Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Boys of South Africa

We dodge down the streets listening to L., our driver, on the way to Alexandra. We swerve around vendors hawking their wares, the women and children palms out and waiting for spare change, the honking mini-van taxis, the pedestrians pouring off the sidewalks and the uniformed children on the way to school. L. is telling us his story. The story of a single man in South Africa, working in a factory to support his two small daughters, barely putting enough food on the table and watching the men around him taking the easy way out...surrendering themselves to alcohol, dangerous schemes and a licentious life.

L. is railing against his country men. He declares them unwilling to work. Unable to accept that success comes from persistence and incredible effort. He says the men of his country want only a handout...not a hand up.

I ask L., as we crawl past the shacks of Alexandra, alongside the entrepreneurial businesses that struggle to stay upright beneath the press of homes that surround them, "Why? Why have the men of South Africa so totally given up on themselves and their futures?

His answer is unsatisfying. He believes it is "the nature of the men of South Africa." What a fatalistic sentence to inherit along with the chromosome that determines gender!

But L. is right...no one can deny his perspective is not fueled by experience and truth. The residue of apartheid is not just seen in the incredible inequity between the desperate poor and the very wealthy. The residue of apartheid is seen in the fragile family structures shaken to their roots by the forced separation of parents from one another and parents from their children. The psychological residue of apartheid, a system that took away freedom of movement, freedom of choice and freedom of self-determination, will take at least a generation to recover from.

And then, after wending our way through the densely packed streets of Alexandra, we arrive at Realogile High School to train some new Net Buddies. We crowd into a small room partitioned off on one end of a baking hot container, full of children all eager to learn more about Infinite Family.

In the computer room, 2 sixteen year old boys, Sizwe and Daddy, are eager to start. Their fingers jump swiftly over the keyboards, filling their profiles and writing emails. They are keen and clever with the computers. Later, in the container room with me, Daddy's clear, concise, intelligent prose blows me away. I tell him he is born to be a lawyer! He laughs with delight!

I want to go and fetch L.. I want him to witness the shining eyes and eager spirits of these boys. These boys who are longing for the right man to guide them...to show them the way...to keep from the crooked path and help them to realize their dreams for the future.

What Daddy needs, what Sizwe needs, what every young boy and girl needs is attention. A concerned, invested, admiring adult to be there...to believe in them...to encourage and support them. The stranglehold of apartheid does not have to claim these children, too. We are seeing the difference. Boys and girls thinking beyond matric and focusing on a future they would not have believed within their grasp, but because of the mentors of Infinite Family, they are becoming the children of hope...the leaders of tomorrow.

Until tomorrow...


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