Umphefumulomtoti

by Admin / 3. October 2007 06:44

sweet breath. i’ve had the opportunity to absorb a lot of this since i came to south africa, and its the honestly the sweetest breath i’ve ever smealt. youd think something so desireable would be alot less accessible, at least according to human theories like supply and demand. but not here in south africa. the amount of umphefumulomtoti that flows around here is overwhelming sometimes. its everywhere, people all over are sharing this sweetness with each other. in fact, i’ve never been in a place before that has such an abundance of this sweetness. one of the first times i was blessed with this fragrance was while sitting with a patient- Baba Phakathi- at the Hillcrest Aids Centre Respite Unit where i’ve been working this year. Phakathi was a stubborn man of middle age who could be a real bastard sometimes. he was suffering from AIDS in its final stage, and in lots of pain. he had severe diarrhoea, TB, painful, swollen feet, no appetite, and a number of other side effects that people suffer from when they have HIV/AIDS. of course all of this lead to extreme weight loss, inability to walk or even go to the toilet on his own. he could be a pretty rude person when he wanted to and he made a lot of people angry. but he had the sweetest damn breath you could ever imagine. and ever since smelling it on him, i’ve actually been unable to avoid it, no matter where i go. it just seems to be in the everywhere. numerous other patients have also had the same umphefumulomtoti. i smell it at local clinics while waiting in dreadful queues, or at the hospital where people lay scattered all over the place, in their own feces( to sick or oppressed to even ask what the hell is going on). sometimes, when doing visits with nurses or fetching patients in the local communities, im smacked in the face with it as i walk into someones home. its so sweet and it pours out from all of these places with such abundance. its inescapable! but where does it get its sweetness from? in the morning, as the mist lifts and rolls itself over the toppling hills, so to does umphefumulomtoti. then during the day it disguises itself in the often humid air, tucking itself deep into the valleys, where it hovers over our friends and families that surround us. At night, it either accompanies the stale humidity left over from the day or it fuses with the dark clouds that eventually shower us with this umphefumulomtoti. but still, where does it come from? it comes from the millions of people that are dying from a horrible epidemic. david phakathi was the first person i accompanied as he was being called by God. Since then, i’ve had the blessing to be with many others as they too are relieved of their suffering. i myself find it difficult to place those two words in the same sentence-blessing and suffering. watching someone suffer is the worst thing that i’ll ever have to do in my life, no matter where i am or what i might be doing. its absolutely terrible and just one of those things that i dont know if i’ll ever be able to understand. however, when the suffering is so bad and brings you to that point when you begin to question everything, BAM! there it is: umphefumulomtoti, the sweetest breath. yes, its the breath of someone who is about to die. and yes it really is everywhere. sometimes it reveals itself days in advance, and other times its just minutes, or even seconds. and its strange to think that something that can be so sad and bring us so much pain, carries with it the sweetest aroma on this earth. but it does, and thats because its God work. i dont know what its like to suffer as someone in this situation, although i wish i did. i wish there was more i could do for some of my friends who i watch go through this, but i dont know what. as i try to reason all of it out in my head, i am humbled by the fact that they, in this time of great distress, somehow find the strength to take all of their sufferings- all of the pain, all of the rubbish, all of the infections, the bacteria, the parasites, the vomitting, the diarrhoea, the TB, the pills, the sores, and any other thing that someone with HIV/AIDS might have inside them- and they offer them up to the Lord who then transforms them into umphefumulomtoti. Its such a distinct scent that it cant be mistaken for anything else. Its like bringing together the fragrance of a freshly bloomed rose with the the most fresh, most pure honey you can find. you can actually taste it. it completely takes over your body, overloading all of your senses and occupying every part of your soul. Its “umphefumulomtoti”, the sweetest breath. ive sat beside many people now, during this time, and i find myself trying to take in as much of it as possible, and im grateful that in their final moments, our companions so graciously offer us this breath of life! uxolo ayibenabo, peace be with them!

matthew liccketto
south africa 2007

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Internationals 2007

Angry in Chulucanas

by Admin / 14. September 2007 06:45

I am angry.

