Sunday, September 14, 2014

Social Justice 101

Today I attended Common Good's "Social Justice 101". What an awesome presentation put together by the Common Good Team. Challenging us once again to think about our response to poverty and the marginalized of our city. Our attitudes to those who are living in poverty and how we respond to social injustice in our city. I pretty much work in a job where everyday I am challenged with poverty. 70% of the children who attend our school are still 20 years after democracy living in informal housing. Informal housing is a fancy way of saying "shack"! We have become so good at disguising problems with our fancy lingo. Basically it means they have no running water, they have electricity if they are lucky and usually this is secured via unstable connections run between shacks. Usually there are 5 or more people living in a tiny structure built with whatever materials could be secured to build their home. Often these homes are ravaged by fire like seen in the picture below. These are some of the children's homes destroyed earlier this year by a fire caused from a gas explosion in one of the shacks. It spreads quickly and the many people are affected as people live on top of one another and the fire is quickly spiraled out of control.
Some days as I deal with these kids I find myself completely overwhelmed with the need, and I am unable to handle the emotions and tears overwhelm me. Other days I get angry at the children for the way they just expect everyone to do everything for them. One of our students is trying to raise money to go on the LRC Camp at the end of the year. It costs R2000 plus, a ridiculous amount of money for a family to raise in Imizamo Yethu. Onela is determined and is fiercely selling hot dogs two days a week for a mere R6! Often I will have kids in my office, "Miss Debbie buy us a hotdog! Please I don't have money", and I get mad at the attitude behind the ask. Often these are the same kids we confiscate expensive cell phones from, or kids we have caught smoking pot which probably cost them a pretty penny. So what is my response to them supposed to be. Often in the poverty cycle we just perpetuate the problem by continually giving handouts. Every person is created in the image of God. Every person derserves to be treated with dignity, respect and deserves "shalom". I cannot say it better than Tim Keller does in the video clip below. Click on the link below. I think as a person who cares deeply for the poor and marginalized of our city I will always find my life in conflict. Does this mean I just give up and say there is just too much or do I try and make a difference where I can and try not to be overwhelmed. I think I often need to ask God to help me discern how I respond and always check the attitude of my heart in my response. Is it to make me feel better, like I have ticked a box or is it because I genuinely care for the person in need. Do I look at them and see that they are intrinsically valued as a person created by God. Cape Town as a city has become really good at perpetuating the divide between rich and poor. The mere fact that our suburbs are clearly demarcated is proof of this. Classism persists and people care about whether they live above or below the railway line. Our southern suburbs schools continue to keep out the so called riff raff by screening children they take in by financial standards. Families will purchase property so as to make sure that a child can go to a certain school. Crazy systems like putting your child's name on a waiting list the moment they are born to try and ensure acceptance to a particular school. We care about social status getting into the "right " schools mixing within the right social circles and when we respond to the poor it is often to make us feel better about ourselves. We don't like to have the beggars at our window so we will try to organize them a quick fix in the hope of clearing up our neighbourhood, or so that we don't have to look at them and engage in uncomfortable conversation. Our constant striving to keep up with the Jones'. Poverty is a complex issue and our response to it is important as followers of Christ. Someone once said teach a man to fish and you will feed him for life, this is true but oh so cliched. I think I prefer the proverb about walking in another man's shoes for a while before we judge them. Trying to understand them and seeing a person's intrinsic worth will help us in our response to their poverty. With all our stuff and need for things sometimes I think we are the ones stuck in a different kind of poverty!

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