My New Year’s Revolution

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the famous Ghandi quote:  “BE the change you wish to see in the world”.

I – for one – have not BEEN the change.  Well… at least not to the degree that I want to… or that I’m capable of.

Actually, I’ve been pretty lazy in the BE-the-change department.   There’s lots of change I *want* to see in the world… but if it requires any kind of discomfort or effort on MY part – I’m prone to grumble complacently from the sidelines – instead of put my money (or my time… or my energy) where my mouth is.

I think most of us have become very adept at whinging and bitching about The-Way-Things-Are… but few of us are prepared for the discomfort of getting off our bums and DOING something about the very things we bleat about.  For example…

  • We whinge and complain about the huge, corrupt multi-national corporations – but we’ll continue buying their products – thereby perpetuating the cycle.
  • Or we’ll nod in agreement with the “Occupy Wallstreet” folk and the plight of the 98%… whilst paying our own staff the least amount of money we can possibly get away with.
  • We’ll agree that the world needs a Food Revolution… and then pacify our nagging kids with McDonalds’ dodgy nuggets and the accompanying plastic trinket.
  • We’ll complain about our governments’ lack of interest in our community – whilst demonstrating the ‘zact same lack of interest by suggesting that it’s *their* job to fix-it (while we passively do nothing).
  • We claim to hate racism… but when somebody in our family tells a racist joke around the dinner table, we don’t speak up.
  • We talk about how advertising campaigns and over-photoshopping contribute towards the low self-esteem of young girls… but then we gossip with our friends about “how fat” a relative has become.

Of course… I could give many other examples (and I’m sure you can too).

I dream of a better world – and a better way of living.

I think we can do better.

I think *I* can do better.

So… as a New Year’s Revolution… I’ve decided to start a little Facebook & Instagram Campaign with the hashtag #babysteps2BEthechange

It’s more of a Pet Personal Project… a way to keep myself accountable to YOU out there… (but feel free to join in!)

Every day, I’ll post a little photo… and a story… of various Baby Steps that I’m taking… or contemplating… or aiming towards… or struggling with:  steps towards BEING the change I wish to see – or, to coin a phrase by a new friend, Georgina – to invest in the world (and the life) I believe in.

Because I’m not perfect… and because I’m painfully aware of my weaknesses, my laziness, my addiction-to-comfort… I’m calling it Baby Steps because I deeply believe that small steps count!  Teeny-tiny baby steps in the right direction is better than no steps at all!  Tiny increments of change are better than complacent whinging-from-the-couch.   One less teaspoon of sugar in my coffee is better than 2-spoons-forever.

I don’t think an All-or-Nothing mentality is going to serve us.  In fact, I think it shoots us in the foot.

Nobody is “perfect”… nobody is “all”… nobody is getting everything right.

But – if a whole bunch of us could just take weeny little steps in the right direction – and truly began to INVEST in the world that we dream of (idealistic though it may seem)…

Well… THAT’s where change happens.

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence… Few will have the greatness to bend history itself;  but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.  It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a man stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance” – Robert Kennedy

To make things interesting (and because I’m the type with a very short attention span)… you can expect to see #babysteps2BEthechange themes and photos covering a very wide range of topics – roughly broken down into 3 main themes:

  • Changing my mind
  • Changing my life
  • Changing the world

I’m not going to post the Baby Steps on this blog everyday (because I don’t want those of you on the e-mail subscription thingy to be overwhelmed by e-mails!)…  but, if this kind of thing floats your boat, feel free to join in on Facebook and Instagram – and post some inspiring ideas of your own!  🙂

Yay!

And Happy New Year to all!  🙂

How FEAR tried (and failed) to rob us of life #2

This is the second in a three-part series about fear.  The first post is here.  Reading it will put you firmly in the picture of the story I’m about to tell now…

After all the awful things that happened in late 2008, I was more than ready to pack up and leave South Africa.  I was heart-broken about Riana… and The Fear constantly whispered various “What if’s” in my ear…

“What if… the same thing happens to you?”

“What if… somebody hurts your children?”

“What if… somebody shoots your husband?”

“What if…”  “What if…”  “What if….”

I felt such sadness (and anger) about what my mother and my sister had been through… and for Riana, her husband, her children.  The despair played a huge role but The Fear was, by far, the most powerful emotion.

