October 07, 2008

Delft..early beginnings

Delft is one of the townships or settlements of the Cape Town region. I met one of the families who live there at a Baha'i holy day event back in March. The parents were interested in starting children and youth classes for moral and spiritual education; i was interested in teaching a children's class and getting to know them.

I was lost the first time visiting Delft. I had to wait for Phamela to come pick me up on the main road which runs through it. While sitting on the side of the road, my soul spoke to me in a way that was a sign of my heart's attraction to living in Africa. It was welcoming me to this area, as if I felt like i belonged here. If the children weren't in the car, and if I didn't need to meet Phamela (we coincidentally have the same name), I would have walked all along the street, up and down, excited to explore and say hello to people. But instead I had to sit there containing what desire my heart felt to meet my new brothers and sisters of this area.

What I love about this township is its integration of cultures and simplicity. I love that every person I smile at smiles back. I love the atmosphere of down-to-earth, humble people who are joyful and kind despite the hardships, who are rich in culture despite the history of oppression against them, and the camaraderie which seems to exist because of isolation and desolation.

After months of coming weekly, developing relationships and trying to nurture children's classes, the xenophobic attacks and rain came, and almost all the efforts seemed to be fruitless. I felt so conscious of not giving up. At one point it was suggested i could begin focusing my efforts on another township where there is interest in beginning children's classes, but i knew i must press onward and look at each effort as part of one big embryonic process. Then one day when it was raining and my children didn't especially want to go, i found myself faced with that decision of being lethargic or arising to serve. I chose to arise and serve. When we arrived, no one was outside.

After suggesting to ayana, dyami and domani that we pray, one of the jr. youth came outside to our car. We were talking inside the car while it continued to rain outside. Then the door of one of the homes opened up -- it's a home with 5 children, 4 of which come to classes. I came out of the car to say 'Molo, Sisi' to the mama and we started talking about the classes. I explained that when it rains we have no way of having a class outside. She had suggested her home for an inside space the previous week, but with the rain and the very small size of her living area, I had no expectation of being able to use her home for a class. As we were talking, the man in her home who is the community activist was listening to our conversation. [I had met him before when sitting on the curb one time playing with the children -- we had spoken about a gardening project and how much i would love to work with the people growing food.] He then spoke to me, saying i could use his home that day for the children's class! It was so exciting!! We ran down the block, in the rain, to his home, while the children from that woman's home ran around inviting children to come to the class. It went so well that day because it was the first time we had a good indoor space to hold a class -- and because the divine confirmations were flowing as a result of our decision to arise with determination and serve the children of Delft!

That evening my cell phone rang while i was at the grocery store -- it was Siboleke, the man who let us use his home that morning. What a surprise it was to hear from him! He was proud to announce that he and his wife had consulted and decided to open their home every Saturday morning for the children's class! I felt like i was floating on a cloud; it was such a feeling of elation and gratitude. After all the times of driving out there, of developing bonds of friendship and trust, and of facing many obstacles and challenges which tested my ability to pure-heartedly carry forward with radiant determination, here came that moment of God's gracious favors in the form of a space to hold children's classes.

Since then, the weekly classes have attracted at least 25 children from ages 2-13. It reached a point where i could no longer manage any sense of order unless additional teachers were assisting with the various age groups. I asked Dominique Sylvester, a Baha'i youth who speaks Afrikaans, if he was interested in working with the jr. youth -- he lives in the area and is currently being trained as a jr. youth animator facilitator. It is wonderful that he was happy and able to commit! The jr. youth enjoy him and it is very fun after classes when he plays soccer with us -- everyone wants to either be on his team or try their best to beat him because he's so good.

A friend of mine, Annick, who is from the DRC and is learning English, also was happy to come and commit to helping -- she takes the 2-5 year olds. Despite the language barriers, she has them sitting for prayers and singing various songs that they are learning and enjoying. She used to work a lot with this age group back in the DRC so it's invaluable to have her serve in this capacity. She also brings a strong presence of youth workshop with all the stepdancing moves which we sometimes practice with the children after class.

Last Saturday we arrived a bit early. Siboleke, the man who has opened his home for the classes, was waiting outside his home for a ride to one of his meetings. After lots of hugs from the children :-) we began to talk. He asked me what was my vision for this neighborhood. I immediately beckoned for divine assistance with a breath of Allah-u-Abha. The words which flowed from my mouth resonated with his vision so well that i felt his complete support for a Baha'i School to develop one day. Although he doesn't know the station or even Name of Baha'u'llah, he knows we, as Baha'is, are striving for harmony and unity amongst the diverse populations of the world; that we are focused on the spiritual education of children as noble souls with hidden potential to behave and conduct themselves in ways that conduce to their well-being and the community's happiness and prosperity. When i described the spiritual analogy of us growing as seeds, each of us being as unique and essential to the garden of humanity, and then learning how to care for each other as they learn how to grow plants themselves, a lightbulb went off for him! He hadn't thought of his agricultural project involving the children -- now he can see the importance of them being involved, not just the mamas. AND, before he used to talk about this plot of land across the street as being used as a nutrition center -- yesterday he spoke of it as a children's center! I don't know what will evolve from here, but the Hand of Baha'u'llah will work through us as we merge our efforts to advance the spiritual and socio/economic development of this neighborhood.

We both see it now in the stage of an embryo; it's going to take a while before the children begin to take on any new characteristics or understand what is happening in their lives. The best sign revealed to me was when Siboleke said he desires for the children of the so-called 'coloreds' and the Xhosa to come together with respect and cooperation to serve as an example of what South Africa is all about -- no longer segregated! Now that i know his heart, i feel even more comfortable bringing these 2 populations together because i don't have to wonder if the Xhosa want to stay to themselves in this endeavor. The 'coloreds' feel so unaccepted as a group of people -- they didn't belong before because they weren't light enough; now they have no benefits because they aren't black or African enough. [This is the population that suffers from extreme alcoholism. It is a massive problem in this country. 6 billion litres of alcohol a year are consumed in this country.]

This past Saturday's class wasn't exactly orderly or full Ruhi style by any means, but the joy, music and love shared continues to shine and spread. Afterwards we played soccer -- they all stand in a line and divide all of us into 2 teams as they alternate between each person. Usually the team with Dominique wins, but yesterday we were able to keep up and it was a draw at 10-10. :-)

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