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An eye-opening view of Africa

Lincoln High School senior travels to the 'Ends of the Earth'
By: Evan Rendes, Special to The News Messenger
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By Evan Rendes Special to The News Messenger When and where a time of extraordinary significance takes place, it is possible to miss the entire point. It is possible to be a part of a revolution and wake up one day with no recollection of it. It is possible to go to the Super Bowl, reach down to grab your Coke and miss the last touchdown that wins the game. Thank goodness that did not happen to me. As many are aware, the segregation of Apartheid oppressed blacks for centuries under the authority of the white Afrikaans, who were of Dutch, French and English decent. Nelson Mandela helped end Apartheid just 14 years ago. Now, South Africa is in the same stages as the racist South in America throughout the ’60s but far more volatile. No plumbing, AIDs, starvation, as well as rampant violence between whites and blacks are just a handful of the problems citizens face in the city of Kwaggafontein. For the people who live there, it is very much a fight for survival on a daily basis. With a program out of Mosaic Christian Church called EOTE, which stands for Ends of the Earth, I went with a team of around 20 people at the end of January to stay in the community of Kwaggafontein in the KwaNdebele region of South Africa. I have always disliked the term missions trip because of its connotation. But rather than pushing our religion on another culture, who are still tremendously rooted in the Zulu ways of old, we spread the love we know. I still had to defend what I was doing though. Just the fact I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself put some people off. It was tough to overcome the classic lines, “You don’t have to go far in America to see poverty like that. Why go to Africa when people need help here?” Despite discouragement from people I saw on a day-to-day basis and even extended family, I pulled through the year of preparation and saving money. I initially thought two weeks out of the year would not make an impact, but when I got to that country, I knew it would show a kind of compassion that area of the world had never seen before. Creating jobs through education in agriculture, delivering food and supplies to needy homes, as well as visiting special-needs shelters, battered women’s shelters, churches, schools, a jail, a hospital, a dump, and even walking the community streets, I was overwhelmed by the sense of appreciation and joy of everyone we came into contact with. We faced many struggles that emotionally sent us to the edge; horrors that one could not even imagine seeing in our great country. We visited one particular home where an 18-year-old girl was forced to raise seven brothers and sisters after the mother walked out of the family and the father died. Her name was Perseverance, which is suitable to her character. On the cracked cement walls of her shack read “Teacher Perseverance” in chalk. An alphabet and some tally marks confirmed that she was teaching her siblings English and math. Due to the fact that school is not free in South Africa, Perseverance was unable to complete high school. She informed the team that, when it rains, the tin roof leaks and she and her siblings huddle together and use the only three blankets they own to cover up. There was no furniture but a single cockroach-infested refrigerator, which held some lined paper, a Bible and a collection of rotting produce. We gave her food parcels. Bob Guild (year-around missionary) will stay to help the house, and we now sponsored Perseverance to go back to school. Another emotional feat to overcome was when we had games for the masses of children who visited our property and we noticed a little girl with fresh cuts and bruises on her face. After some questioning through an interpreter, the little girl kept changing her stories around about how she got the marks. We sensed abuse at home. During the same time a year previously, there was a baby born with AIDs who was sent home from the hospital to die and our team prayed for her and gave the mother supplies. When the team returned to that house this year, we discovered that the same baby was “healed” and local doctors were calling it a “miracle.” We also discovered that it was the same house of the little girl who showed up to the property with marks on her. It turns out it was the traditionally sadistic grandmother, who said, “You can forget a spanking but you can’t forget a scar.” We explained that it not only scars the face but the heart and soul. The mother could not stop her and we feared the correction would only make her retaliate on the little girl more. Doing the complete opposite of what I had personally wanted to do with the situation, a girl on our team noticed the rags on the grandmothers feet so she bent down to give up her shoes and put them on the old lady. Then a smile rolled across the woman’s creased face, she danced and she laughed. She began to accept what we were saying and we could tell that one visit impacted a household forever. Sure enough, the next day, the little girl did not show up with fresh markings on her face. Nor the next day or the day after that. We heard that people were fighting over our garbage at the local dump. We skipped lunch and immediately took care of the situation. When we arrived, there were around 10 to 12 adults who said they sift through trash to find plastic materials to earn money. They had fought over a rotten melon and remnants of a cake, among other items. We gave them our lunches and food parcels. Completely unsanitary, it contrasted American waste facilities, which are much cleaner and do not have people living there to survive. Two weeks impacted a whole state, due to our day-to-day travel. Just being American touched the lives of many and on top of building relationships, it really made a difference. The warden of the Kwaggafontein jail even said the crime rate has gone down because of our impact on the community year by year. Something must be working. My African name is Kgetang, which means “choice.” I have the “choice” to be a good person in life, “choice” to make a difference, had the “choice” to come to Africa, etc. When they explained our names it was moving. A black man would have to assume a white name to get a job during Apartheid, so when we were given names by “choice,” it was freeing to know they were given out of love and acceptance. Singing “Lean on Me” and walking together out of the AIDs clinic as one; black and white but as one...like a zebra; summed up the impact I felt we made. I never missed a thing. From one of the ends of the earth, now all I have are stories and pictures. I hope to return and see another South African sunrise. Evan Rendes is Lincoln High School’s Zebra Tales editor-in-chief. Rendes is a senior.