Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

How my loneliest Christmas changed the way I celebrate

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography via Compfight cc

By Nathalie Koenig

My name, Nathalie, means ‘born at Christmas’ – something which I found to be pretty random, since I was born in March. That changed on 25 December 2008.

I’ve always loved Christmas – the thrills, the frills, the gammon and gravy… the family time, the presents, the carols and the Midnight Mass. And throughout my memory, it had been a happy and celebratory time. But not Christmas 2008. That was a different Christmas.

I had been in a dark and confusing place for months, and couldn’t see any way out. My life had shrunk, and I felt alone, misunderstood and hopeless. And it was Christmas. So all around me was joy and cheer, family occasions that demanded joy and cheer – and… just all this joy! And cheer! Which just made me feel even more pathetic, and alone… and a little Grinch-like.

But then on Christmas night, close to midnight, God spoke to me. He touched me as I grappled in sadness, and filled me with a feeling I couldn’t decipher at first. Then I realized I was filled with consuming fear – I was confused, and wondered what it was that’d suddenly begun to paralysingly terrify me. Then I just knew. I was terrified of my capabilities. My capabilities?! This made absolutely no sense to someone who was convinced that they were, and always would be, a failure. But it was the first time in months that I experienced hope. And this hope multiplied in the days to come, and my life began to turn around. I realised that there was a God who would meet me where I was at, and remind me that He had faith in me. A couple of days later, I remembered the date that this realisation happened, and the meaning of my name. It was no longer random.

While this particular Christmas became an unforgettable season of rebirth for me, it was also the Christmas that helped me begin to understand that Christmas really isn’t the ‘festive season’ for everyone. But evidence of other people’s festivity is EVERYWHERE. I was better able to relate to those people who found this season to be the most difficult, loneliest time of year.

I’m part of a ministry at Sisters Incorporated, a home for abused women and their children, where we have a Bible study with the ladies every Monday. As is common, over the Christmas period, we ‘shut down’ – as people go away, and the holiday season fills up with all things Christmas. And Sisters’ residents, who can’t go to their families, or who do spend time with their families and get reminded of all the things they needed to get away from – can be left feeling the pinch of loneliness, and the absence of those support networks that re-activate in mid-January. Some ladies may relapse into old habits – some even crossing the line to the point of having to leave Sisters Incorporated. It’s a season where a lot of steps forward can be quickly doubled back on, with tragic implications.

So for the past couple of years, we’ve tried to keep some kind of presence at Sisters, and we’ve had ‘prayer-buddy’ systems going… We’ve been real in our sessions leading up to Christmas about how it is a tough time, and tried to share tools that could help ladies cope.

But there’s definitely room for more.

If Jesus was here this Christmas, I have no doubt that He would place himself with the vulnerable. He would give hope to the hopeless, stand in the pain of the lonely, and bring comfort to those who mourn. I’m not sure what it would look like, but I love to dream of what it would look like if His Church would do the same. Because I know that He has faith for His Church to be His hands and feet to those in need at Christmas time – and all year round.

There are many different ways to show the love of Christ this Christmas. There may be people in your family who have been sidelined, and could use some love and encouragement; there are people who will spend the season in hospital, potentially with very few visitors; there are shelters for the homeless, and children to be hosted for the holidays. If your Christmas time is too full and stretched, there are organisations that you can support with donations and encouragement.

So how will you show love this Christmas?

Nathalie is a programme coordinator at Common Good and a member of Common Ground Church‘s Wynberg congregation.

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Show loveLooking for ways you can make a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need this Christmas? Download our Christmas Plug-In Sheet here for some ideas, or click here for more on our Christmas campaign.

What Down syndrome taught me about Faith, People and Christmas

Dion with his wife, Vanessa, and his older son, Zachary, and Olivia

Dion with his wife, Vanessa, and his older son, Zachary, and Olivia

By Dion Govender

“We suspect that Olivia might have Down syndrome,” explained the pediatrician clearly trying his best to break the news to us empathetically while attempting to conceal his own discomfort at the situation. I suspect it never gets easy for doctors breaking bad news to families. He had to reiterate himself a few times before it even registered with me. I was dumbstruck. I felt claustrophobic, in a bad dream where time seemed to have slowed down to heart shattering seconds. Down syndrome? Our perfect little girl? Tears.

