Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the tag “Inequality”

Beyond The Hunger Pangs

During the Live Under The Line challenge, the Common Ground Church base was buzzing with conversation as staff members traded recipes and shared their experiences. But what about a month later? Here are some post-LUTL staff reflections…

I’m trying to be more generous

156098_10151343760646281_797515950_n-001“After doing LUTL, I’m more aware of how I spend money on a daily basis. It’s incredible how all the little things we buy here and there add up and are often unnecessary luxuries—luxuries that most living in poverty cannot afford to have. I’ve tried to cut back on unnecessary spending and also limit my electricity usage to have more on hand for blessing others. During LUTL, I became quite grumpy and moody when I didn’t have enough to eat for the day. Now when I see someone begging who is quite aggressive or desperate, I understands that it might be just because they haven’t had enough to eat. It’s given me a greater heart of compassion and grace for people living in challenging situations.” – Lindsay Sherring, Common Good fundraising coordinator

I’m thinking, what else?

73017_457583527711_6000657_n-001“This year was my second time doing LUTL, and whilst the first time was about initial exposure and counting the rands and cents, this time was more about the unbelievable reality that 13 million South Africans live on R10 a day for ALL things. It made me realise how easy it is for me to pay R40 or R50 for a simple lunch – when that represents the entire amount one person living below the breadline has to live on for five days. The hard part is the next step. Contracting budgets is one response – but what else? It will be different for everyone, but there must be some kind of response.  But guilt cannot be the driving factor, otherwise our motives will be misplaced. It must start with seeing others the way God does – made in His image, and therefore deserving of dignity.” – Tim Hoffman, Common Good mobilise and equip programme manager

I have more compassion

901939_611366308891932_516021097_o-001“Around the office we chatted that it was almost impossible to live on R10 a day and remain healthy, both mentally and physically. I’m far more aware of people who are living on the street and I have more compassion for them and their situation. Now I take the time to talk to them, to be friendly and engage them in a conversation, rather than just giving them a nod or smile or ignoring them completely. I have tremendous respect for those who struggle on a daily basis to cope with life without adequate resources. I am truly blessed to have what I have and be in the situation I am, but I am also aware that anyone can end up in a desperate situation and that it is often not of their own making but because of life circumstances beyond their control.” – Moira Richards, Common Ground Church hospitality and redemption group coordinator

What about you? Has the Live Under The Line challenge impacted you in anyway?

P.S. Other great post-LUTL reads: “13 Million Reasons To Do Social Justice” and “Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow”

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What’s it really like to be a woman in South Africa?

Inspired by Women’s Day, Sam Rawson shares how meeting a homeless mother in a parking lot challenged her understanding.

I’ll never forget the night I met Ayanda*. I was rushing back to my car across the grocery store parking lot when she called to me. It was dark, cold, and I was alone. All my instincts told me to put my head down and get in my car. But then I heard another cry – this time the desperate cry of a baby – and I stopped.

She came over to me with a bundle in her arms, and asked if I had any money for her and her baby. By now I was thinking, “Oh dear, why on earth did I stop?!” But I could see her belongings piled up against the wall behind her and something compelled me to not brush her off.

I asked her what her name was and where they were staying. She pointed to the nearby canal and told me they slept under the bridge. Her baby was only three months old. Feeling overwhelmed and helpless, I offered to buy her a meal and some baby supplies.

Over the course of the next few months, I got to know Ayanda’s story a bit better as I tried to help her in various ways. But it wasn’t easy. She told me differing versions of her life story that didn’t match up.

And then there was the phone call from the police station to tell me she’d been arrested and put in jail for the night with her baby – and could I bring her supper?

And then there was the time she ran across a busy street – dodging cars with her baby strapped to her back – just to avoid me because she’d been drinking.

And then there were also her repeated attempts to get me to take care of her baby for her. Me – a single girl of 24 at the time!

The initial compassion I’d felt for her in that dark parking lot began to ebb. And then sputter. And then all but die away.

Why I am telling you this story? It sounds pretty hopeless, right?

My purpose was to write a blog post celebrating Women’s Day, but as I sat in front of my computer, I kept thinking of Ayanda.

Both Ayanda and I share something very basic in common. We are both women. We were both born and raised in the same country, but our stories couldn’t be more different.

