This is a woman whose face I know very well. I would recognise her anywhere. I have only met her once, but I have looked at this picture more than a hundred times, and seen through her eyes, the faces of thousands of woman. This picture affects me so deeply, that although I have had it for months, I have struggled to post it.
She walks 10 kms, with a wheel barrow, to collect water for her whole family. She fills up her containers and pushes her wheel barrow back and forth in a relay, struggling in the heat, with just enough water to last her family for the day. You can see her feet are sore and her back is taking strain. She considers herself lucky, she has a wheel barrow.
It is not the fact that she has to walk so far, and push a heavy load just to have access to something we take for granted that breaks my heart, its the fact that the water is worse for wear. There are cows walking through it, their droppings clouding the surface. There is a slight smell of decaying plant matter and mosquito larvae thrive in the cattle footprints on the edge of the water. The most dangerous thing in these waters is NOT the crocodiles, or the hippos.
As a biologist, I know that the chances of people drinking this water and getting sick are pretty high. The water is not clean enough to drink. In a region where the HIV/Aids infection rate is one of the highest in the world, this water could kill.
Approximately 37% of Black households do not have clean water piped to their homes. This is an unacceptable statistic. This is not equality. Our government must fix this. Access to clean water should be one of the basic human rights. Water is as vital as air. ALL of the people in this region face the same struggle to get water every day. If they can pump water from the Tugela, why can’t they pump water from Jozini, Pongola and other dams? Why can’t the Government provide water pumps? A lot of poor people think that corruption doesn’t affect them, but this is how it affects them the most. Access to government resources is being stolen from them.
This Photo was taken at Muzi Pan, near Mkhuzi Game Reserve KwaZulu-Natal. It is a beautiful location, with amazing birdlife. The community has tried to start up a tourist friendly picnic site, with canoes. The problem is, there is no one visiting. The site is always empty. If you find yourself out in Mkhuzi, please take the time to visit and support the locals. It would be wonderful if this resource could become something to benefit the community, perhaps even grab the attention of the government, and maybe they could even get clean water.
I asked this lady if I could take her photo, as well as a few shots of her containers and wheel barrow, and chatted with her a bit. She told me some of the children in her house get sick, with diarrhea, but she did not know it could be from the water. She did not expect anything, and so when I gave her R20, she was very excited. You see, that is not even enough for a McDonalds Meal, but, it is enough to buy food for her family for a day. Just one more example of how things we take for granted, could drastically improve someone else’s life.
Please note, I am busy researching the costs involved in getting a water pump installed, so that at least if people walk for miles, they are getting access to clean water. If anyone can help, please contact me!
In Lower Illovo, there is a “Tree Clinic” run by Operation Bobbi Bear. The Tree Clinic is basically a gathering of rural woman under a Natal Fig Tree (Ficus natalensis). They meet once a week to support each other, get treatment for minor ailments, receive HIV/Aids awareness education, talk about their issues, get advice and assistance with social problems, grants, child care and many other things. Operation Bobbi Bear also hands out second hand clothes and some food items that have been donated by private people and companies. This is one of the Zulu spiritual leaders at the Tree, addressing the woman before a blessing was given to an unborn baby. Some representatives from Keep a Child Alive (one of the funders of The Tree Clinic and OBB) were also visiting that day. The weather was beautiful, and Mrs Ndandwe was excited to see all the woman with a heart to change their communities.
If you are reading this blog, it means that you have access to the internet and a computer, and are somewhat literate. This means that you are part of the richest 10% of the world. If you can choose what you have for dinner and you can afford more than one meal a day, you are in the richest 5% of the world. It kind of puts things into perspective doesn’t it? It is so easy in our every day lives to forget that there are problems out there that are bigger than what we will ever face. Movies like Blood Diamond, make us care for a few days, but pretty soon, we block it out cause it makes us uncomfortable. I believe that it doesn’t matter what your problems are, big or small, but if they are your problems, they matter to you, and are therefore important. Having said this, I feel like sometimes we get so caught up in our lives, that we forget to care about anything bigger than ourselves. Its especially difficult when we are not confronted with them, when they are not on our doorstep, not in our neighbourhood, and not in our country.
