Could you dumb that down for me please?

If anyone missed it, the United Kingdom is currently trying to extract itself from the European Union i.e. Brexit. This has been one of the most contentious national issues in the UK, ever. No one seems to understand what Brexit will mean for UK citizens. In mid-November, a draft withdrawal agreement (between the UK and EU) was presented by the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May. The media tried to help us understand the document’s contents.

If we really want to understand what is on offer, we could read the document but we’re just not going to do that, are we? It is 585 pages long, will contain big words, stuff that goes right over our heads and many particular elements that don’t interest us. At the end of the day, most of us want a nice bite-sized summary that gives us the gist of what is going on. However, in reducing a 585-page document, the media is bound to dumb things down a bit and we end up not getting the full story, creating our own ‘fake knowledge’ and, despite our good intentions, not actually understanding the situation fully at all.

Recently, I was visiting Dabane Water Workshops (WDR partner) in Zimbabwe. What an impressive outfit they are; working with local people to access water and address broader water management issues and livelihoods in rural areas. One conversation with Stephen Hussey, the Director, stays with me.

Why is there water scarcity in parts of Zimbabwe? If you were standing by the riverbanks as I had been, the answer would seem obvious; there is no water in the rivers because the rains are seasonal and when rivers do flow, they may only flow for a few days. That’s the simple answer or the ‘dumbed down’ answer, if you like. It seems to make perfect sense, satisfies a superficial interest or concern and can be used to give rise to some simple (dumbed down?) opinions, even solutions.

 The Mahwanke River in September

The Mahwanke River in September

When Stephen and I discussed why there was water scarcity where these people lived, his answer was much more complex. Indeed, rains are sporadic and inconsistent. Why? Well, the changing rainfall patterns, he sees as part of the documented global climate change. Immediately, any long-term solution is now going to need to address that massive problem and it involves governments and their policy making, not just a local water project on the Mahwanke River. So why don’t people move nearer more reliable water sources? Where they are now, may be the only land they have as a result of colonialists taking the better irrigated and productive land. So now we’re into colonial history and land rights. How are these factors, perhaps defined centuries ago, addressed justly? That question brings in national and local leadership. Let’s not forget tribalism. And then there is the question around why countries like Zimbabwe don’t have the wherewithal to sort out these problems. Yes, there has been corruption and leadership deficiencies but there is also a global economy dominated by the rich West. It is extremely difficult for developing countries to get a foothold in international markets, get fair deals and benefit sufficiently in order to improve the lot of their citizens.

 Tim listening to Stephen outside the Dabane offices

Tim listening to Stephen outside the Dabane offices

 So why have people in Matabeleland been struggling to access sufficient water? It’s complicated and, therefore, the solutions are not straightforward.

Many of us are genuinely concerned about the plight of the materially poor. But we mustn’t be lazy in trying to understand the “Why?” and the “How can we best respond?”. Let us commit to going a little deeper in our understanding of people’s suffering so that we can get more fully behind good potential solutions or lobby for necessary change to happen.

And was that the full explanation of why some people in Zimbabwe do not have access to water? No. It’s even more complicated than that. I dumbed it down a bit so we could all try to understand it a little better. Sorry about that…

Constantly Learning

Rev. Jools Hamilton co-led a team of young adults from the Methodist Church in Ireland to South Africa, to explore themes of justice and leadership. As part of their visit, the team spent some time with the Church Land Programme (WDR Partner). Here Jools shares some thoughts on their work and the uphill battle they face. 

Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. And we need the eyes to see that.

The Church Land Program in South Africa, is a great example of pushing back some of the injustices of this world hectare by hectare. It was established in 1996 to help face some of the injustices from the years of colonial rule and apartheid.

Historically when a colonial power steps in, it usually does so with superior military might, and that superiority is used to forcefully take what has not been theirs, and hold it by force. In a South African context this has meant violent capture of resource (land) followed by brutal defense of it. 

When everything changed in 1994 land became a big agenda item for the churches. All the mainline churches found themselves as significant landowners, in a land where their members were landless. Land the Church now owned, in a privileged position, which historically had belonged to many people sitting in it’s pews. An interesting position for an organization that’s exists on the example of a Christ who washed his followers feet? 

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Since 1996 CLP has been involved in different ways to return land to black land owners, and have the land (a vital place of identity and resource in the African continent) as a sustainable and just component of life for everyone.

They are on an uphill battle, and they fight it well. 

But here’s the thing. 

There were more evictions of black and colored people in South Africa from white owned land during the 10 years after apartheid than the 10 years before apartheid ended.

Political agreement has not brought Peace. 

In a land where, as apartheid ended, white people were 13% of the population owning 80% of the land, change had to be strategized and resourced with bold action. The work of the Church Land Program, its ‘raison d’être’ of speeding up land reform, is a light of actionable hope in the midst of the giants of capitalism, colonial history, human nature and socio–geo–political obstinance corruption and incompetence.

And so they are clear – they don’t think they have ‘arrived at a solution’ and aim to implement it. They have been on a 20–year journey from fixing the problem to discovering the same solution doesn’t work everywhere, to now being in solidarity with those in the struggle. They are therefore in a constant place of learning.

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The time I and a team of young leaders from the Methodist Church in Ireland spent with them recently challenged all of us to, as per their example, be in a constant place of reflective learning and practice. 

Yet – how can I listen to their story and not feel my heart sink?

