I was recently given a fantastic opportunity to head out to South Africa for a week at the beginning of May so that I could help do some filming for Soul Action, to capture a glimpse into the lives of those who are living in some of the poorest communities in Durban.
Even after numerous conversations with those who have travelled to this area in the previous years and months, I still wasn’t too sure what I could expect to see when I was out there.
I had been told that it would be difficult; seeing the conditions, the depth of poverty, that some of the people live with…I’m not sure I was really prepared for what I saw.
We’ve all seen countless photos and videos of poverty and those who are caught in extreme poverty. If you’re like me, I guess it’s easy to look at these images and want to help but will start to forget about it not long after, simply carrying on with our everyday lives.
Which, to be honest, is exactly what I did.
This was the first time I had experience poverty up close and it was clear that God had definitely challenged me throughout the week. Driving past some painfully large houses, buildings and shopping centres towards some of the poorest informal settlements in Durban was where I felt God particularly challenge me.
Sitting in a lovely restaurant in the largest, wealthiest, most extravagant shopping centre in South Africa, I started to look around me and wonder how many of these people – these shopping, eating, wandering around, enjoying their everyday life just like me people – know what is going on less than 10 minutes down the road?
As I thought and talked about it more, I came to the conclusion that not many of them would have any idea, just like so many of us. Is there a way that we can reveal the truth of lives lived in poverty that means we will all work together to make a change?
One of the things that stood out for me was a conversation with a girl just a few hours before. She lived in an informal settlement, houses made from scrap and mud…we found that she wanted to be a doctor when she’s older. But if I’m honest, it was just too difficult to know how realistic this was for her. Is that even possible? And if not, why not? Why can’t she follow her dreams? Should she be written off because of reasons that are not within her control, that aren’t her own fault, because she was born into poverty?
That seems entirely unfair…unjust…and I want to be someone who helps people like her achieve their dreams.
We also had the opportunity to visit loads of amazing organisations, one of which was called World Changers; the work they do has really stuck with me.
The project is aimed at young people who have come from a variety of backgrounds, but predominantly from some of the townships around Durban. Some have been affected by HIV/AIDS, losing family members to a preventable disease; many have lost hope in themselves and their future; some have lost God somewhere along the line of . It was amazing to talk to some of them who are working the project and to capture the joy that was clearly visible in their voices, especially when we managed to get their choir together! It was great to see what the project was doing in their lives and in the lives of some of their volunteers and experience a tiny snapshot of some of the teaching they receive in Christian leadership (especially as I am on Soul61!).
I will remember this project, so full of hope, for a long time.I’ve been back home for a couple of weeks now and since being back, I’ve really started to think about how this trip has changed me.I knew I didn’t want it to be just a trip; something where I would say I am going to change my life around completely and then after a week of being home, end up slipping back into normal everyday life and be the person I was two weeks before hand.
I also knew changing my entire living habits was slightly too extreme and, realistically, not possible straight away. I’ve been praying about how God wants me to use this experience, to be changed by the things I encountered over the week. So far, I think I need to take things in small steps. I can’t change everything immediately, but I can start looking at the small things I can be doing in my life to make sure I don’t forget what I saw, and to subsequently live in a different way.
I also want to encourage (and maybe challenge) you – if you get the chance to spend time in the developing world and experience what life is like for those living in extreme poverty – more than just watching videos and seeing pictures of their lives – I certainly couldn’t recommend it more!
It may not transform your life immediately, but small changes can make a big difference.