But not at you, reader. To be honest, I don´t know who I am angry with, or if I am angry with anyone in particular. Its the situation that gets to me - Children without enough food to eat, children without education for their brains, women without a voice and without options for their children, oppression.

You might come to Chulucanas and find it peaceful, but ignorance is a violent kind of thing, and it is steath in its nature to kill.

I suppose, like many of my companions and those who have gone before and who will go after me as Augustinian Volunteers, I struggle with a particular anger towards the idea of the 1st word having, and the oppressed having not.

Let me be clear on this point in particular, I am a part of the problem. I haven’t read enough. I haven’t paid enough attention to the ways I can live a more just life. And because I don’t know the ways my actions, or lack there of, adversely affect the millions of dying, I feel the pressure. I am guilty of violent ignorance.

Still, I find myself treasuring my time in Chulucanas. Why? For starters, my community is beautiful. I live with 2 other volunteers. Their names are Maura and Elizabeth. Angels. When I am angry, they remind me that there is love and compassion, that there still can be understanding and that ignorance can be overcome by practicing that compassion. Community life isn’t hard for me. Not with these two girls. We laugh together, we share books (when and where else would I ever have read The Secret Life of Bees?). We pray and reflect together, and sometimes we cry together (especially if we somehow catch an episode of Extreme Makeover, Home Edition).

I suppose the idea is, that even though we are in a specific place together, we are TOGETHER in knowing there is a lot of suffering that happens outside our close walls. Hours or blocks away are the mothers whose husbands leave them or beat or sexually abuse their children. There are no wars in Peru today, but ignorance is violent too. What affect has 1st World mining in northern Peru have on the people who struggle to survive on the little water they have access to? What will the mines do to that access? And why do 1st World companies have the power to decide? What international trade laws allow this, and who has the power to make or change those laws? Why do ceramic makers in Chulucanas make pennies off of a piece of pottery that goes for $60 in Target? How is that just?

I keep trying to figure out what it is that I’m “supposed to do” about it. As far as I’ve been able to figure, combating my own ignorance is the one thing I can do. So I try to learn. I talk to my friends about the hungry children, the thousands dying of Aids in this ignorant world, and I get right to the point of the bush I find myself beating around. What can we, in the 1st world do? Pick up a book, an article, a review, and read. Find people who love and laugh with you, and ask them what they think about suffering. Find out who supports human rights (for ALL HUMANS) and vote for that person.

A certain Augustinian reflected on the Gospel. Jesus asked a rich man to give up his possessions, to give to the poor and to follow, to learn, to read, to lay down his violent ignorance, and to follow him. And when the man refused - this is the clincher- he turned to the man lovingly.

In my anger for the conditions of my surroundings, in my anger toward the powerful who ignore it, and the anger I direct toward myself for not doing much about it, I think of Jesus’ compassionate embrace, and that with all the problems and ignorace we face, we can still turn towards it lovingly.

Sean Paul Murray
Chulucanas, Peru 2007

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Under African Skies

by Admin / 12. September 2007 06:49

“How’s Africa?” “What’s it like?” “Tell me about South Africa.” Phrases I’ve heard before, when I went home for Dec. holiday. Impossible questions to answer? Imagine if someone said to you, “tell me about the United States.” Well, do you tell them about the weather in California or Boston? Tell you. Tell you what?

Maybe you want to know about the rolling hills that expand the length of the horizon; hills that twist and wind through the valley of Embo, that surround the community of Molweni; the hills that I look upon, that give me a view of contrasting realities. Maybe you want to know that I do not live in the “bush”; there are no lions or giraffes or elephants wandering the streets. In fact, most people I know have not seen and most likely will never see these animals. No, I do not live in the “bush”. I live in an affluent neighborhood, on a beautiful piece of land, with gardens tended by Bheki; a place where the lights turn on and water flows through the faucets. I live in the 1st world.