At the age of 15, I was at a good school, loved and encouraged by my family and given numerous opportunities to grow my skills and talents. But by 15, Ayanda had already dropped out of school and run away from home.

When I turned 21, I was studying at university, living in a digs with my friends, and enjoying the carefree life of a student. By 21, Ayanda had been hardened by years of living on the streets and was already living a life patterned by abuse and addiction.

The sad reality is that women in South Africa are not all born equal. The latest Census 2011 results shows that 12% of black women (aged 20) have had no schooling – zero! – as opposed to 0.6% of white women. The results also show that black women have the highest unemployment rate in the country, with 41% of black women and 24% of coloured women unemployed. This statistic is 6.9% for white women.**

As women, I think we can sometimes be quick to judge one another. I know I certainly judged Ayanda when she made decisions I saw as being irresponsible for a mother. I saw the addiction, the manipulation, and what seemed to be unwillingness on her part to change.

Why did she return to the streets after we’d found her permanent shelter?  Why did she put her baby son in danger when she could protect him?  Why did she not see what her addiction was doing to herself and her baby?

I buried my judgement behind questions like these, safe in the knowledge that I would never make those mistakes in my own life.

And yet, as I’ve reflected, I’ve realised that my questions, though well-meaning, were not the right ones.  There are bigger, more uncomfortable questions about Ayanda’s story which I neglected to ask.

Why was she forced onto the streets as a teenager? Why was she robbed of her education? Did anyone fight for her rights as a child?

These are just a few of the many unasked questions which litter our South African context, in the same way that they do Ayanda’s story.  They’re questions which I didn’t think to ask, because they weren’t relevant in my own life.  And yet, for Ayanda, to not ask them would be to misunderstand her situation as a woman entirely.

Until we can begin to grapple with these bigger issues, we may end up judging those around us too quickly and hardening our hearts, when they should be softened to the core.

In Ayanda’s case, it eventually became necessary to get social services involved for the well-being of her baby. Even though I believed it was necessary, it was still heart-breaking to watch her hand over her child into a stranger’s care.

Afterwards, she still clung to the empty bag in which she’d kept his clothes, bottles and nappies. I believe that, in her own way, and with the cards stacked against her, she’d tried to be a good mother.

How should we celebrate Women’s Day when being a woman in South Africa can look so different depending on which side of the socio-economic divide you’re born?

I’m challenging myself to judge less, and listen and love more, knowing that each woman has a very unique story to tell.

Here are some practical ways you can celebrate Women’s Day in the months ahead:

1. Drop off receiving blankets and new-born clothing for mothers at Mowbray Maternity Hospital

2. Build friendships with abused women by joining the Sisters Incorporated Bible study every Monday night (Email us for more info)

3. Help build into the lives of young women by volunteering at one of Izandla Zethemba‘s weekly support groups (Email us for more info)

4. How much do you really know about the lives of the women around you? Your domestic worker, for example? Or the cleaner at your office? Why not offer to make them a cup of tea and spend some time listening to their story?

Do you have any other ideas?

– Sam works part-time for Common Good, offering communications support. Her and her husband, Jonothan, are members of the Common Ground BoschPM congregation.

Name changed

** Source: http://www.statssa.gov.za/Publications/P03014/P030142011.pdf

The Not So Simple Life

How can we live simpler in a world that is demanding that we consume and do so much more? Mother and freelance copywriter, Julie Williams gives us an honest glimpse into how she is grappling with this in her own life.

A funny thing happened as I settled down to write this piece. I was going to fill it with inspiring thoughts on the art of living simply. But then I got blind-sided. By the giant log in my own eye.

You see, my story of living simply is not as simple as I’d like to admit. Let me let you in on some of my struggles, in the hope that we’ll find real simplicity on the other side of complexity…

A few months ago, our beloved domestic help, child minder, kitchen whisperer and general wonder woman of grace, Fez, was diagnosed with cancer. Amidst all the thoughts I have grappled with in response, the one that I have felt most frequently and acutely is this: “Life sucks for me right now.”

Yes. I did just write that. And I’ve thought it a hundred times.

Life sucks. For me. Right now.

As a mother with 3 small kids, and a freelancing career that I juggle between nappy changes, school runs and church meetings, I depend on Fez to keep all the plates spinning. Without her, the plates don’t spin. They just pile up and risk breeding new forms of bacteria that could wipe out half of the human race.

