My husband and I traveled from our home in Alaska to South Africa in 2003. In mid-March we flew from snowy Glacier View to sunny and warm Cape Town. You can't get farther away in the world from Alaska than South Africa. Before leaving home, we made reservations for our first two night's lodging at a bed and breakfast in a small town near Cape Town. We took our host's recommendations for the next destination and repeated that pattern for two weeks.
We talked to people about the political situation and the lifting of apartheid. Discussions of Nelson Mandela were always full of respect for this amazing man.
Before this trip, we wrongly thought the wealthy white people of South Africa were neglecting the poor Black and Colored population (two very distinct races), but we found most white people trying to help ease the 30 per cent unemployment and poverty in their neighborhoods.
South Africa opened my eyes to see that poverty can be relieved by many people reaching out to help in small ways by creating jobs, teaching skills or donating food and clothing. Instead of depending on the government to bring about change, citizens were helping those in their sphere of influence. Their attitude isn't about fixing everything overnight, but creating opportunity by helping a few and not being paralyzed by the overwhelming problems of unemployment and AIDS. I learned that big change comes with efforts from several sources and also that helping people isn't about giving them money. It takes wisdom to effectively help poor people and to help them make baby steps out of poverty.
We returned to South Africa for several months out of four winters trying to help in small ways. My favorite memory is of jogging through Swellendam in the cool morning as people walked from their homes to work. Lovely smiles and “good morning” in Afrikaans and English greeted me every day. South Africa is a beautiful country full of beautiful, warm people.
Changing Places is a guest post series about the power of place to change us. You can find other stories in this series here. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me for submission details.