comes from having known true sadness, but choosing to embrace goodness instead.
The Blue Roof Wellness Center, a place so beautiful, so necessary thrives in a place where nothing like it existed before. In the midst of a terrible HIV/AIDS infection zone, there there is now a well of resources, hope, and love for the people that need to come to drink. And if there are people who need to drink that cannot make it to this well, there are people who will carry the life water to them.
At the tree where Operation Bobbi Bear was founded, there was dancing, music, chanting…pure, unbridled passion for all that is good and holy in the world, all that is sacred was protected there.Read more …
June 30th 2010
When I entered this contest, I knew the odds against my winning were tremendous. (Who actually WINS these things?!) However, given the cause, the $5 texting donation was easy. Now, as I reflect, it was the BEST investment I could have ever made because it was the seed money to fund the riches I acquired in South Africa…
From the village in Soweto, I gained the strength of endurance from people who make so much of their lives with so little resources; from Mum Carol and Ikageng, I received the fortune of wisdom from children who shoulder burdens too heavy for their years, but who do it with such a determined faith; from Rhona and the Blue Roof wellness center, I collected a new appreciation for a healthy life as I watched the tenderness with which they worked to treat and heal the “wholes” of their patients; from the incredible souls of Operation Bobbi Bear, where my heart profited from the strength and selflessness of Jackie and the rest of the warriors who are committed to fighting for the innocent…I truly experienced wealth beyond all imaginable measures, and I intend to multiply my newfound wealth by sharing it with everyone I meetRead more …
"Seeing is different than being told" - proverb from Kenya
This past week, our trip to South Africa exposed us to a world that we had previously only been “told” about. We had read though the KCA website and watched the documentaries, “Alicia in Africa” and “Rough Aunties” (the latter following the work of the heroic staff at Operation Bobbi Bear). Some of us had even studied in school about the AIDS pandemic in Africa. We had done our intellectual homework. But within 24 hours of landing in Johannesburg, we were standing in one of the poorest townships in Soweto, and all that we had been told - and much, much more - was staring us square in the face. The reality hit us hard. Yes, seeing is different than being told.
(written on Friday, June 18th 2010)
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others - Ghandi
I can honestly say that this trip included some of the best days of my life, and I’ve lived a small but significant 20 years. I am on my flight back to San Francisco getting ready to reconnect with my world and all I can think about is how badly I don’t want to forget a single thing I experienced. The people I met within the KCA family will never leave my heart. If you throw in all the people I met in the villages and clinics of South Africa as well, this is one exhausted heart. Many would probably presume that the feeling I have right now is overwhelming sadness. I thought so too. What surprises me though, is how at peace I am within myself. Every single person I came in contact with this past week (feels like a whole month) whether that contact was by a smile, a look, a zulu prayer, a dance, a chat, a hug… every single person gave me a piece of their spirit. I was given pieces of joy… resilience… strength… loss… shame… pride… and I was able to lose myself in each one of these people.Read more …
(written on June 14th, 2010) Today is one of the most exciting days of the journey for me! I’ve been looking forward to this part of the trip with great anticipation. About 4 years ago in 2006, the last time I came to Africa, I’d helped to purchase a building called “The Blue Roof” that used to be an old night club/sports bar in an area called Wentworth, Durban, where the prevalence of HIV infection was said to be at almost 50%. This area did not have a place where people who were infected and affected could go to get tested or treated or anything! A place one could go to was extremely far away and even if one could make it, it was pretty much a guarantee that the service would be sub par at best. Also, because of the separation that the Apartheid demanded, there were a lot of residual racial barriers and people still categorized themselves and each other by color or race. This meant that if you’re “Black” you wouldn’t go to a “White” facility. Or if you were “African,” you wouldn’t go to an “Indian” facility. Not because it was against the law, but because that was the mentality. Deeeeeeep! It’s a sad thing to see someone who desperately needs to receive treatment NOT go to a location that is outside of their racial description and risk death because of it.Read more …
History says, Don’t Hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope ad history rhyme.
On this momentous day, June 16, 2010, Operation Bobbi Bear revealed to me that efforts focusing on HIV/AIDS, child protection, and global health in general are just as spiritual as they are scientific, and that meaning over measurement must be the way, that it is the only sustainable way. As we entered the Durban town of Amanzimtoti, meaning “sweet waters,” I kept thinking to myself, how does a non-profit institution unbreak a child’s spirit that is stripped of dignity and self-worth? How can a community reteach victimized children the concept of innocence, a prized childhood jewel that is no longer natural or familiar to its deserving owners? How can trust in the goodness in the world and in others be revealed to a child, possibly for the first time since they left their mother’s womb? These questions of mine soon transformed from seemingly insolvable philosophical puzzles to real answers that were deeply rooted in and practiced by the Toti community. This day was focused on visiting and honoring Operation Bobbi Bear, a child rights-centered non-profit organization that rescues, rehabilitates, and empowers youth who have been sexually abused or sodomized by the individuals whom they have trusted the most: fathers, uncles, neighbors, school teachers, and pastors. The organization was founded in 1992 by the divine Jackie Branfield, and its mission has been sustained by the tireless commitment of dozens of staff members, who call themselves “child rights and HIV warriors.” The designation “warrior” is an understatement; Jackie and her team members have sacrificedRead more …
All through the night, after leaving Soweto we could barely sleep—talking and wondering what was happening at that very moment in the places we’d just left. We woke up early in the morning with so many things to do! I had to pack and prepare for the flight to Durban and had an extremely important meeting with the MMC CIR Mr. Monareng, also known as, Mr. Tekere to the community.
The goal of the meeting was to KNOW we had the support of the city to assist us in identifying, and turning over the land that we will need to build the children’s village. I met Mr. Monareng, a man born in Soweto, who is well aware of the needs of the community and in a position to truly help us. He looked me in the eyes and ASSURED me that he would help us find the land and make sure the city gave it to us to OWN. There was also a wonderful woman named Mpho Sechoaro, Mr. Monareng’s office manager, who was very moved by the project and they both promised to make it come through. They saw my passion for the project and knew it was something that must be supported and made to happen. Mama Carol was at the meeting as well and all of their information was exchanged. I feel very hopeful that I have received their word and that they will honestly follow through.
As I was doing that, Swizz couldn’t get Ezimbuzini, the slum we visited in Soweto, out of his mind. He got up early the next morning and immediately went out and bought clothes for the ENTIRE village!!! Wooooowwww! He had promised he would go back and when he did, everyone was SO excited to see him! “SWIZZYYYY!!!!” They yelled!!! With the help of the beautiful residents and the people he brought with him to deliver the gifts, everything was perfectly organized and everyone got something new to wear! The whole village was ecstatic and grateful that he showed them so much love and his presence proved to them that our support wasn’t just temporary.
Kenzu, the gentleman I told you about in my last blog, relayed to the village residents the message that Swizz wanted to convey: “If we can come together on something small like this, there are SO MANY things that we can accomplish together!”
The direct contact with the people and building for their future—what an AMAZING day to be able to achieve both of those things simultaneously!!!
We both felt very proud, encouraged and motivated to do everything we can!
We boarded the plane and took off to Durban. Sometime during the flight the pilot announced, “We lost an engine but not to worry, we have 3 others left.” I guess he meant it as a joke, but it didn’t bother me because I KNOW we’re protected! There’s too much greatness to be done!
Thank u for your support! That means so much to me! To us!
Believe me, I will be calling on you for your thoughts, your time, your expertise, your love.
Sending love to you,