Learning Life Lessons Volunteering in South Africa
In Zandspruit, a place where most homes are simple tin shacks and the bulk of families cannot afford to eat three meals a day, people hold their heads up high and walk with smiles stretching across their faces.
My reason for volunteering in South Africa was to introduce a new program to the HOPE Centre: VSL, which stands for Village Savings and Loans. VSL is an economic strengthening methodology that helps people save money, make profit on their savings, and take out loans. Groups of 8-15 people are formed and HOPE trains them on the methodology throughout a cycle (about 1 year.) Each group also elects a Health Activist we train on varying applicable health matters (ex: diabetes, nutrition, diarrhea, HIV, etc.) They, in return, provide the newly learned health education to their group. At the end of the cycle, the group’s money is shared out proportionally, based on how much each person saved, and they then have the opportunity to continue with a new cycle in which they will be able to operate independently. VSL offers a form of insurance in places where people often do not have money stored away for a rainy day. We hope the program will complement our existing ambitions of improving people’s health and access to health care, thus continuing to increase their standard of living.
It’s hard for me to believe that my two week volunteer mission in South Africa has come to a close. The saying “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” has never seemed more valid.
This trip has made me think very soulfully about life and our purpose on earth. Life is a blessing; it is a confusing gift we must all sort out. At the end of the day, I always return to a phrase I was raised with: tikkun olam (pronounced tee-koon oh-lohm.) It is a Hebrew saying, meaning “repairing the world” or “making the world a better place.” My experience in South Africa has reinforced my passion for acting on this central belief. There is such a wide disparity in the world, whether you come from a country that provides a myriad of opportunities for its citizens, such as the United States, or from a township in a country where there are few opportunities for most of citizens, like Zandspruit – the relativity is poignant.
Acts of kindness and a common HOPE for a brighter tomorrow can make all the difference in the world. As Americans, we get so caught up in our “first world problems.” I, myself, have been known to complain when the air conditioning is broken or a restaurant has overcooked my steak. In Zandspruit, a place where most homes are simple tin shacks and the bulk of families cannot afford to eat three meals a day, people hold their heads up high and walk with smiles stretching across their faces. These people laugh often and relish in the beauty of the little things.
Before I left South Africa, Tsholofelo (our field officer)and I hosted an interest meeting to introduce the Village Savings and Loans (VSL) concept to the community. A man named David Nesengani attended. He is a pastor from Healing World Ministries here in Zandspruit. His stoic presence was heart-warming as he sat through our meeting, front and center, expressing his gratitude in careful English. “Your work here truly makes a difference in people’s lives.,” he said. “This is what is important. It is about people coming together and working together to better ourselves. Project HOPE is a very fine organization and the people will be very grateful for your work. I encourage you to have more one-on-one sessions about VSL with people because it is such a good thing.”
Another person named Solomon attended the meeting with his wife, Dorah. He spoke of forming a VSL group comprised of pensioners to help them manage their money, since they only get paid once a month. He told Tsholofelo in Sepedi, “thank you for bringing such a program to Zandspruit. It will help us pensioners to manage our money.”
This, my friends, is what it is all about! Project HOPE touches lives. We bring HOPE and opportunity to places where it is difficult to find. I have never felt more proud to be a Hopie.