Several years ago I volunteered at Operation Job Creation (OJC) outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. OJC helps people who have been living in squatter camps or government-sponsored housing to achieve the goal of living on their own. The program offers transitional housing and job training and tries to equip these people, many of whom come from the countryside, for life in a modern city.
OJC is run by June and Pieter van der Nat, who have done so much to help those in need. As I have found in most of my volunteer experiences, I got much more out of my time working with June and Pieter than they got out of me. I did what I could, but what I learned by getting to know the individuals in the program far outweighed my small contribution. I met many people like Robert Molete, who came to OJC from the rural area outside Rustenburg with nowhere to stay and no job. Robert has now formed his own gospel choir, produced two albums, and built a home for his family.
While at OJC, I struck up a relationship with a Zulu orphan boy named Lebo Mtambo. Before I left, I told June and Pieter that I wanted to help them take care of Lebo and his half-brother, Sipho. Since then, I have been able to provide some financial assistance to the boys, communicate with them regularly, and get back to see them every year or two. This summer, I went to South Africa and took Lebo and Sipho to the opening game of the World Cup.
On the morning of the opening ceremonies, I saw Archbishop Desmond Tutu interviewed on television. The reporter asked whether, with all its problems, South Africa should have taken the money it spent on stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup and instead spent it on food and care for the poor. The archbishop replied that this was the greatest day since Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president of South Africa. He said that what South Africans, and indeed all Africans, need most is confidence in themselves and hope that they can accomplish their goals.
The excitement in the country was indeed incredible. I have been to many big sporting events in my life, but nothing like this, where an entire country is abuzz. Sure, they were excited about Bafana Bafana, the national team, and hoped they would do well. And sure, they love soccer (they call it that, too, just like we do in the States). But mostly the elation was pride in their country and in their continent, both of which have had many doubters.
You could feel the confidence and hope everywhere. The people were pulling off something many thought could never happen. I saw it up close in Lebo and Sipho. They now sense possibilities for themselves and for their country that they never would have before.
There are indeed many obstacles to be faced. That is why Archbishop Tutu’s words ring true. Having seen individual South Africans transform their lives for the better and witnessed the inspiration a great success like the World Cup can provide, I, for one, sure wouldn’t bet against Africa as it seeks to make its own transition.
If you have stories of how confidence and hope have helped you or people you know make positive transitions in their lives, please share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COFOUNDER & CEO
This appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of AFAR Magazine