By Karina McGinley
Karina is participating in the Gold Global Citizen Award. This is the fifth of her Global Blogs from South Africa
As the New Year dawns we are all inundated with Facebook statutes and Tweets proclaiming ‘New year, new me’, ‘Gym from now on’, ‘Only organic food’, you know yourself!
Well as I was going through Twitter one day I noticed that an intriguing BuzzFeed article entitled ‘10 life-changing things to try in 2016’ had been retweeted onto my timeline. Don’t get me wrong, I am as guilty as anyone else for procrastinating my precious university time away by taking online quizzes and finding out which TV character I am, but this article struck a chord with me.
In this blog I am going to list 5 of the things featured in the aforementioned article (you would be bored if I inflicted you with 10) and hopefully demonstrate how utterly unessential they are in the grander scheme of things by reflecting back on what the wonderful people I met in Freedom Park, home to tens of thousands of people, and one of the places I spent many of my days in South Africa don’t have access to.
- JOCO 12-ounce glass mug — $24.95
Ok, number one is essentially a travel mug, a flask if you will.
So now, how ‘life-changing’ as the title of the article declared would this be to someone in Freedom Park? Simply, not very. To put a warm drink in it would require more work than simply flicking on an electric kettle.
People like my friend Boitmelo (who I have mentioned in other blog posts) would have to walk a considerable distance for water (hope that there actually is some), carry it back to their home and probably boil the water (potentially not clean) on a few sticks outside.
So never mind a flask. Not being used as a political object and to be treated like human beings and given access to a clean, safe and accessible water supply would be more ‘revolutionary’ than an aesthetically pleasing travel mug.
- The New York Timesprint edition — $7–14 a week, depending on your subscription
The author proclaims that it is now trendy to get a paper copy of a newspaper as we spend all our time online and staring at screens.
I wondered what would be the point of people in Freedom Park getting a newspaper laden with news of political activities, when owing to their precarious existence on the margins of society and their lack of permanent home they are excluded from the democratic process and unable to vote. (No permanent address, no vote) Essentially they would be reading news about people that they did not put into power and people who they are equally unable to remove from power.
So, getting a vote would be of more use to democratising society than having access to newspapers about people who they are unable to vote for!
- Bud Light Lime — ~$8
Oh, wow flavoured beer, how delicious and life-changing!
See point no. 1, I think the people living without access to clean water would rather that than their favourite lager being infused with a citrus fruit.
- Foot Traffic Combed Cotton Tights — $20
The author declares: ‘I am so scared that these tights will sell out and I will never be able to buy them again’. When someone says tights, I think school! For people that I know in Freedom Park getting their children through the school doors is a hard and sometimes insurmountable task. How can you bring your children to school if it has a compulsory (and expensive) uniform if you are struggling to put food on the table? Even if these children have attended class for years many of them are unable to sit their final exams (like the Leaving Certificate) because they do not have official documents, owing to the fact that they have being born in an ‘informal settlement’. (See my blog on education for more information on the South African education system)
- TSA Pre-Check – $85 for five years
Basically, skipping security in an airport so you have more time to splurge money on make-up that’s probably tested on animals.
So now back to Freedom Park. It is not skipping security that people here are worried about but more so the fact that many of them do not have passports. What is required for one to get a passport? Think of what you needed the last time you got a passport. You needed a picture, a home address that it could be sent to and arguably most importantly the ability to read and write so that you could fill out the form and read the terms and conditions. Without access to basic education many of the people in Freedom Park are unable to read and write, although SERVE’s partner Tsholofelo run Adult Education Classes (including a course in basic literacy and numeracy).
I hope you are able to excuse my tone (and tendency to exaggerate) in this piece, but please understand that I hope that many people, including myself, will take time this year to think of others and what we could do to make small changes to their lives. One of my resolutions is to continue to familiarise myself with the Sustainable Development Goals and to lobby politicians running for seats in the General Election (that will be announced soon) to keep development aid at its current level (and hopefully increase it!). At the end of the day we are all one people, all human, and there is no doubt that ‘Bud Light lime’ is certainly not as ‘life-changing’ as access to a clean water supply!