We recently celebrated Olivia’s first birthday – a little person who has not only impacted our lives, but also the lives of many around us; a little person who helped redefine and put into perspective so much of life, faith, success and a myriad of other important factors that make up who we are…

The last twelve months have been a beautiful journey. We have learned, been challenged and are grateful for so much over this year. And because of this, I believe that we’ll be looking at this Christmas so much more differently than previous years. We’ve been conditioned into believing that “stuff equals love” more so over Christmas and the festive season. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a joy to give gifts and I love receiving the iWhatever as much as the next guy, but in Christmas’s passed I have to admit that it became more about excesses than the true ‘reason for the season’ – Jesus.

In many ways, Down syndrome has illuminated the real and true values of Christmas for us:

Be thankful. My wife always shares a little quote that she once read which we’ve adopted for our family: “We wouldn’t choose it [Down syndrome] but we’d never change it.” We’re thankful for this journey we’re on, it’s brought into clear perspective all those people and comforts we are so grateful for and we’re excited about letting them know how we feel this Christmas. This year we’re making “Thank you’s” a part of gift giving. What or who are you thankful for? Pen a hand written note, or better yet tell them how you feel. In our case: over 50% of children born with Down syndrome have Congenial Heart Disease, but Olivia doesn’t. Boom!

Be tolerant. Down syndrome has taught us to be patient with people – and I’m not just referring to people with special needs but ‘normal’ people. I’ve learned that most people’s misconceptions with Down syndrome and other disabilities are based on fear and ignorance. We were ignorant, and because we didn’t have any facts our fears were based on myths. Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff. I’m more gracious with folks and treat them with gentleness when correcting them. Christmas is a great opportunity to be gracious with folks: no cynicism just grace. Isn’t that what Jesus would want us to do?

Dream big. One of the first thoughts I had when we received the news was, ‘I’m never going to walk my daughter down the aisle.’ I was broken. This last year has taught me that we can still dream for our daughter and we should teach her to pursue with passion the dreams that she has for her own life. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that dictate that our dreams are lost. Old dreams can be replaced with new dreams but we should never stop dreaming.

Christmas is my favourite time of year because there’s a tangible sense of hope in the air. This is an opportune time to reach out to people who find themselves in hopeless situations with shattered dreams. We’re planning on inviting a few specific people over for a meal and to hopefully encourage them to hold on to their dreams. Also, as the year winds to a close it’s a practical opportunity to plan, dream and stir optimism for the New Year.

See the world as Jesus does. Down syndrome has taught us to see people through Christ’s eyes. We can easily label people based on what we see on the outside, what they have done in the past or where they find themselves presently. Down syndrome doesn’t define my precious little girl – it’s very much a part of her life but it’s not who she is. Look at people beyond what you see on the outside or the label that society places on them.

This Christmas my family and I are praying specifically for opportunities to engage and connect with people we might have looked passed over previous Christmas’s. Uncomfortable? You betcha! But here’s the thing, not many lessons are learned in comfortable situations.

I guess the strongest point I’m trying to drive home is that beyond all the great stuff that Christmas brings, people are the ones that matter most. The fact of the matter is that we live in a day and age where we’re bombarded constantly with a message that we don’t need real life connections and the more stuff we get the more satisfied we’ll be. Of course this is a fallacy as we quickly find we’re never satisfied. There’ll always be something better, faster, or shinier before you can even spell A-N-D-R-O-I-D.

So, my hope this Christmas is that I seize every opportunity to engage with real people. There’s a hurting world out there and everyone has a story to tell. I want to encourage you to, just like me, push through your comfort, fears or misconceptions and extend the hand of friendship and spread some Christmas cheer.

Dion is a fashion trend caster, husband to Vanessa and dad to Zachary and Olivia. He is a member of the Common Ground Durbanville congregation. 

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Show loveLooking for ideas how you can make a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need this Christmas? For more information on our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign and how you can get involved, click here.

Give Hope through Paradigm Shift

This Christmas, you can enable a small business owner to attend a business course that might just change their lives for good. 

An aerial shot of a Paradigm Shift class in action

An aerial shot of a Paradigm Shift class in action

It’s a Tuesday evening in Wynberg, Cape Town, and gathered together for the Paradigm Shift business course are 30 small business owners each with a unique vision for their future. There’s Sally who dreams of using the business skills she’s learning to help others out of poverty, and Theresa who hopes to take her business of hand-sewn home decor products to the next level by improving her customer service.

For many of these Paradigm Shift participants, this course is their first introduction to basic business principles like budgeting, record keeping, advertising, and investing. The skills they learn here could be what turns their struggling small business into a profitable and sustainable enterprise capable of bringing in a steady income and providing for their families.

