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Dickinson to Durban » Mosaic Action » The meaning of community.

The meaning of community.

By Emily Bowie ’14

“In developing countries, the norm is for about 2% of children to be classed as orphans, but in South Africa, that figure is more like 17%.” ( United Nations Children Fund)

My American naivety once again became apparent to me during the third week of our trip in South Africa. We were told that we were visiting an orphanage and doing some volunteer work and other than that we had little idea of what to expect. When I heard “orphanage” I immediately thought of adoption, children who had no family who were looking for families. This was my first misunderstanding. Makaphutu and Lily of the Valley were “children’s trusts,” different from a traditional orphanage. A children’s trust is not a place where children are generally adopted, instead they are alternative homes for children who have lost family, have HIV/AIDS or are not safe at home. For this reason there were few children around while we were visiting because they had gone to safe family that they had for the holidays and were not actually at the orphanages.

Playing with the kids at Makaphutu

Even though there were few children we were able to make ourselves useful at Makaphutu. We helped organize and distribute their donated items as well as painted some rooms in a building they are hoping to renovate as a community space. We also made special connections with the few children that were there, three of them siblings. What struck me the most was the sense of community and care that the people we met with had. I talked with one of my professors about the “individualism” that upper class Americans emphasize and how it contrasts with the community dedication that most other people in the world rely on. I realized that this individualism we praise is a privilege of our economic situation. Even though Makaphutu has needs they realized when they had more than they really could use and after we sorted their donated items they had us pack up and distribute 75% of it to the local community. Another story that illustrated this support system was told by Brendan, the head of the Lily of the Valley trust. Someone from the community had stolen and sold one of their delivery trucks earlier in the month and everyone in the community knew who it was but no one would tell because of the support they have for one another. Situations like this are rarely seen in individualistic America.

After our stressful and discouraging experience in Durban at the conference where little of significance was accomplished due mainly to political greed and stubbornness it was refreshing to observe humans acting at their best to help the children of South Africa to the best of their ability. I would encourage you to take a look at what these places are doing, and if you are able and willing, to donate to them. These places are doing great and touching things, and they rely on people like us for support. To learn more about the organizations click on their logos below.


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