Perhaps, you’d like to know that those running this country believe that a shower after sex can prevent HIV/Aids; that the government doesn’t seem to be doing much about the HIV/Aids pandemic; that approx. 42% of people in KZN are infected with HIV and that statistic doesn’t include the many who haven’t been tested; that the health minister believes beetroot is the answer, is the cure for Aids.

Do you want to know about the Kloof parishioners, who, 2 years ago, set up our little cottages to welcome us and make us feel at home; who have been supportive and interested in our lives and the work we are doing; who have invited us into their parish, their homes, their lives?

Would you like me to tell you about Lindo? Lindo, who, in my first year teaching English, was in Grade 3; a little boy, who seemed to never be paying attention, who I didn’t think knew one word of English, yet, when I gave them an oral test, he aced it, teaching me that kids do listen, they do respond; that despite the days they jump on desks, sing and dance during a lesson, and do everything but work, something is getting through to them; you must be persistent, you must never give up on them.

Or, if you like I could tell you about the time I went to a funeral with Eunice? I sat on a little wooden chair in the corner of a small room, with the deceased body and seven Zulu women sitting on straw mats and mattresses, wailing, lamenting, praying; where a small child fell asleep in my arms and didn’t wake, even when groups of 12 or 15 people would march in, singing, dancing, clapping, banging drums, paying their respects; for 4 hours I sat, I watched, I listened. It was sereal.

Maybe you would like to know that every Monday I eat dinner at Robyn and Shirley’s home; a couple who has invited us in, fed us, and given us a sense of family; or about the Carpenters, who have also extended their generosity and hospitality to us; that Dr. Carpenter is the only doctor for the surrounding valleys, or that his wife, Mary Ann, pours every ounce of her energy into caring for those with HIV/Aids; or that I have befriended their daughter, Ruthie, and in turn, she has befriended me.

Do you want to know that our dog Thembi ran away last year, or that I run in the neighborhood across the street, that we have security gates and barbed wire fencing surrounding our home, that the police probably won’t pull you over for speeding, but the cameras will get you everytime, that the stores close by 7, and traffic lights are called robots?

Or maybe you’re interested in the Shezi family; 14 children, staying with a Gogo(Grandma); 5 of the boys leave home at 4:30 in the morning to walk 3 hours to school, uphill, so they can learn, so they can be kept occupied during the day, so they can eat.

Should I tell you about serving lunch at St. Leo’s? It might make you cry to know that for some children the only meal they eat is the plate of rice and beans served at 10 that morning; and that on some days I would be looking down, scooping plate after plate of rice, blisters forming on my fingers, only to realize the pot is suddenly empty; only to look up to find children still waiting to eat, to see the disappointment on their faces, the hunger in their eyes, as I tell them, there is no more food; they will have to wait for tomorrow.

I probably shouldn’t tell you about Michael; wandering, lost, confused, homeless, lonely, searching for a job, searching for food, searching for a warm place to sleep at night, searching for a friend, searching for life; do you want to know what it’s like to feel someone’s hunger; to share in their disappointment; to feel their loneliness? I hope your answer is no.

Have you ever heard the voices that ring out from the St. Leo’s church choir? You do not have to understand a language to have a spiritual experience, to feel like you are sitting with angels. Have you seen the children of St. Leo’s dance? Amazing. The Zulu culture is rich with strength and rhythm. I can feel the sounds of their songs beating in my heart. Would you like to know that the children of St. Leo’s were fascinated with my veins and even more amazed when they discovered, that they too have veins?

