Thursday, 16 August 2012

Some Ideas on Poverty in South Africa

I realized it's more than a month after I originally wrote this blog about my personal experience in this public health program in Cape Town.  So what happened in the last month?  First of all, I had a fever right after finishing my final exam at UCT.  More precisely, the time was that Thursday afternoon when everyone was done with the class and went to the top of table mountain.  Most of the time there, I was having heat in the forehead and coldness in my arms and legs alternating torturing me.  But still, at the times when I could function a little bit, I walked slowly and tried to pose for nice pictures. :)
And then it was almost time for us to say goodbye to each other.  It was just too sad that I got fever again on the trip back.  Transferring at Doha when local temperature was over a hundred degrees at midnight while having a fever was no fun.  I was by myself to go back to China to stay with my families for the rest of the summer.  
So I got back home.  And the flu did not get better after two weeks.  I was shocked by the length myself and the explanation I came up with was that the air pollution was too bad that my immune system was weak due to the pollution.
But thank lord I'm okay now.  I'm in a chain cafe in Hong Kong right now.  I travelled with my laptop from home to use the unblocked Internet here.  Sorry to everyone who's been waiting for me to share my experience.  I hope it's not too late to share my memories and feelings this summer in South Africa.

In this blog entry, I am going to share with you some of my thoughts on poverty at the end of this program.  The ideas might not be deep and might sound cliche, but they all came from my own experience and every word I say comes from my sincere mind.  I really appreciate the chance to form my own ideas after experiencing South Africa for seven weeks.  Meanwhile, I hope these words are throwing stones into lakes.  May the waves they excite inspire you to one day learn more about South Africa and check all the happy, sad stories out.

I still remembered sitting at freshmen convocation dinner ten months ago, and our dean Katherine S. Newman said something that has the meaning of "You might not realize, but your time here at Hopkins will help you gradually understand how truly privileged you are, and you will share your privilege with people who are far less fortunate."  I had never better understood her until I came to South Africa, and this experience redefined my conception of poverty.With amazing shores, mountains, wild winters, bustling Long St., fashionable markets and prosperous business, Cape Town is a paradise for many.  Yet, if one digs deeper, he sees townships, jobless people wandering, children playing on the street unattended, shacks, and clothes hanging outside of homes, all of which only contradicts the paradisiacal picture of Cape Town.  Poverty, a word I use to summarize the later picture, turned out to mean a lot more than its literal meaning, as our program here comes to an end.Poverty means Ubuntu.  As a contrast to how people live in luxurious apartments and seldom talk to each other in China, people in townships are close.  People walk in and out of other's house; a whole community gathers to attend someone's funeral; people show up at dinnertime and join other families for dinner.  Not necessarily I would want to be part of this culture, but it's still nice to see how people here interacts.  (As a matter of fact, I feel more comfortable with my neighbors at a distant.)  What's more interesting is, in spite of the closeness, people seem to keep things to themselves at the same time.  For example, people seem to be reluctant to being spotted seeking help for HIV/AIDs. Poverty means boredom.  I thought I had bored times in my life until I spent some time in townships.  People do nothing and that is what they do everyday.  And I could honestly not imagine any one in the organized, always busy world I come from, to live a life like that.  As a respect for the culture, I should not say it is a bad thing.  But somehow I still feel some people here could have worked harder and they just laid back and waited for aid.  Isn't that boring?Poverty means wasting electricity every second.  The lights in townships are always on days and nights in Soweto, in Langa, in Guguletu, in Khayelitsha.  And nobody seems to care about this.Poverty means sad childhood.  Young parents abandon new-borns, siblings take care of each other, no storybooks and toys for them and nobody seems to care if they have fun.  It's heartbreaking to think about how different lives the children in different countries are having and think of my little brother who has a room of toys, robots, dinosaurs and Legos.  My parents' generation fought hard for the wellbeing of their children but what did parents here do?  Poverty didn't even give them the chance to have the courage of pursuing a brighter future.However, generalization is far from enough to tell the story of South Africa.  I see endless kind people doing great work at Ikamva Labantu.  I hear about people in other NGOs putting their efforts to change the situation.  Moreover, I engage in work that seeks to improve people's lives here.  I can spend a whole day talking about anecdotes and personal highlights, about what our research is and what we found out.  More importantly, I began to acknowledge how extraordinarily lucky I am, to have everything I've had in my life.  I appreciate every little things in my life and I feel so ready to share my privilege with the less fortunate in the future—I might not know yet how, but it is a must.