12 July 2007

“We’re Building A Movement”

I didn’t even have to say it this time. Zaks, the leader of “Township Glory” opens every leadership training session talking about the movement. After an eggs on toast breakfast (a surprising development after two days of local cornmeal, milk and sugar fare) I grabbed my bags and the Captain (Marshall) headed for Orange Park, the home of Zaks’ program.

We left Soweto, drove through Kliptown (the shanty town) and entered Orange Farm on its one paved rode. After just a few minutes of driving we pulled off the pavement and onto a long, winding, diveted red dirt path leading into the shanty neighborhoods of Orange Farm township. The heavy winds were rustling up whirlwinds of dirt all around us. It looked as if there had been no rain in months. I couldn’t tell if this was a blessing or a curse. Of course, water would be nice, but I was unsure as to whether or not the houses would sustain even the lightest trickle of water.

“The dirt roads become rivers,” Zaks told me, as we walked down his neighbor’s car less driveway toward a makeshift church that doubled as his meeting room. I entered to find that more than twenty kids had shown up to talk about YV, the movement and their participation in “Township Glory.” The walls were covered in old newspapers. None of the window panes had glass in them.

“We’re in this room because we’re starting a movement,” Zaks begain. “We’re tired of the way things are. We want drugs and poverty and unemployment out of Orange Farm, and we’re going to do it. This is a leadership movement and you’re all at the front of it.” The room went wild! We went on to talk about how to make that change and what part they played in the global movement.

Zaks uses the arts to inspire, encourage and teach. From slam poetry to dance and theater, every kid involved plays some role. I was fortunate enough to get a special show that included original poems, traditional dance and some modern moves, on which Zak and I joined in. Lets just say I busted a move. His energy is contagious. You can’t help but get excited. Still, he wants to take it further. “I don’t want to be the only role model. I want everyone to be role models for each other, so I started a facilitator training program, to get teenagers trained to help the younger kids. It’s going well.” With his drive, I don’t know how it couldn’t be going well!

From there it was to Mofolo, where I met with Brian and about fifty youth involved in his project. He has turned an abandoned schoolhouse into a community center where kids from private and public schools come together in an environment that encourages exchange and support to reinvigorate the students in public school and give them the extra help they can’t get at home. The students in the private schools also help tutor during exam time as well as assist with University applications, making the idea of college “real” for them in a way they would have never considered otherwise.

Brian and I realized how similar our projects were, discussing ways to collaborate and learn from one another. “We take it beyond schoolwork as well,” Brain explained. “We infuse music, street culture and theater also, trying to educate both sides on their lives in a complete way.” I actually got to watch drum practice, as well as run around like a maniac playing tag with all the kids. For whatever reason, it didn’t matter who was actually “it,” the kids just chased me around.

I also ran into some fellow Americans there. The first were a group of high school students from Nobles High School in Boston. They were here for three weeks to “do service and stuff,” one girl told me. They arrived in their air-conditioned coach from their luxury hotel after flying first class to get here. My only hope is that they actually attempt to take an honest look at their surroundings and the work they’re doing, rather than just seeing it as coming to Africa and like, helping poor people. I handed out some business cards, so maybe we’ll get some projects from them. Now that would be cool!

The other American was a real character – originally from New York, he actually lives “in a shack down the road a bit,” as he explained it to me. Now thirty-three, his life goal has been to avoid the “real world” forever. Educated at Pomona College in California, he has spent the last 12 years bee-bopping the globe taking odd jobs to make time for his writing. I looked at him and in a lot of ways, I saw myself – never wanting to settle down. Then again, the whole shack down the road thing might not work for me. I wasn’t able to snap his photo, but he made me think of Chris Farley on SNL when he did the bit about “living in a van down by the river,” so I posted that picture instead. R.I.P. Chris.

From there it was to the airport, where Erin and I (Erin is an American who is interning for Ashoka in South Africa) were shuffled around to three bag-check areas and two boarding gates before actually boarding our plane. Nevertheless, we’re off to Cape Town!

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