Do you want me to tell you about Thabisile? A precious girl, with big ears, yearning for life; one day, you pray that she lives; one day, you pray that God peacefully takes her; a 9 year old should not have to suffer from Aids. Would you like to know about Beauty? She died of Aids, leaving 4 children behind. Orphans. Would you like to know about my friend Cynthia, who has been at the Respite Unit since Jan. and will now be admitted to another hospital for another 6 months? She has XDR TB. She is warm; she is friendly; she crochets; she has lungs infested with ugliness.

What do you want me to tell you about? Do you want to know that at work I was gluing bead earrings onto little dolls? Doesn’t sound very important, does it? Well, I will tell you that for every doll that sells, the proceeds go to help care for those at the Respite Unit; that the proceeds help supply Ncami with an income. Have you seen Nokuthula’s fluffy necklaces? Some probably have 10,000 beads; one by one they are strategically placed. Have you seen Margaret’s embroidery, Baba’s pottery, Janet’s crocheting, Zibhuyile’s painting? Every bead earring, every string of beads, every stitch, every stroke of the brush, is food on the table, a light, a child’s education, a mother’s love.

Do you want to know about the time I polished a floor with cow dung and helped make Zulu beer? Do you want to know that Themba taught me how to make phuthu, jeqe(steamed bread), stiff pup, beef curry and chakalaka? Do you want to know who Themba is? She is an amazing woman; teaches Grade 4 at St. Leo’s, is the mother of 4. But what’s truly amazing to witness is the compassion she showers the children with. She knows them all; their joys, their sorrows; who’s orphaned; who’s sick. She knows. She cares. She loves.

I probably shouldn’t tell you about the time Nkanyiso and Nosipho spent (more or less) 3 weeks with us. Why? Because their mother, Eunice, was too sick with Aids to care for them and there was nobody else to watch them. What a special time it was; baths, dinner, laundry, breakfast, uniforms, baking cookies, making eggs, stories, pillow fights, pajamas, hugs, kisses, love.

Perhaps, you’re more interested in amasi, sour milk, that’s poured over phuthu; or byble meat, the squishy texture of the stomach lining of a cow; or the time I heard two goats being killed, only to see their heads later on.

Would you like to know about my walks home, and how, at the railroad tracks, reality hits? I continue, alone, walking up the hill into my neighborhood, andeverybody else follows the tracks, some to paper thin homes, corrugated tin roofs, candles for lighting, paraffin stoves, outhouses; into the valley of Embo; the valley that I look upon everyday. Perhaps you’d like to know about the sun that rises over this valley; a beautiful array of colors; it’s true what they say about the African sun; it is beautiful; it is hot; the African sky; indescribable.

Do you want to know about the boys at St. Theresa’s Home; their smiles, craving for attention, yearning for someone to listen to them; to share a story with; seeking love?

What do you want to know about? That I have not mastered the Zulu language; but I continue to learn everyday; and that in a craftshop I learned new ways of crocheting and beadwork, made cards, silk-screened shirts, formed relationships, shared smiles and laughter with people of a different race, of a different culture.

Do you want to know that in the same moment I have felt compassion and anger; tears and joy; loneliness and belonging. Under African skies, I have fetched water from a tap, bathed in a basin, warmed up by a paraffin stove, sat for hours upon hours upon hours in rural South Africa, waiting; waiting for what? I don’t always know; waiting to eat, waiting to serve, waiting for bed; just waiting, waiting to follow the other women, to learn from them; to belong, to be accepted in a place where I undoubtedly stand out.

Do you want to know that all things are possible? They are. With faith, hope, and love, they are. Faith that God watches over hungry children; hope that one day Aids will not destroy families, communities, lives; love; an unconditional love that unites and binds us, humans.

So, what do you want to know about? Ask and I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you that my answer is love; because love has formed unthinkable, unimaginable friendships and relationships. I have given love and received even more. Because with or without electricity, shoes, Aids, water, TB, a garden, a dog, the hills, beads, beans, sunrises, singing, shelter, dancing; with or without all these things, love is possible. Love. Love. Love.

