We’re closing in on the second day of the service projects and we’ve finally been able to see some progress! For example, we are almost done with Kristyn and my service project – the Varkplaas Community Garden.
I thought I was going to face plant into the bushes at how exhausted I was this morning, but after a second long day of hard work we were able to begin planting the plants. I think it was in this moment that we all realized where our efforts were going because we were able to see a garden full of life that could help contribute to these communities. I remember thinking in the beginning of the day that we would never get this done when we were told that we were extending the garden and we would have to pick, fork and lift the grass, barbed wire, glass, roots, weeds, etc. out of the land neighboring our first garden space.
By the end of the day we had built a second garden that will be ready for planting and fencing by Day 9! I was so relieved to just take a look back and see the actual finished product of what Kristyn and I had worked so hard on all semester trying to figure out how to plant a garden in a foreign country. Being able to have the opportunity to do this project has taught us all, I think, many different lessons and the value of how much easier we may have it than the people living in these communities.
For instance, many of us had never worked this hard in terms of manual labor before so to see 12 girls shoveling manure, sowing and mixing soil, pick axing weeds and roots from plants, and discarding barbed wire fences, and bricks from untamed land was probably the most empowering thing we could have done these past few days.
Another thing I realized today was that there are two faces to poverty. I know I am animating the word poverty but I will tell you why I am doing so. In general we think of poverty as groups of poor people who are either homeless or scary in terms of being criminals.
Yes, it’s true, there is a lot of crime that occurs where there are poorer individuals but it is very well linked to the situation that they are in or that they were put in. I doubt that many people would rob, steal or deal drugs if they had the opportunities that others had. The people in the informal settlements in Varkplaas, for instance, were either relocated here or had nowhere else to go so they settled for a community many miles away from anything in order to have a space to live in. Apartheid in South Africa may not exist anymore but the aftermath does. And in this case, crime is existent and it is high.
While we working on the gardens both days we saw a couple of white guys drive in looking for drugs to buy from the community members. One person even saw an white guy pick up a prostitute on the side of the road. These things are more prominent to the eye than the actuality of it all.
Being able to work in these communities and interact with the people who live here have shown us the other side of poverty. Take Cookie for example. She is one of the women of this community that has been busting her back to help us with this garden. She was one of the only women since day one to help us create these gardens, in which later we found out was because the other women did not think these gardens were going to contribute anything therefore they wanted nothing to do with the project. It wasn’t until today that more women began to help us because of people like Cookie and Tamarin showing them that this will all be worth it. By midday we had almost all of the children in the township helping us, boys and girls, and many of the women helping us rake, pick and sow the soil. It was a beautiful blend of races working together in harmony to build a sustainable and profitable community garden.
Furthermore, when we played with the children and gave the women oranges to eat we could all see how happy they were for our help and support. Although the appreciation was seen more in the children than in the older women, I think it is understood why they are still so hesitant towards us but underneath it all I think they will be thankful when these gardens ultimately help them out. Seeing the smiles on their faces and even the fact that they eventually came out and helped us was real progress and an eye opener that these individuals, may they be poor, are still rich in unity and spirit.
There are two sides to everything; it just takes time to understand what people have gone through in order to understand where they are now. With that I think we took away with us the beauty of doing these service projects. We’ve learned to help a new friend, sister or brother see a touch of beauty in their space and to potentially see a brighter future for them. I’m not sure if they learned as much from us, but I think we have all taken away a lesson from them. Nobody is born bad or born poor, they are put in these situations from society or by influences but when you are able to see how much they want to do and become better. I think it is finally understood that poverty has a second face.