Magic moments

Have you ever fully relished a moment? Life becomes slow and fast, real and surreal, all at the same time. It’s full and peaceful.

When I traveled to the Western cape last week, I had four moments like this and wow I am so grateful.

  1. Surfing in Muizenberg
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A borrowed surfboard, rented wetsuit, and very happy tourist in Muizenberg.

I’ve always wanted to try out surfing, and turns out Capetown has some of the best beginner surfing! I never fully stood up, but I got close. As the water splashed me in the face, I emerged, riding a wave, somehow half-standing, looking at the beautiful mountains surrounding me, and light glistening in the water.

  1. Running through Kristenbosch gardens

 

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Running is the best. It’s freeing, empowering, and honestly just makes me happy. And running in Kirstenbosch gardens brought me to a new level of euphoria. I soaked it in.

  1. Looking a Great White Shark in the eye
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White Shark Projects, Gansbaai, Westerncape, South Africa.

For literally over six months I’ve wanted to go cage diving with sharks and you guys, I’m here to tell you that dreams really do come true. I was nervous and cold. Great White Sharks are massive creatures. Nonetheless, I climbed in. I looked into the open sea. And suddenly, it felt like instantly, there was a Great White Shark in front of me, close enough to touch. Her big black eyes stared at me, and then she disappeared into the open space.

  1. Sitting on a bench in Gansbaai, looking out at the rocky ocean

 

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I’ve met a lot of really wonderful people in South Africa. People I will miss dearly. People I love. And as I looked at the waves crashing onto the rocks, I just accepted that in this place, right now, I love them. I don’t know how those relationships will change, especially as I return to the United States, but that’s okay. Because in that beautiful moment, I felt it all, accepted it, enjoyed it, and was at peace.

Creation was and is so central to relishing moments for me. It is referenced over and over in scripture, linked to knowing God.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,

So pants my soul for You, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:1)”

Appreciating His creation causes my mind to think slower, my heart to feel more, and my soul to find peace. It’s something that I so desire for the children of Mamelodi and often find at odds with illegal dumping and the burning piles of trash being consumed by free roaming cattle and goats.

For the months of April and May, the City of Tshwane identified more than 20 illegal dumping sites where waste is frequently burned, releasing toxins into the air and exposing vulnerable members of the community to harmful material. Air, water, and land are all affected. The void between people and creation is widened.

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About a month ago, I visited the Heatherly municipal dumpsite, where drug users actually live and collect recyclable material to feed their habit. Trash spans as far as you can see.

All the while, schools are under-resourced across Mamelodi creating barriers for children to learn.

While I was in the Westencape I relished in moments, but I also learned about solutions to waste accumulation in the townships, such as the White Shark Project Swop Shop. Swop shop models have been implemented in the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa with great success. Essentially, swop shops allow for recyclable material to be traded for goods that meet the basic needs of the community. Recycle material is given a point value which in turn can be used to purchase anything from school supplies to used clothing.

I am launching The Thandanani Swop Shop. This concept sees the potential of Mamelodi’s recycling micro-economy, which currently works to line the pockets of drug dealers, and seeks to redirect those resources into the education of children.  As part of the shop’s opening, the community will be educated by Tshwane city officials, who focus on waste education. This educational workshop will focus on what material is recyclable, the proper way collect these materials and possible dangers, as well as review the benefits of recycling and stewarding the environment well.  The swop shop model targets children primarily as the collectors to maximize the impact on Mamelodi’s culture surrounding waste and littering in the future.

By incentivizing children to recycle, we estimate that household waste will be diverted from landfills and illegal dumping sites. The perception of waste will be transformed in the community from a nuisance into a valuable opportunity for sustainable development.

Aid will be distributed to the community ethically and sustainably. Since children will work to purchase goods in the shop, we will avoid crating a dependency cycle in the community.  Children will learn value and trading skills, which will equip them to function as adults in the global economy later on in life.

The community will be incentivized towards maintaining and caring for public spaces, restoring ownership and pride in Mamelodi, thereby encouraging further investment. Our environmental awareness curriculum will ensure that future Mamelodian’s understand the full impact of illegal dumping as well as the potential of zero waste societies. These educational initiatives will therefore promote public health and create civic-minded citizens.

To get this project off the ground, we are raising funds for school supplies.

Will you consider partnering with the Thandanani Swop Shop to build the next generation of responsible citizens?

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Narratives (part 2)

I’ve been working on conducting interviews in Mamelodi to get a full, documented understanding of how Mamelodians see and interact with the waste around them. So I started with my friend Thabiso, who I met in the Summer Jam Bible study.

I’ve been asking around the community, what three words would you use to describe Mamelodi and he said: community, greatness, devastated.

And three words he used to describe the illegal dumping sites: habit, circumstance, reality.

We discussed the origins of Mamelodi as a place where people would move to from their hometowns to work in the city. It was a space that brought people together with a common purpose. But now, Thabiso said, the sense of community has been run down and overtaken by individualistic attitudes.

One prevalent manifestation of this is the pull that many young people feel to leave Mamelodi once they can afford to. Thabiso opened up about his own struggle to stay in Mamelodi once he graduates, admitting that there is a desire to stay, but he’s unsure what he’ll do when the time actually comes.

Nevertheless, he said something profound about transformation in his community. That, “if you see a problem, you are the one equipped to fix it.” He reminded me of why I started thinking about trash in Mamelodi in the first place. I was on the way to another day teaching kiddos English and I saw a cow eating a pile of burnt trash on the side of the rode. This image was burned into my mind. It honestly seemed post-apocalyptic to me and I’ve struggled for a few years now to understand it. I suppose even after three months of asking questions, I still struggle to understand it. Somehow though, I believe that the Lord will equip me to address illegal dumping sites in Mamelodi.

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An illegal dumpsite where I collected trash ash to use as an artistic medium.

This week, I attempted to transform that shocking image from years ago and create new ones with the ash. I’ve been meditating on Isaiah 61, at the suggestion of a friend from church.

“To give them beauty for ashes,

the oil of joy for mourning,

the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

that they might be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.

And they shall rebuild the old ruins,

They shall raise up the former desolations,

And they shall repair the ruined cities,

The desolations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:3,4).”

In line with most of the community activities I’ve planned in Mamelodi, I spent a lot of time planning what to do and then everything changed for the better at the last minute. LOL.

I had planned to paint a mural on my own for a local drug and substance abuse drop in centre named Thandanani, and ended up coordinating an art class of sorts for special needs Mamelodians. I collected trash ash from the nearest illegal dumping site, brought some paint, and got the class started. In hindsight, I find it fitting that these people, the least of these, people who are outcast, created beauty for ashes to transform Mamelodi’s narrative.

Indeed, Jesus taught,

“Blessed are the poor in sprit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:2-6).”

A township that many are looking to leave, devastated by decades of racist policies and laws, can be rebuilt, it’s story can be repainted, and it’s people encouraged by the truth of the gospel. Narratives are powerful and stories can change perspectives. Like the story Nathan told King David in 2 Samuel 12, which lead to repentance, transformation, and new life.

Please pray for me as I continue to work with populations on the fringes, the disabled and those struggling with addiction. May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in the Lord’s sight (Psalm 19: 14).