Mary Dillon
South Africa 2007

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Rising Compassion

by Admin / 10. September 2007 06:51

The sun is rising and I once again find myself sitting outside looking down into the valley, a place that was so foreign 8 months ago and now familiar, a place where many of my friends stay. I pause and listen, hearing Embo awaken. I watch, and see the people walking along the train tracks headed to work and school. I wonder if Peter took his medicine, hope that Lindo is off to school, and know that Cyprian is in a better place. I smile, sometimes shed a tear, and say a quick prayer for them. I often start my days this way, cup of coffee in hand, for it provides a great source of strength, peace, hope, and focus for my day. This is a very prayerful time for me and it is where I feel closest to God and to the people I encounter daily. The Zulu people are as colourful as the rising sun and are amongst the happiest people I have ever encountered. Their lives simple yet rich with love and compassion for one another. I have been blessed to witness and share in this love and compassion time and time again being situated at two beautiful places; Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust Respite Unit and St. Theresa’s Home.

The definition of compassion is, “the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it.” The value of compassion has never been more clear to me for it really is all about compassion; compassion for ourselves, our family, our friends, our neighbours. It starts with a smile and extends with human touch and realizing how vital these gestures are is humbling. Working at the Respite Unit, which is a home away from home for people suffering from HIV/AIDS, is just that and so much more. With compassion at the forefront of this operation, it takes a group of very special individuals to work at such a place that oozes with unconditional love. I am blessed to be apart of this family. I find myself constantly busy with a variety of tasks at the unit but firmly believe that spending and sharing my time with the patients, my friends, is where my time is best spent and relationships are formed. There is something beyond powerful and spiritual in holding someone’s hand restoring dignity into their soul. When you witness another’s difficulties for love, for companionship, for strength, for life, perspectives change for the better and priorities have a way of falling into place. I have taken walks around the hospital grounds with patients, massaged feet and backs, shared smiles and laughter over my broken Zulu, counselled and wiped away tears, spent many hours at clinics and hospitals, crafted memory books, bathed, changed, and fed patients. I have spent many hours by one’s bedside, holding hands, rubbing foreheads, singing, and praying for their souls to be at peace. I have had difficult conversations with patients about dying, both of us well aware that their time was near. I have seen many of my friends die with dignity returning home to God. I have witnessed loneliness in its rawest form and hope in its purest and am more aware of the harsh realities that exist in our world. I am not jaded by my experiences nor am I pessimistic about our society but rather hopeful for I trust with my whole heart in human compassion.

The love and compassion does not stop at the Respite Unit but continues in a different capacity as I make my way to St. Theresa’s for these children represent life. Spending my afternoons at St. Theresa’s Home with the boys of St. Joseph’s cottage, my 13 angels, is always fruitful and chaotic. Their beautiful smiles and warm hugs often set me on the right foot for the afternoon, melting away any heartache and baggage collected from the morning. They come from a variety of backgrounds; most orphans, some infected with HIV, some scared; all loveable. I do my best to provide a balance of discipline and enjoyment by celebrating their accomplishments and providing them with consistency; consistency equalling love in this equation. They never cease to amaze me and their curiosity and creativity is always refreshing. I have the boys journal once a week and recently came across this entry about friendship, “One of the most important things we do in life is to choose other people to be our friends. We spend some of our happiest moments with them. We laugh and cry together.” Words of wisdom from a 12 year old boy wise beyond his years. With that said, I can confirm that together we have shared in many happy moments. We have laughed together and cried at times too. These boys, Philani D., Sibonelo, Dumsani, Ayanda, Philani M., Siphiwe, Phumelele, Sandile N., Musa, Sihle, Mzamo, Siya, and Sandile M., my chosen friends, have shown and shared with me their whole self and I could not ask for anything more.

