While living and volunteering in Kimberley, I have been witness to beautiful images. Through individuals here I have seen and felt strength, perseverance, hope and triumph. However, like many places in the world, the struggles here are visible. While working at Thusong, a home for street children, many of the images I see are unfortunately those of illiteracy, hunger and lack of security. Poverty and stress weighs heavy on the children’s shoulders every day.
I often ask myself how it is that I have been able to cope these last seven months working at the home. When other people began to ask, I started thinking about it and giving a name to the mechanisms I consciously and unconsciously use each day. I’ve made a quick list here.
I become a bit numb to it.
I talk about it.
I pray about it.
I keep working.
Let me explain myself…
I become numb to it.
As extremely dangerous as I see this coping mechanism to be, I find that it is also necessary. One must realize that what these children are dealing with is part of a life that millions of individuals have. Neglect, malnutrition, violence, you name it, are issues that spread worldwide in alarming numbers. They have become so normal that the presence of such disturbances does not shock many people into action. Terrifying, but true.
Seeing and hearing the violence, witnessing the inequality and poverty, one must to some extent become numb to this reality in order to be present every moment of the day. Please don’t mistake this idea of being numb as being insensitive or dead. Rather, it helps while taking everything in without falling apart. If I allowed my true emotions to dictate my work I would not be very helpful. I would be a mess.
Over and over I must tell myself that what I am seeing and dealing with is a reality for many people. ‘A common struggle’ I hear at times, but it is not okay.
I talk about it. I pray about it.
Working as a YAGM through the ELCA’s Global Mission there is never a lack of support and people to talk to. Especially with my fellow MUD4s, I have been privileged to be a part of a group that relates to me and listens to my struggles. I have also found that talking about coping with the struggles faced at Thusong with the local people here in Kimberley has been beneficial. I have learned a lot from just listening about how they deal with this happening in their community.
Prayer has also been a consistent help. Sometimes I think that the answers to my questions are beyond my compression and it’s easier dumping those questions on God, knowing that he will deal with them a whole lot better than anyone else.
I plan. I keep working.
While my country coordinator was visiting my site, he asked one of the directors of Thusong what she sees as the strengths and weaknesses of the home. She replied by saying that the strengths are being able to have a place to house street children, that these children have a roof over their heads and food to eat, and that they have the opportunity to gain an education with the help of Thusong. The weaknesses, she expressed, had everything to do with lack of money, donations, and recognition.
Many times when I am feeling lost, I think about these things. I am motivated when thinking about the strengths this woman addressed. Though the weaknesses are strong, it is true that every night these children have the option to sleep in a bed rather than on a sidewalk, they have a gate to lock rather than being vulnerable on the streets and they have a guaranteed three meals a day, which would be nearly impossible to find in town with no money. After thinking about these strengths, I remember the weaknesses and I begin to brainstorm. Lack of money and donations? Each month, myself and the other volunteers at Thusong hand out letters to local businesses, are persistent in follow up calls and have been successful in gaining donations for the home. From these efforts we have made a partnership with a local bakery that donates bread on a weekly basis and we have received multiple donations from clothing stores over the last six months. In addition, we are welcome to schedule movie screenings at the art museum, rent movies for free at the local movie store, attend programs at the library, and had free entry into the local swimming pool through out the summer. Though these contributions probably will not drastically change much, I pray that they help. Acknowledging and understanding weaknesses is an important step in progress. Action is the essential follow up.
Sometimes I feel so pissed off and helpless that crying is what helps best.
What’s happening in this world and in my face at my work site has been happening since Jesus’ time. Poverty, inequality, many other social injustices.
On one hand, this is a very sad realization. In the last couple thousand years, after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we people have gone nowhere. Backwards, maybe? Had we continued to live like Jesus did, coming not to be served but to serve, maybe this wouldn’t be the case?
On the other hand, I find strength in Jesus during these times when I really don’t know what do, think or feel. Jesus lived and walked with people who were outcasts and who were considered unworthy and unwanted. Jesus knew that this is one the greatest dangers facing mankind- he was born, lived and died because of that knowledge-, he talk about it with his friends, he prayed to God about it, he made plans and worked to change these injustices, and sometimes he even cried.
I pray this day and always that we may never become too numb to realize the urgent help our neighbors need and that we may never become too discouraged to lack action.