Life does suck when she is not around. But when did my life, and the idea that it should run according to plan, overtake my humanity? When did my (trivial in comparison) needs eclipse her own?

As I’ve wrestled with this question, I’ve begun to see just how entitled I am. And if simplicity is a superpower, entitlement is its cryptonite.

You see, simplicity is about living with others in mind whilst entitlement is all about me.

Entitlement tells us we deserve all the good things we have, and none of the bad. It helps us to constantly justify our insatiable desire for more – and to expect the best of everything as if it were our ‘right’. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the more we have, the more entitled we can become. I’ve come to this conclusion after witnessing one too many hostile encounters between luxury sedans in the Constantia Village parking lot. In essence, entitlement is the opposite of simplicity – which is rooted in the idea that your needs are not more important than those around you. And hence, you have enough (yes, even you).

Below are three points I want to remember as I attempt to gouge entitlement out of my own life. I suspect, like pulling weeds, it’s going to be a life-long exercise.

1. I have enough. I already have all that I need. I don’t like to admit this but it’s true. Of course, there are tons of things that I would like, but I will never be happier than I choose to be right now, right here – with our siff brown couch, our chipped plates and the oldest car on our road. Replacing these things will feel momentarily wonderful, but that euphoric feeling will wear off quicker than cheap perfume, and in no time, there’ll be other things I feel I should, no, must have in order to be truly happy. Let me be clear here, there’s nothing wrong with getting nice stuff, but in acquiring that stuff, have you cut off your ability to be generous toward others? Get comfortable with the space between what you have and what you want. Settle in there, and don’t try to make it go away too quickly. Remind yourself that the purpose of this life is not to have all your desires met. He who has the most toys at the end of his life is not the winner! This is not being complacent. It’s learning the forgotten art of contentment.

2. People matter most. They matter more than stuff. Much more. And in a country with one of the biggest disparities between rich and poor, it’s inexcusable for me to be overly concerned about a new couch, and not attempt to narrow the gap at some level. How? That’s up to each of us to work out. But work it out, we must. We must aim to simplify our lives so that we can have the means to be generous and let others less fortunate than ourselves share in our good fortune. Does that hurt to think about – let alone do? Good. It should hurt a little when you punch mammon in the face. It will hurt each of us in different ways and to different degrees. Remember that this life is not all there is. And that all that will remain amidst the dust and the bones, the gold teeth fillings and the bronze belt buckles… will be the memories of who and how we loved

3. God simplified. It’s really not about me in the end. Ouch. Again. I am part of a much bigger story. One in which the true hero gave up everything to come and find me. Talk about simplifying life! Christ stepped away from everything he was ‘entitled’ to. Because of love. It’s not because of my hard work that I have, it’s because of God’s kindness toward me. I want to remember a man giving up far more than a latte – but his last breath. For me. I want to lock eyes with that man more often. And in so doing, let the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

– Julie Williams is a part-time freelance copywriter, mother of three and pastor’s wife. She serves on the Common Ground Church leadership team together with her husband, Terran. 

P.S For more on the topic of generosity, read “How I Learnt to Give” and “Confessions of an Amateur Giver

An Equal Education for All

By Amy Gatland

Children in under-resourced schools face numerous challenges to their education (Image courtesy of the Read Educational Trust)

On a bright sunny morning on a leafy green street in the Southern suburbs of Cape Town, two little girls hop out of a car and run through the gates of their school, hand in hand. They are Margaret and Abby and they are best friends. They do not have the same colour skin or the same colour hair or eyes but they wear the same blue school dress. They have the same backpack and the same little blue sun hat on their head. That morning they will sing the same school song, spend the day learning in the same grade 2 classroom, from the same teacher and at lunch time they will enjoy the same nutritious food packed lovingly into their matching lunch boxes.

But in reality Margret and Abby, when not at school, are worlds apart. Margret’s mother works for Abby’s parents. She cleans their house. She lives in a one roomed house in Gugulethu and cannot read or write. But she is loved and seen as part of the family and so Abby’s parents decided that they wanted her daughter, Margret, to have the same opportunities as their own daughter and so they pay for her to attend the same school and make sure she has everything she needs. This is a true story.

Read more…

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