My attention is drawn back to the creeping sun. And yet again I am reminded that the sun rising is a chance to right ourselves and receive each day in all its glory. Each day is a wonder. Each day is a gift, and how easy it is for me to forget that sometimes when I am caught up in my own “stuff”; my own obligations and expectations. However, I try to strike a fine balance between work and renewal. It is a constant struggle that I am aware of but worth pushing myself toward one day at a time. I find myself captivated by the sun and its beauty, the colors swirling together. To be able to watch the day unfold above the clouds is a blessing. The sun casts a pink haze over the sky long before you see its rays, and the ridge below the cloud begins to glow. It is so still up there you can almost hear life whispering to you. Sometimes the whisper is too soft and at other times so loud it is deafening. I can feel the depth and potential of my own existence, the shared experiences I have had with Mary, Jacob, and Matthew, the unconditional love I have exchanged and shared with the patients at the Respite Unit, and the trust and kinship between myself and my boys at St. Theresa’s home. I stop and take a deep breath for them, for you, and myself.

No matter where God leads us in life, when the earth turns on its axis one more time and we see what appears to be the sun rising, it is the universe calling for change in ourselves and this world. To be able to witness the dawn each day, to be able to feel and share love and compassion is a wake-up call - I have been blessed in so many ways. My hope is that we all have one more day, and I hope you choose to rise with it.

Brianna Grande
South Africa 2007

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In Peru...

by Admin / 21. August 2007 06:52

Living in a foreign country with both a foreign language and culture creates an at times challenging environment, one that I am confronted with daily in Peru. Whether it is trying to become accustomed to living as a women in a fairly overtmachismo society or struggling to express myself not only accurately, but eloquently in a language that I am still learning, Chulucanas continues to present me with this challenge — one that while I try to accept with the best of attitudes, is taxing nonetheless. I am often frustrated when walking down the street, I am accompanied by a string of whistles or comments that I receive for the sole reason that I am woman, and I am endlessly annoyed when my Spanish, which was my college major and a subject that I have devoted over 8 years of my life to, still doesn’t seem to be improving. However, it takes one look at the lustradores, or shoe shiners, in the plaza who more times than not are shoeless and often dirty children who instead of going to school, work morning and night to get by; or at the poor farmers who come down from the mountains to sell their crops in the market to realize that although I struggle, I really don’t have it so bad. It’s okay that I used the wrong form of the verb hacer when I was explaining this weeks English homework to my students; on the other hand, it is definitely not okay that the lustrador children have to sacrifice their education to support themselves as well as their families.

However, while the situation of many Peruvians is often times heartbreaking, through the truly amazing hearts and spirits of these people, I have found it easy to find the “positive” amidst all the “negative”. For example, if there is one thing that I have come to learn and admire about many Peruvians I have met, especially of those in the most desperate of circumstances, it is that they are some of the most selfless, generous people that I have ever come in contact with. I recall a visit to a caserio of Chulucanas called Inmaculada Concepcion, or Immaculate Conception. A visiting group of American high schoolers had come to Chulucanas for a week-long service trip and we, the Augustinian Volunteers, helped organize the construction of a park in the neighborhood. On our first morning in Inmaculada Concepcion, we were visiting the caserio with the students to get them acquainted with both the town and people for whom they were building the park when an old lady invited us into her home to rest from the ever-hot Chulucanas sun. She asked us to please come in, that she couldn’t offer us anything but a chair and her company, but that she wanted to make us feel welcome in her neighborhood and thank us for our efforts. Her kindness to us that day, and that of so many Peruvians I have met along the way, is something that I will never forget. They never hesitate to offer you anything and everything that they have, even if it is just a chair to rest in for 5 minutes.

The selflessness I am describing is particularly evident in these few days following the massive earthquake that struck Peru. While thankfully Chulucanas was not hit, towns in the south of the country have been completed destroyed and are in desperate need of aid. All this week in the plaza of Chulucanas, there has been a donation table for those effected by the earthquake. Everyday I see people walk to the plaza, many of whom are in need themselves, dropping off bags of clothes or food — anything they can offer without hesitation of what they themselves might be lacking. This spirit of generosity I have experienced thus far in Peru is truly inspiring to witness. While it may seem to be a simple lesson to have learned, I have learned it nonetheless and by example, have tried and will continue to try to be more giving of myself.

