Tuesday, November 30, 2010

With Rights comes Responsibilities

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Care and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) provided by the Life Skills, HIV/AIDS Education Program. This workshop was hosted in Mokopane (west of Polokwane in Limpopo), and brought volunteers involved in organizations which deal with OVC’s from around the area together for a week of education and inspiration. Most of us were active members in the Lutheran Church, so our education went hand in hand with biblical scripture and our spiritual beliefs, something which is atypical for an educational workshop in the United States. Mixing education and religion has always been a problem, but here it is comforting to be able to connect the two openly. During our week long workshop we learned about life skills, drug abuse, sexual abuse, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, sexuality education, first aid, and much more- things with which I am already familiar but could use a little refresher, especially when determining how they are affecting South Africa in particular and what is being done in response. I was not expecting to come away from this workshop with a completely altered perspective, but things often happen when you least expect them.

The first day in the workshop we started by listing out all the problems that children and youth in South Africa are currently facing. These problems included poverty, negligence, peer pressure, lack of confidence, teenage pregnancy, human trafficking, prostitution- and the list goes on. All of these problems combined are feeding into the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is currently crippling South Africa, so in order to put an end to HIV/AIDS, we need to start from the source- from the problems which we listed out. An HIV/AIDS free generation can start with the youth and children of today, so our care and support of these children is vital in our fight against this deadly disease.

In the new constitution of South Africa written in 1994, there is a Children’s Bill of Rights which lists out eight fundamental rights given to children. These rights were instated to ensure the proper care and support of all the children in South Africa, and yet to this day these basic rights are still being abused and denied. The rights include a right to a name and identity, the right to be fed, the right to shelter, the right to education and relevant information, and the right to protection, among others. If these rights are listed out in the constitution, how is it that the problems which are currently plaguing the youth and children of South Africa are still so prevalent? The fearless leader of our workshop, Nelly Tlakula, answered that question in a few simple words that changed my perspective forever, with rights comes responsibility. Rights can be given, but if they are not received with a certain amount of responsibility, then they become null and void.

When this Children’s Bill of Rights was established, responsibility was automatically distributed to society as a whole to hold firm these rights. Even the children, the receivers, are responsible. If you are given the right to a name and identity, it is your responsibility to create a positive association with that name. If you have the right to be fed, it is your responsibility to not be gluttonous or wasteful, but to take care of the food and be thankful. If you have the right to shelter, it is your responsibility to be respectful and keep that shelter clean. If you have the right to education and relevant information, it is your responsibility to take it seriously and listen and learn. If you have the right to protection, it is your responsibility to not expose yourself to unnecessary harms.

On the other side, society is also responsible for upholding this Bill of Rights. Parents, guardians, and adults should ensure that their children and all children around (especially OVC’s) have a shelter above their head, food on their table, proper schooling, and protection from harm. Providing these things for your own child is instinctual, but as adults it is our responsibility to provide this care for all children, as if they are our own. In a child headed family, who is there to protect? Who is there to provide food, shelter, and proper schooling? It is not the child’s responsibility to be the giver of these rights, but the receiver. Unfortunately too many orphans and vulnerable children have to fill both roles. They are only children, but are forced to be parents as well. They lose their rights and their childhood if they do not receive the care and guidance they deserve.

What rights are you given, and what are the responsibilities associated with those rights? What are the rights of others that you are responsible to help uphold? In our constitution in the United States of America we are each given the right to freedom of speech. What responsibility does that place on us? We must not use that right to inflict harm through our words or lack there of. The first may be obvious, but apathy and silence in the light of injustice is just as much of a violation of our right and responsibility as using our voice for harm. On the flip side, what responsibility do you have to ensure that others have the right to free speech? We must be tolerant and able to listen to many different views, and ensure that all are heard- even the homeless living in a cardboard box and your 97 year old grandmother.

