Poverty is Complicated

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Ottawa River (Canada)

We are back in Canada and enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, while preparing for our next adventure in South Africa.

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Knysna township May 1 – 2016

Poverty is complex. But does this diminish the social value of the more advantaged continuing to strive to better understand the less advantaged?

Statistics South Africa (2009) reports that 61% of children live below the poverty line, with 36% of children living in homes where no adults are employed. (While there are monthly child grants, grants for the elderly, disabled, etc, there is no welfare system for individuals on the basis of having ‘little to no income’ in South Africa.)

South Africa 2010-24

Some might argue: If poor people behaved more like middle class people, they wouldn’t be poor.

“…if I made you poor tomorrow, you’d probably start behaving in many of the same ways we associate with poor people.” Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir)

“Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.” (John Scalzi)

“All the data shows it isn’t about poor people, it’s about people who happen to be in poverty.  …it is not the person, it’s the context they’re inhabiting.”  “…people make bad decisions because they are poor.”  Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir)

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overlooking Knysna lagoon from the township

“In August, Science published a landmark study concluding that poverty, itself, hurts our ability to make decisions about school, finances, and life, imposing a mental burden similar to losing 13 IQ points.”   (Your Brain on Poverty: Why Poor People Seem to Make Bad Decisions – Derek Thompson)

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Sharldon (on bike) & Max (grade 9 – age 16)

Sharldon is 13 and dropped out of school last year. He was being bullied about the deformity to his right hand (see photo), and never learned to read. He approached Jim in the township asking if Jim would enrol him in the cycling program at Knysna Sports School. Jim visited the non-profit sports program and arranged for Sharldon to start.

BUT…while driving Sharldon to the cycling program his first day, he said something which made Jim wonder if he knew how to ride a bike. Nope, he had never ridden a bike! Next challenge…teach him. Jim drove Sharldon directly to Max’s house, since he knew Max had a bike. Max had just returned from school and immediately agreed to teach Sheldon to ride on the soccer field across the road. Within 20 minutes, Sharldon was riding on his own and able to attend the cycling program.

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the beauty of Cape Town – Clarke awaiting his flight to Canada

An unedited whatsapp message received a few days ago from a 16 year-old youth we’ve tutored and mentored the past 3 years:

“And yah lots of people in need are here in our country and its us black people.. We need mentors and role models and people to talk to all the time we need to talk and that’s u guys…We weren’t as privileged as other people in our growing we had and still have to work hard for a good life and working hard ain’t easy that’s why people like u are special they help us overcome challenges help us heal and realise other things we never realised in our growing. There’s a lot I could say about what u doing for us.”

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Athi

Jim met Athi in December (2015) and was impressed, but confused. Athi graduated high school 3 years previous, but was now 21 years old and doing little in life. Jim saw plenty of potential, but initially Athi was skeptical and avoided him. That soon changed, and Athi and Jim became good friends.

Sorting out the problems in Athi’s life was not easy, and continues, but there has been considerable progress. Lack of food, issues at home, and many losses in life.

Athi commenced the Hands & Heart skills-training program in late January 2016 and maintains contact with Jim in Canada. Like the many other youths whose education-related expenses are paid from your donations, your contributions sponsor Athi’s monthly tuition fees and make certain he has food to eat while he is “learning to fish.” Thank you.

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Roel Goris (to Janet’s left) – Bulele Group

During our final week in South Africa, the Bulele mentorship group invited a special guest. Roel Goris was the South African Ambassador to Thailand from 1992-1996, and during this period organized and accompanied President Nelson Mandela on a two week Southeast Asia tour.

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Roel and Prayer (grade 11)

Roel shared many interesting stories and experiences regarding the period preceding and following democracy, and the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. He also explained the role of a diplomat and purpose of having embassies in foreign countries.

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Buntu (grade 10 – driver’s seat) and Kweila (grade 11)

Roel’s sports car was a BIG HIT with the guys, and our meeting ended with a “photo shoot” which included many laughs!

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left: Jaendré (age 15) right: Chester (21)

Chester and Jaendré live in a small town 45 minutes west of Knysna. Like so many of the youth in the township where they reside, their home situations are not healthy. Many youth turn to drugs as an escape, and a few months ago Jaendré and Chester decided they wanted to stop smoking weed/ganja. It was a struggle, so Jim took them to the Knysna Drug & Alcohol Centre. In late April, Jim and the boys met with a social worker to commence the process of having both boys accepted into a 9 week residential drug rehab program. The social worker has visited the boys twice since we departed, but says the evaluation process still requires 2 more visits and additional paperwork.

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Chris – 3rd from left (hat, sunglasses, and dark blue shirt)

When the Khayamandi team of volunteers visited Knysna from America in January 2016, one couple quickly realized this was how they wanted to spend their lives. During their second visit to Knysna, Chris and Rebecca decided they would sell their business in the USA and move their young family to South Africa. Sound far-fetched? Not for this family. The business has sold, the house is for sale, and fundraising to sponsor their mission and October 2016 arrival in South Africa is going well. To better understand their motivation, I have Chris’s permission to share his recent email:

On Apr 30, 2016, at 11:45 PM, Chris wrote:   Dear Jim, Your life challenges mine to live differently. When reading your email posts I am constantly reminded of a scene from the movie Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. In the movie Ben Affleck’s character joined the British Air Force in an effort to get into the air faster to fight the enemy. In the scene Ben Affleck was being briefed by the Royal Air Force officer and Ben Affleck interrupted the officer and said, “sir, can we please skip all this unnecessary stuff and get me up in the air so I can start killing the enemy.” The officer replied, “are all you Yankees this anxious to die?” Ben Affleck responds, “I’m not anxious to die sir…I’m anxious to matter.” You may have never seen that movie, but the final quote is the point…I’m anxious to matter, Jim, and you my friend encourage me to do so. I am in awe of you and your wife’s servant hearts.  Sincerely, Chris

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