Since 2010, more than 150 small business owners have graduated from the Paradigm Shift course run by Common Ground Church. One entrepreneur’s revenue increased from R2500 per month to over R8000 per month while doing the course!

A volunteer and participant deep in discussion

A volunteer and participant deep in discussion

Across South Africa, over 15 churches have implemented the Paradigm Shift model to train, coach and mentor 1800 entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs increased their income by an average of 72%, supporting more than 9000 family members in the process.

Who is the Paradigm Shift course for?

It is aimed at micro-entrepreneurs and people who may have started their own business out of need. Many of the participants may not have  finished school or had the opportunity to get tertiary education or any business training.

Participants getting involved in the session

Participants getting involved in the session

How does Paradigm Shift work?

The course starts with the entrepreneur attending a one day Business Experience course, where they learn basic business skills in a fun, interactive way. If they enjoy this and would like to continue, they can sign up for the 18 week programme, which includes a Business Growth course and an Emmaus Road course, which teaches the entrepreneurs how to apply biblical principles to their business.

The programme is run by a team of business-minded volunteers who are keen to share their experience and see people grow both in their business knowledge and in their personal lives. Each of the small business owners also receives a volunteer mentor, who they meet with once a month to discuss what they’re learning in their course, how their business is doing and to connect on a personal level.

Hard at work completing one of the exercises

Hard at work completing one of the exercises

Here’s what some previous Paradigm Shift graduates had to say:

“This programme has helped me so much. It has lifted me business wise and spiritually. It gave me an opportunity to mix and share with different people.” – Rosemary

“I’ve made new business contacts, met new friends, and received practical advice on day-to-day business needs and how to resolve issues.” – Fernando

“It is great for networking and meeting people who are able to assist and connect and direct your business in relevant and appropriate ways.” – Lezley

For more on how you can get involved in the Paradigm Shift course, email us. Read further for info on how you can support it through our Give Hope Cards…

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Show loveShow Love This Christmas: Put someone through the Paradigm Shift course

This festive season, you can profoundly impact someone’s life by giving them the opportunity to attend the Paradigm Shift course. How? Purchase a Paradigm Shift Give Hope card for R200. There are also other cards available which all support Common Good initiatives. Click here for more info. On sale at Common Good involvement desks (Sundays) and at the Common Ground café.

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

The tinsel and trees are up and carols are ringing through shopping centres. With Christmas just a few weeks away, we asked a few Common Grounders to share what the day means to them and how they celebrate it.  

PeliswaIn New Cross Roads, Cape Town

“Christmas is for family – it’s a family gathering. Some of us live in different places so it’s when we can spend time together. Christmas is when we bond. In my family, we all meet – aunties, cousins – at my mom’s place. Early in the morning we sit around and drink coffee together then we open presents. Each person’s buys a present for one person. Cheap stuff – not expensive things. In my point of view, Christmas is a time for giving. Even if we don’t have a lot, we all eat together and spend time together. It’s a special day.” Pheliswa

423209_751980315312_367089462_nIn Stuttgart, Germany

“We have a big Christmas Eve celebration. We usually go to church at  3pm and then the whole family – about 10 to 15 of us – gathers afterwards. My parents or one of my siblings will decorate the room so that no one sees the Christmas tree before dinner. Germany isn’t very family orientated so we invite people who don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. The kids get to open one gift and then we read the Christmas story from the Bible. My dad usually says something really meaningful and then we pray and eat together.” Sarah

TerenceIn Grassy Park, Cape Town

“Growing up Christmas was always an exciting time because you’d get the one thing you wanted and we’d hang lights outside the house. I could never sleep the night before. But then Christmas was just about Father Christmas; now I understand that Christmas is the day that Jesus was born and that is the main reason why we should celebrate. I’m more aware of those who don’t have. I always try to give them something if I can afford it so that at least they have something. I do feel a little bit sad at Christmas time because it reminds me of my mom who passed away, but thankfully I have my sister, so she makes up for it.”  Terence

FreddyIn Kinshasa, Congo

“Where I’m from in the Congo, my parents are elders in their extended family so Christmas is a huge event. We normally invite all our uncles, aunts, and cousins. For the elders, they kill a chicken and they have traditional food, but for the kids we have French fries! We spend the whole day together until late. My dad, as the eldest, reads a story about Jesus from the Bible. He encourages those who’ve been through difficult times during the year to remain strong because Jesus came for our salvation. From 10pm to 3am, those who are Christian, have overnight prayer at church. During that prayer meeting, it’s not about preaching – it’s about praising God and dancing. It’s a very joyful event.” Freddie