In my initiation as an Augustinian Volunteer, I stated that while I was coming to Peru to volunteer, that I wanted to in turn learn and gain understanding from my experiences. While I am far from having totally grasped the immensity that has been my adventure in Chulucanas, I am definitely learning daily — whether it be coping with my frustrations or witnessing acts of compassion. I am grateful to the Augustinian Volunteers for this experience and am looking forward to continuing this learning process in my last months in Chulucanas.

Elizabeth Droggitis
Chulucanas, Peru 2007

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Internationals 2007

Ngiyafundisa, futhi ngiyafunda (I teach, and I learn)

by Admin / 16. August 2007 06:55

 

I work in a fortress, in South Africa. When I arrived here last January, builders were putting the finishing touches on the stand-alone room which, although plain looking, was specially designed to repel burglars. The walls and ceiling are thick cement slabs, reinforced with steel rods at unusually tight intervals. The door is designed for a bank vault and requires two 6-inch long skeleton keys to unlock it. The idea for this architectural behemoth was hatched last year when my volunteer predecessors set up a handful of donated computers in the library of St. Leo Primary School, located in a semi-rural Zulu community. Just four days later it was discovered that nearly all of the computers had been stolen. But Fr. Eddie Hattrick, O.S.A.,who until recently was overseeing the Augustinian Friars’ “mission” at St. Leo School and Church, was not deterred in his belief that computer skills can make a huge impact on the life of a black South African child from the townships. So he raised the money to build a computer room that could be secure in the midst of nation that is anything but secure. Despite all kinds of delays–including a vault door that refused entry even to us–we were able to finalize the furnishing of the room just in time for Fr. Eddie’s farewell celebration. After 48 years as a missionary in Japan and South Africa, he has gone home. We miss him dearly.I can’t deny that such a facility, now furnished with a dozen computers, is something of an anachronism at a school where some children still have no shoes. I wish sometimes that the money invested in the computer room would have been used instead to better feed the kids whose only meal each day is the rice and beans the is served at school. Although the absurdity is maddening, my reservations about the rightness of a computer training program in the midst of such elemental need have all but melted away. After a few months of operation, I have seen not only the joy and pride that computer class offers the kids but also the great potential. Whereas these students’ parents and grandparents are most employable if they speak English, this new generation might have a leg up if they can navigate around a computer screen. And since very few South African blacks are computer literate, even the most basic knowledge will, hypothetically, make my students–about 120 in total–the technological leaders of their communities. That’s an exhilarating prospect.

This has all got me to thinking about my own computer-related history, how my personal privilege has come not only in the form of decent shoes and three meals daily but also in the form of an education that has generally kept pace with technological advancements of the first world. As “smart boards” and WiFi hot zones are becoming the rage back in the US, many South African schools - particularly those that cater to blacks - aren’t even wired for electricity. It’s frankly scary to think that as our world becomes increasingly computerized information and ideas will become proportionately inaccessible to those without computer literacy. And since information is the cornerstone of socioeconomic success, computer illiteracy has suddenly become a cause of poverty and not just a symptom of it. The gap between rich and poor is widening. Fast. And one day soon it may become altogether impossible to leap from one side to the other. That’s why teaching computers to kids at St. Leo Primary unexpectedly seems like such an important thing to do, especially before the rift between “us” (those who have access to this web post of mine) and “them” (those who do not) becomes irreconcilable.

When the kids at St. Leo are confounded by the computers before them, I’m amused to recall that not so long ago I too was mashing keys, fumbling with the mouse, and smearing the screen with my dirty fingers. I suppose that I’ve come a long way since then. My students are learning so fast and so avidly that I’m beginning to believe that maybe they can go a long way too. Perhaps even farther.