More people were thrown off land in the 10 years after apartheid than the precious 10 years. Cleansing ‘space’ to keep ‘self’ guarded and safe? 

Belfast has more ‘peace walls’ now than it did when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Building walls to keep ‘us’ in and ‘them’ out, to keep ‘self’ guarded and safe?

There are better ways to keep humans grounded and safe that do not involve building walls, creating segregation and sectarian violence … it was a pleasure to witness just one of many groups concerned with a just and sustainable solution to land distribution in one part of the world that has suffered massively from issues of the land giving leadership and inspiration in this area.

Visit their website to learn more: http://www.churchland.org.za/ 

[This post originally appeared on www.joolshamilton.com]

MEET South Africa 2018

In July 2018, a team of young adults visited South Africa as part of a team organised by WDR, World Mission Partnership and IMYC.  Such visits are aimed at growing people’s faith and understanding of the world, enabling them to better serve God and his people. MEET South Africa 2018 have many more stories to tell. Contact them via our office. 

In this blog a few of the team share about their time with 2 of our partners; Church Land Programme and Phakamisa

“ONE!” shout I (Jools) and quickly Zoe echoes “TWO!”. By the time Gemma gets to “EIGHT!”, we know that Ben, Chris, Jill, Bethany and Emma are all in the room/bus/plane. One in, all in. In July, the MEET South Africa 2018 team – Methodist, Explore, Engage and Tell - threw ourselves into learning from a wildly different culture, in order to more fully understand issues of justice, poverty and leadership.

We were to experience a different way of being Methodist. A way that meant during morning prayers with Phakamisa, you better have your dancing shoes on because those grannies are going to sing and pray in a way that will rock you like you’re in a boat. Ways that provide phenomenally high (and sought after) standards of education for black, Indian, and coloured children as the staff are raising Christian leaders of integrity for a new South Africa. Ways of being Methodist that cross ethnic, racial and economic barriers so the worshipping people of God can be known as a family that embraces all.

One thing remains - whether on retreat at a beautiful beach, being filled with stillness through deep and caring sharing or being challenged by the deprivation of shack-living, we were family, and our understanding of God and of our Methodist family grew immeasurably. 

Church Land Programme

 Emma & Sane

Emma & Sane

I (Emma) met Sane in Cato Crest, an informal settlement in Durban consisting of over 6,000 families, where she has lived her whole life. With a college degree in human resources, she was very articulate and described to me the conditions in which she lives. Her greatest challenge, was the lack of consistent (and legal) electricity. It was most difficult when studying for exams because at home she was unable to revise due to the lack of light to see her books.

The Church Land Programme (CLP), a World Development & Relief partner, works alongside those who are landless by listening and understanding people’s specific circumstances. CLP works with the intention of seeing those living in material poverty empower themselves and change their own situation, especially in relation to land injustices. Graham Philpott, the director of CLP, described the listening aspect of their work as a “political act” which affirms people’s right to speak for themselves. Sane appreciated the chance to be heard and said the government does not recognise those in settlements as people, never mind hearing what they have to say. Sane, and approximately 600 families in her area, have connected with CLP. She is now a volunteer teacher of a political class in Cato Crest, teaching the next generation about South Africa’s land issues and context. She hopes this will enable young voices to be heard and be a stepping stone to shaping future leaders. Her wishes to see the future decision-makers of South Africa be leaders that are truly for the people.

I learned so much from listening to the very wise members of CLP and the welcoming, inspiring and open people in the settlements. Land issues in South Africa are complex and I still have much to learn but I do know that God is present in these situations and CLP share His strength and hope, glorifying Him in all they do.

Phakamisa

Phakamisa is a ministry of Pinetown Methodist Church and a partner of World Development & Relief. ‘Phakamisa’ is Zulu for ‘to uplift’ and from the moment we arrived our spirits were uplifted, as we met women seeking to uplift the most vulnerable members of their communities. They had identified the oldest and youngest members up to 50km around Durban who would benefit. There are now about 1,700 women and 6,000 orphans connected to their ministry.

The director, Thokozani Poswa, was passionate about her work and this impacted us. We spent time with the caregivers’ programme; It focuses on Gogos (grandmothers) who need an income or new skills to support their families, often including grandchildren who have lost one or both parents. A day for a Gogo at Phakamisa might consist of morning aerobics (you can imagine our feeble attempts) followed by devotions and then classes in skills such as sewing, cooking, literacy, beadwork or gardening.

What most impacted me (Bethany) was the Educare programme which trains young women in their community to teach children aged 0-6 in pre-schools. We met Thandi and Nomalanga, employed by Phakamisa in their ‘Wandering Schools’ in settlements. Coming from education in Ireland, to see the lack of resources, was heart-breaking. Seeing 30 children in a room no bigger than my living room, with holes in the walls and ceiling, no access to water, bathrooms or electricity; well I could only marvel at these teachers. But this was not a place of sorrow. Beyond the ramshackle rooms and financial difficulties was such joy, constant praise and dancing.

 One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

Because of Phakamisa, grandmothers and children are leading enriched lives. I wish I could bottle up the pure joy and passion we experienced because even an ounce of it would change me and even the church in Ireland.

The Members of MEET South Africa 2018 continue to be “One in, all in” and are:

Gemma Barclay (IMYC), Jools Hamilton (Trinity College Dublin), Zoe Cummings, Emma Dunwoody, Jill Fergie, Ben McGurk, Chris Patterson & Bethany Stephens. 

 The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa

The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa