It would be irresponsible for me not to publicly react to Trump’s recent comments in reference to Haiti and South Africa. I spend a large part of my time thinking about South Africa, talking about South Africa and spending winters in South Africa. My husband Don and I are moved deeply by the history of South Africa, as well as by its amazing beauty, which we especially admire on our game drives.
But my heart is in South Africa not because of the country, but because of the hundreds of kids who have been dropped into my life there–kids who deserve to have their resiliency rewarded. These kids are exactly like all the kids I have ever known, and they could use some extra care. I am not in love with any country. I love people wherever they live. Is this not the human experience?
Of course President Trump’s insulting comments are inexcusable, unforgivable and beyond any decent person’s understanding. How sad that a person with his visibility cannot call on any sense of humanity. How sad that he is so isolated that he cannot see beyond his own little money-centered world. Some may say he lives a privileged life. He doesn’t. He is starving… starving from a lack of compassion. He is emotionally under-nurtured and desperately in need of being fed some life experiences outside of his comfort zone.
My heart aches that Trump never gets the opportunity to explore commonality beyond the measure of one’s wallet. Come down from your tower, President Trump, and find some value in your life through others. Be prepared to be surprised, to be shaken up, to live a little. Find the human you. Not in a building with your name on it, or in bed with a woman whose name you forget the next day.
No. Listen to the laughter, feel the love and witness the drive to survive in a shack, wherever it is. Soak up the pride of a single mom working two jobs, a dad who breaks his back to feed his family, a young adult struggling to find his/her sexual identity. Oh Mr. Trump, come, live a little!
I like to think I am an optimist. I hope we have reached the tipping point. Trump has lit a fire in all of us. The gentle ripples of caring are turning into waves of compassion. This past year is making us stand up and proclaim what we care about, as well as how we are going to care for each other, all around the world.
We are dropping labels and not just accepting differences, but embracing them. Elders are sharing their wisdom. Boomers are volunteering. Millennials are driving the passion with social medial and Crowd Funding. As humanitarians, our blood is boiling and each day our fires are lit and re-lit and re-lit to get out there and care and take care.
They say a movement starts with a whisper. Well, people are shouting now throughout the world, despite the president and his cronies.
So here’s something you don’t hear these days and I certainly never expected to say it: Thank you, President Trump. Thank you for unintentionally getting us all worked up to be the change you will never be.
Here’s how I do it—in South Africa.
Her name was “Enough” She was an angelic eight-year-old when we met. I was interviewing her 16-year-old brother, who was raising his four younger sisters after both their parents died from AIDS. Their story was heartbreaking; their struggles unimaginable, their hope for the future unstoppable. An hour after we wrapped the shoot Enough was raped by a neighbor. She walked alone in the night and reported the crime. The man was arrested.
One year, almost to the day, I stopped by the shack to visit this family again, to follow up, hoping that their lives would be better. It was the day of the trial. Enough testified and her rapist went to jail. We talked about how her bravery and resilience would carry her forward and help her family’s modest dreams come true. It was a tough but proud day for Enough.
Two years later, checking in again with footage from the first visit, I knocked on the door of the shack and was greeted by the brother. I learned that Enough had died from AIDS, infected by the rapist. Enough’s dreams ended. The siblings huddled around the footage we had shot on the first visit and cried.
A neighbor, a man in his thirties standing next to his own shack, told my son that this is how it goes down. A man without an education, living in post-apartheid poverty lines up for work at sunrise. He doesn’t get any work that day. There are no jobs the next day nor the next day nor the next. He has five children. At night he drinks. He drinks to drown. He doesn’t rape women. He falls in love and sees women as his road to riches, his path to regaining his pride because they can give him children. The children are his measure of wealth.
The stories I have listened to in South Africa are all poignant. The lessons have often been very sad, sometimes surprising and always powerful, but none so powerful as those of connection, commonality and compassion. It is in the children that I see the hope that Enough and her family had; the same hope the children in our own lives have.
The challenge is how to keep this hope alive. How do we make dreams come true? If we believe, really believe, in commonality, how can we turn away from a child, any child? How can we all be a part of our global village?
A team of South Africans and Americans have come together to be the “village,” the dream keepers, for the most vulnerable children in South Africa. What started out as a humble primary school has evolved into the Indwe Learning Centers, a model of progressive support. Indwe is Xhosa for the blue heron, the proud bird of South Africa–the only bird that does not look down when flying. The Indwe looks straight ahead as it soars.
At the first Indwe Learning Center, the Montessori methodology is in place, as is an ever-improving sports program and a solid library. In March 2018 we are launching a theater arts program that will incorporate children’s literacy, computer literacy, social skills, language skills, creative writing, story telling, history and giving back to the communities.
Don and I are in South Africa again this winter, collecting more stories. When at Indwe, I look into the eyes of each child and see those of my own son when he was growing. My heart beats one minute with gratitude and the next with concern as to whether or not we are doing Enough.
Mr. Trump, Africa and Haiti may be shitholes to you. To us they are people we know and love.