I have a tendency to compartmentalize my life. The separation of my secular and sacred life makes it easier for me to deal with the contradictions between the two that I stumble across. Instead of addressing those contradictions and determining how I am going to resolve them personally, I simply separate my life into two categories and avoid the conflicts all together- I guess that is part of my non-confrontational manner. But with my experience here in South Africa, where religion freely pervades all life from classroom education to hospital wards, I am forced to de-compartmentalize. The rights we are given do not only come from our government here on Earth, but our higher “government” as well. What are the rights given to us by God? We are given the amazing right of choice- we get to choose who we love- whether it be our creator, false deities, or earthly possessions. God could easily have created us to always know and love him, and live perfect pious lives. But forced love means little- chosen love is much greater. As Christians it is our responsibility to be aware of this choice and do our best to live our lives accordingly. We do need to actively make this choice, and continually remind ourselves that money, fame, and other earthly rewards are blessings given by God and should not become the center points for our lives.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone took responsibility for the rights they were given- rights from earth and from heaven. It sounds simple, but being aware of the rights and consequent responsibilities that we have and actively responding instead of living our lives being unaware and passive can make a significant difference in this world.

~Heather Anne Nelson

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Aowa, eh-eh, UM-UM!

At the workshop I recently attended in Mokopane, we sang many songs during our break to keep our energy levels high and our brains functioning properly during our sessions. One song quickly became the theme song if you will for the workshop, as it was favored by everyone there and everyone got out of their chairs and would start dancing and singing excitedly. To get a flavor of typical "choruses" sung in and outside of church, attached is a video clip,, I hope to record more and more throughout the year! The song is simple and repetitive, so you may find yourself singing it as your day goes on. Just so you know what you are singing about the song is roughly translated as follows :

No, No, NO! Never have I met anyone like my Jesus! (repeat until you can no longer sing and dance!)

I encourage you to get up and dance along!

~Heather Anne Nelson

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

True Southern Hospitality

We call Masealama an island for a reason. Not only is there no running water and the electricity is hit or miss, but communication is also a major challenge. There are no landlines in Masealama, so the only possible means of communication is via cell phone, but network coverage is very rare. You are lucky if you can get two bars standing over the stove. So how do you stay connected with the outside world when you are stranded on this “island”??? The answer is—you don’t.

This past week I was supposed to attend a workshop on HIV/AIDS in a hotel two hours away in Mokopane. Monene (a lady I work with) and I left on Sunday night to Mokopane to check in to our rooms which we were very excited about—a week of running water!!! So we arrive at Oasis Lodge around 6 o’clock on Sunday night, only to be greeted by a receptionist who told us she didn’t have any reservations for our conference… Through many calls and speaking with the coordinator of the workshop, we came to find out that the date had been changed to next week, and everyone else who was attending the workshop was apparently informed, but those of us from Masealama were left off the radar. So now we are in a town 2 hours away from home with no car and no means of transportation because the taxis had already ended for the evening, and no place to stay for the night. Luckily, we were blessed with a very kind receptionist at the hotel named Sibongile, and she was nice enough to give us a room free for the evening! If I was in the States and stranded in a random town late at night, I am pretty sure I would have to pay for a room, but here we experienced an act of TRUE southern hospitality coming from the SOUTHERN hemisphere in SOUTH Africa. I look forward to returning next week for the actual conference J

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual Gala Dinner of the ELCSA Mphome Circuit, and although a power outage the night before limited the life of my camera's battery, I was able to capture this clip. Among other musical treats, the Kgapane Choir performed a very familiar tune which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although it was 32 degrees Celcius and ripe time to pick bananas off the trees outside, this Christmas tune reminded me of exactly what SEASON I am about to enter. Although it may not be the weather season which I expect, we are all about to enter into the best time of the year (in my opinion)- the church season of Advent and CHRISTMAS!!! It is time to bust out the Christmas music, as I will be doing! I'll be singing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" while wearing sandals and shorts and sweating under the sweltering heat of the South African summer sun... Won't be the same, but it is the Christmas season none-the-less. Enjoy the clip!

~Heather Anne Nelson