My family was once poor. I can remember not having money for school fees and being sent home. I remember sometimes not knowing if there would be supper, because there was no food or money in the house. Then someone from the neighbourhood would drop by and say GOD told me to bring this by, and we would have dinner. I hope someday I can be that neighbour to someone. I hope you who are reading this, will be that neighbour. I hope I never lose the humility to understand people less fortunate than me. I remember getting into trouble at school because my shoes were scuffed and my parents had no money for new shoes. I never really knew what it was like to have new clothes until I was in my late teens. I had a family that was strict, a family that was poor, but a family that loved me and parents that would do anything for me. I saw miracles that only someone who has been poor realizes. A very small piece of meat, one portion at a restaurant – feeding and statisfying a whole family. You can be this miracle for someone else. Eg: If you don’t finish your food in a restaurant, take a “doggie bag” and give it to someone homeless.
My dad once pawned his guitar for that R5, his most treasured earthly posession, so that I could go on a school trip. Those were the kind of parents I had. Things turned around and we finally had our own house, a car that did not break down and the surety of food every night. My sister and I remember the hard times as a distant past. My little brother doesn’t remember them at all.
The reason I am telling you this, is because as hard as it was back then, and as much as the neighbours in our “white” area looked down on us, there were people living 5kms down the road, in the “Township” who dreamed of a life like ours. We were constantly aware, because no matter how poor we were, my parents always tried to help those “less fortunate” than us. I went to school, I had school shoes, I had two parents, I only once felt the hunger in the pit of my stomach that hurts so much it kept me up at night. To think that there are children who have that feeling most nights, breaks my heart. Children who live in fear because their parents abuse them. Children under 16 who look after their siblings because they are orphaned by HIV/Aids. Children that are my neighbours. This is the reality of living in Africa. Many children do not have the luxury of growing up, they have to be responsible for more than the average parent living in the Western World. For those who do not ever see these problems, people in other countries and my neighbours who do not care to look, I would like to highlight some causes.
I feel that every person who is in the richest 10% or 5% should pick something, even if it’s just one thing, to care about and to try make a difference for. You can donate (what can buy you a MacDonalds meal could feed a child for a month), you can physically help (volunteer, write and raise awareness), but sometimes, something so passive as talking about these issues and motivating other people can make a big difference. Especially if it involves things the media doesn’t present to you. Be an OPRAH – remind your friends of the stories that need to be told. I will be trying to highlight some things close to my heart as and when I have time.
The first is a non-profit organisation started by Jackie Branfield. The Bobbi Bear foundation. It is very close to my heart because it is an organisation that provides practical and emotional support to abused children. The organisation is centred around a toy bear. How can a toy bear save lives? This bear is a device used in courts and councelling as a post-abuse communication device that children can use to explain what has happened to them. The evidence provided by writing on this toy and using plasters etc to explain, has aided in justice and healing for abused children. The organisation is based in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, and has received a lot of recognition for the AMAZING work they have done. Not only rescuing abused children and sticking with them until they see Justice, counselling them, supporting them and getting them back to a place where they can be children again, Bobbi Bear has also been involved in teaching HIV/Aids prevention in school. I have witnessed with my own eyes, the difference they have made. “Nonni” who was beaten and abused and hardly spoke english, went from being a sad, lonely, unloved, quiet girl, to a loud, bubbly girl, who has come to know the love of a family, and is getting an education that will build into her future. Wouldn’t you like to make a difference like that? Change the course of someone’s whole life? You can! Go and get involved in a project near you and if there isn’t one – START ONE. If you are reading this, you are almost certainly one of the richest 10% in the world – people need you to make a difference for them.
As far as Bobbi Bear goes, They are still under-funded and need any help they can get. Due to the recession a lot of funding has been cut! Thanks to “Keep a Child Alive” giving donations, they are able to keep going and most importantly, pay staff salaries. KCA is one of the main funders, however, more donations mean that the work that Bobbi Bear does, can be perpetuated in their satelite branches which have now been established, and perhaps in the future, Bobbi Bear can go global and help children in other areas of South Africa and the world.
If you want to see it for yourself, they have had a documentary made about them called Rough Aunties. Rough Aunties received the “World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize“ at SUNDANCE. They did not receive any of the proceeds and still need donations in order to continue running. Please try and get hold of the film. To me it is not raw enough, seems slightly sugar coated, but that is because I know the people and what they went through better than what the film can portray. It is a brilliant film and will make you cry. If you are not in South Africa, if you would like to find out how else you can help, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also donate through Keep a Child Alive (for USA and UK residents). There are many things you can do besides just donating money. Please, Please, Please- take a few minutes to look at the videos I have included. Please vote in the poll!