156098_10151343760646281_797515950_n-001In St Louis, America 

“In America, Christmas is all about family traditions. In my family, we start the morning off by reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke with the sounds of our favourite old school Stephen Curtis Chapman Christmas album wafting through the air (it generally plays five times on repeat).  We then open gifts one at a time starting with the oldest and break halfway through for my mom’s famous egg casserole, homemade cranberry coffee cake and chocolate Lindt balls. The rest of the day is spent with extended family where the dads try to relive their childhood by putting together the little boys’ legos.” Lindsay

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Show loveChristmas isn’t a festive season for everyone. But you can make this year different by showing love to and making a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need. For more information on our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign and how you can get involved, click here.

 

Give Hope with Izandla Zethemba Fun Days

This Christmas, don’t just give another box of chocolates; instead purchase a Give Hope card and enable a child to attend a fun day… Here’s more about Izandla Zethemba and why these days out are the real gift.

Enjoying the thrills of chilly waves at an Izandla Zethemba beach day

Enjoying the thrills of chilly waves at an Izandla Zethemba beach day

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in Cape Town and a group of children are ready for a day at the beach. Flip flops, hats and swimming costumes are on; towels and spare clothes are packed. The anticipation of sunshine and ice cream is visible on almost every single one of the 60 faces as the big bus pulls into the Muizenberg beach parking lot.

Most children love a day at the beach but this day is made all the more special by the reality that, for many of these children, days like this don’t come around all too often. For some, this will be their first trip to the beach, for others it will be a rare chance to forget the challenges of home and enjoy a moment of carefree childhood – jumping in waves, building sandcastles and eating hot dogs.

A sand castle building competition under way

A sand castle building competition under way

These children are all a part of Izandla Zethemba (IZ), a community-driven HIV/Aids programme based in Thambo Village, Gugulethu, which provides care to families affected by the pandemic. This care includes weekly support groups for both adults and children, counselling sessions, home visits, and nutritional support. The children’s support groups also go on recreational outings once every six to eight weeks.

These fun days are a highlight on the calendar for both the 120 younger children, who form the aged 5-11 group, and the 40 teens, who are in the aged 12-18 group. Past outings have included trips to the aquarium, the snake park, the ice rink, up the Table Mountain cable car, and, of course, the beach!

A trip to the petting zoo

A trip to the petting zoo

“These days are great for them to explore their country and take a break from the hardships at home,” says Xolile Makutoana, the teens support group coordinator. “After a fun day, when we do a home visit. the parents tell us how much they appreciate it and that the children keep talking about it. For some of them, the next time they go outside [the community] will be the next fun day.”

“Some of the children are HIV positive or a family member is positive,” explains Lucy Joseph, who oversees the younger children. “And some of their parents have died and they’re now living with grannies, aunts or siblings. When we go on the home visits, we asses their living situation to find out who is employed, how many people are staying in the house, how well they’re being taken care of and if there’s enough food.”

Learning how to skate on ice with the help of friends

Learning how to skate on ice with the help of friends

In cases where it’s needed, IZ will provide stationary, school uniforms and monthly food parcels. For the teens, much of a week the week is focused on discussing life skills topics. The staff also build close a relationship with the clinic to ensure that those on medication are taking their medicine correctly.

“Some of the environments where the children are living is not healthy,” says Lucy. “The fun days give relief to the caregivers and the children always come back happy and with lots of stories. For some of the kids they don’t have outings with their family so it gives them something to experience outside of their community.”

“I enjoyed everything about the outing… It was good to bond with my sisters, to go out and be just our selves,” says Nokuthula, 15.

“When we go out we forget our problems and worries that we have back home,” says Abongile, 17. “Everyone is treated equal and special. You feel you belong to a loving family.”

For more on how you can get involved with Izandla Zethemba, email us. Read further for info on how you can support through Give Hope…

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Show loveShow Love This Christmas: Enable a child to attend a fun day

This festive season you can enable a child to attend a fun-filled day outing. How? Purchase an Izandla Zethemba Give Hope card for R50. There are also other cards available which all support Common Good initiatives. Click here for more info. On sale at Common Good Involvement Desks (Sundays) and at the Common Ground café.

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