Jake Weiler
South Africa 2007

 

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Asi es la vida

by Admin / 9. August 2007 06:56

The beauty of a place lies in its people. Not in its surroundings.

This past evening, in a caserio high in the Andes mountains of Peru, in a little adobe house on the side of a dirt road, I found myself sitting around a table full of my Peruvian friends conversing, laughing and freezing (because in the mountains it can get quite cold). In a borrowed hand made dark blue poncho, sipping a hot natural drink native to the region to keep warm, gathered a group no larger than 8, of all generations. In the dimly lit room we shared our thoughts, our experiences and our desires for the future. And when it was my turn to share, in my broken spanish, I talked about the most important thing that I have learned while in Peru..a lesson that I will never, ever cease to forget. All people, in Peru, in Africa, in the U.S, in China, from a young girl in the poorest, most forlorn patch of poverty striken land in the world, to an old man, reflecting comfortably on his long life in his heated home in the folds of a developed nation. These people, nosostros, we are all the same.

Before I left for Peru in January, I got asked on a number of occasions why I was going. My answer was quick, and honest, but certaintly not revolutionary. I said simply “I don’t know yet. But I know I want to”. Some people looked at me as though I was crazy, others with a glean of regret in their eye, and still others congratulating me, as if this one year trek to South America was an impossible feat. The truth is, it is none of the above. It is merely life. Yes, life in a different language and culture, but life nonetheless.

My drive to work on Monday’s is unlike most of my peers. I pile into a small, old, white taxi which we pick up at the edge of the market along with a number of other passengers, all heading to Morropan, a town about one hour away from Chulucanas. Packed in like sardines, the driver heads out of Chulucanas, often times blasting cumbia, the Peruvian country music so popular here in the north, and tapping his hands along with the latin rythm. On our way to Santa Rita, where the Augustinian Volunteers teach English to the primary school, we pass some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen. On the verge of where the desert meets the more fertile and green Andes mountains, we whip around in the little car until we reach our destination, passing hundreds of little adobe houses, cows, goat, farms and banana trees along the way.

Once in the school, we set out teaching school full of of 30 children per classroom,without books, without paper, and often times without the full attention of the students we teach. Some students go home to loving families, others to single mothers whose father is searching desperately elsewhere for work. Some children go home to unstable homes, and uncertain futures. Others go home and work along side their elders, preparing food, cleaning the house and then watching some television when they are done. It is challenging, to say the least. But as in any challenge, the blessing lies in our ability to try. And although I am sure that none of my students know much more than “hello” and “good afternoon” in English, we certaintly have fun trying.

Poverty certaintly exists here. There is no denying the hungry faces and lack of good medical attention. There is no way to avoid a male dominated society, no way to change a government that doesn´t have the funds to fix itself. This is the kind of poverty that is so closely associated with developing nations, the exterior poverty that manifests itself in the minds of people from more developed nations; not only because people from developed nations live in standards unheard of here, but because developed nations have forgotten that it is possible to survive without such standards.

This type of poverty, the exterior poverty that afflicts so many in Chulucanas and the country of Peru is a poverty that I will never know intimately and can only observe from afar. At first I said it isn’t fair that some live in such a way and I in such a completely different way. But then I looked deeper into the lives of the people I have met here I realize that exterior poverty does not impede that which is on the interior of the beautiful people here. In a school without books, we find ways to teach using other methods. In a town without a regular trash service, we find ways to recyle. In a region greatly lacking in water resourses, we find ways to conserve. In a place where very few government supports exist for the poor, we find ways to irk out a living. Most importantly we find ways to love. To pray. To dream. To live.

And I say we, because I am not talking only of the poor people in Peru. I am talking about all of us. Every last person in this world. Because, it is true, we are all the same.

Maura Murphy
Chulucanas, Peru 2007

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Internationals 2007

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