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From everything I've witnessed while being here in Cape Town, the importance of forgiving has been reinforced for me. Forgiveness is undeniably a milestone in the process of attaining freedom, as well as in the healing of the individual and the system (the community). I believe that once you forgive a perpetrator who has wronged you, you can finally be healed from the hurtful situation, which leads to ultimate freedom. Forgiveness as a part of the healing process applies to all situations, from personal and relational problems to societal uprisings such as the Apartheid that occurred in South Africa.
In class, we watched a documentary called "Facing the Truth" with Bill Moyers. In a nutshell, the documentary was about South Africa's climb out of Apartheid and their process of reconciliation afterwards. Families who were affected by violent attacks were given the opportunity of knowing exactly what happened to their loved ones and why. In return, those who were perpetrators were given amnesty by telling the truth.
Seeing the first two parts of the documentary "Facing the Truth" really helped me to make sense of the correlation between forgiveness and freedom. For me, listening to the personal accounts of those affected by the Apartheid reaffirmed the statement "The truth will set you free." Although the truth and reconciliation hearings were very difficult for people to attend and listen to the detailed ways that their loved ones were killed, I honestly feel as though it was a blessing for them to hear. I say this because many people stated that it would be difficult to forgive the perpetrators without knowing exactly who the perpetrators were and what they did. It wasn't until many of them knew what happened that they were able to forgive and feel that sense of freedom.
The correlation of forgiveness and freedom also reminds me of a man named Joe who was our tour guide when we went to District Six. Before going into the town of District Six, at the museum, Joe explained to us the brutal forced removal that took place in the 1960's. After Joe spoke, a couple of us students asked him how he felt towards the people who had destructed his community. His answer went along the lines of "I have forgiven them and I honestly feel sorry for them." It is apparent to me that Joe, and other people who were forcibly removed from District Six have a sense of freedom in their hearts, which has to do with the way in which they healed from the removal. They forgave, but did not forget. The fact that the majority of those working at the District Six museum are people who lived in the area speaks volumes about their healing, as well as their personal and community freedom.
On Monday, we began volunteering in a township here in Cape Town called Delft. Delft is one of the most poverty-stricken areas of this country. It is also an area with high rates of HIV/Aids. As we drove through the community, the roads consisted of miles of trash and shacks built from metal and wood. It was easily one of the saddest things I have witnessed while being here. But luckily, our purpose of being there was to volunteer in order to fulfill any immediate needs of the community. We worked with an agency called Afrika Tikkun. With their help, we were able to cook a meal (curry chicken, rice, and vegetables) for over 400 people in Delft. We unloaded a truck full of fresh produce for other meals. We also had a BALL with the kids! They were literally bursting with energy, I loved it! Thankfully, Afrika Tikkun built a cement yard with a sizeable amount of space for them to play. This yard also acts as a safe space for the kids. Usually, many of them are at home taking care of duties that many of their parents cannot uphold due to unforgiving illnesses. It felt amazing to just be a friend for them and share that time of freedom with them.
Although communities like Delft are facing severe economic disparities, one thing that I've learned while being here is that you have to "come in right." That means being sensitive to the situation that you are approaching and being smart about your intentions. It also means letting go of the American perspective. What we think others may need might not be what they actually need. Helping the "American way" might not be the best. For example with Oprah's school for girls that she built in South Africa, it was a good concept, but unfortunately caused more turmoil than good. The school has a capacity of 150 girls. It's extremely luxurious, including things like fireplaces in each classroom. Many of the girls that attend that school have been tormented and raped...mainly because so many other people in the community desire the privileges that have been given to the lucky 150. It is argued that opposed to spending $22 million on one school, numerous schools with basic necessities could have been built. Thousands of children could have been served. Being a devil's advocate, one more school exists in the country that wouldn't have otherwise...but I do believe that resources could have been allocated differently, resulting in a more positive effect. I use this example to remind me that it's the simple things that matter in life. It is important to be knowledgeable about the situation that you are approaching when your goal is to "help", and to use that knowledge to "come in right."
I cannot believe that in just 9 short days, we will be departing the ever so familiar soil of the United States and heading to South Africa! I don't think I can even put into words all of the thoughts, hopes, and expectations that I have in my head right now. There is so much to be excited for and nervous about at the same time.
First, let me be real......the flight! This flight is about to take forever!! Frankly, I've never been a huge fan of airplanes. Usually when I travel, I travel alone so I've gotten used to flying 3-4 hour flights by myself....but 18 hours in the air?!? No human should have to stay in the sky that long..lol. BUT at least I'll be with twenty-something other people that are going to the same destination.
Besides the flight, I am expecting so many good things to come out of this trip to Cape Town! I have heard stories upon stories from past participants who have all deemed it a life changing experience. I am excited and anxious to learn about the rich history of South Africa and SEE the effects of that history with my own eyes. I anticipate this experience being a powerful and eye opening one. I am ready to try new things, since being out of our comfort zone is no less guaranteed.....new foods, new experiences, and new people. I am expecting moments of joy and moments of heartbreak. Being immersed in a country that I've never had any experience in makes me nervous, but essentially this is something that I want! I hope that the challenges as well as the positive experiences foster personal growth. I am a firm believer that here's ALWAYS more to learn about yourself. I also am excited to build relationships with the people on the trip as well as the people we meet in the city. As I mentioned, my thoughts, hopes, and expectations are endless at this point. I cannot wait! Cape Town, here we come! :)