In early 2008 (before that awful night), Nick and I had been chewing on the possibility of moving to Washington DC in the States.  Nick’s business partner, Joel, is a US citizen and, after living in South Africa for a number of years, he moved back to DC when he married his childhood sweetheart, Megan.  Nick and Joel have, for the past couple of years, managed their business from two different continents.  In 2008, we were wondering whether we should move to DC – for business purposes, but also just for a new family adventure.

Before the nightmare at Fisherman’s Village, I had never been a fearful person.  I always saw the positive… before the negative.  Beauty… before ugliness.  Potential… before hopelessness.  I always saw the best characteristics in people – long before their worst.

But after Riana died… there was a season when I, too, became fearful… bitter… angry… and very, very pessimistic.

“Why are we even living in this shit-hole?”, I remember ranting to Nick, “We have got to get out of here NOW.  We need to go to DC… NOW.  I am done with this country!  Done!”

And so – we prepared to emigrate… to escape.

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And, as things turned out… something else happened during that time.  I had been contacted by Roz Thomas.  She and her husband (originally from the UK) were living in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN for short).  They were doing volunteer work with a number of communities there… and she was working closely with Sofi Cogley of Isibani Community Centre.

Roz had had an idea… and something she wanted my help with.  She wanted to launch a creative community project which would help uplift the impoverished women of KZN.  She also wanted to showcase Isibani Community Centre and the (incredible! inspiring!) work of her friend, Sofi Cogley. Finally, she wanted to promote the work of the Amangwe Zulu Beaders (women in the community who support large families by creating intricate beaded jewellery).

My first response was to try and think up an excuse.

I didn’t want to go to KZN (it’s a 5 hour drive from my home).  I didn’t want to go and start any new projects – for anyone!  I didn’t want to get embroiled in long-term projects and what-not.

I wanted to escape!   I wanted to move to DC…  the “safe place”… where the grass would be much greener… and where people didn’t shoot young mothers! (And yes, I’m aware of the irony in this statement, but I’ll go in to it in post #3).

I wanted to tell Roz:  “Thanks, but no thanks!”

But then she posted me a short video about Sofi Cogley and Isibani Community Centre – and my heart was deeply stirred by Sofi’s compassion, dedication and her genuine love for people.

I was sold.

So…  Nick and I packed up the kids and drove the 5 hours to Winterton in KZN in order to discuss the possibilities of this new project with Roz and Sofi.  All the way on our trip down, I reminded myself:  “I’ll just help Roz to get started.  I’ll just help her launch.  I’m not committing myself to anything.  We’re going to DC soon.  I’m not staying here!”

Funny, that.

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In early 2009, Roz and I launched Tapestry of Dreams…  a year-long project that required my full-time dedication.  You can find the full story (with lots and lots of photos) here – and here’s the story in the form of a mini-doccie (for international friends who sometimes ask what my accent sounds like – now you know!)

Here are a few photos of that project:

R.I.P. – beautiful Philile.

Tapestry of Dreams was the project – that – in a sense, saved me.  Something happened to me during that time.  Something I still can’t quite explain.  I fell in love with Africa – for the first time.  I fell in love with her beauty… her resilience… her resourcefulness and the ability of her people (and especially the women, mind you!) – to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and – as the saying goes – learn how to make lemonade when life gives you lemons.

In the townships of Khetani and Loskop, I visited and interviewed people in their homes and shacks and heard many, many stories of such terrible hardship and loss.  Unimaginable poverty and suffering… and let’s not even get started on the disease!  (AIDS)

But what struck me about all of this hardship was the attitude of these women.  Whenever tragedy struck, they didn’t sink into an eternal mud-pit of depression.  They didn’t whinge, grumble, complain about their lot in life.  They picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, fixed themselves up… and made it work!  If another relative or friend had died of AIDS, the orphaned children were absorbed into the community.  It was not uncommon to find single, elderly women caring for 8 or 9 children (all orphans).  Indeed, one of our Tapestry of Dreams “Role Models”, Lungile, raised 14 nieces and nephews after all of her siblings had passed away.

I would have to really question the humanity of the person who can sit in those homes… share a dinner with people like Lungile… listen to her story… and walk away, untouched and unmoved.

I was moved!  But – not only moved – I was changed.

And… interestingly… (very interestingly)…  with every, single visit that I made to rural KZN during that year (and there were quite a few)… it was like a chunk of The Fear would shrivel up… drop off my heart… and be gone.

And guess what it would be replaced with?

Gratitude!  Bucket loads full of gratefulness!

Getting involved in the lives of others – who were far, far less fortunate than me – offered me the cure for my own sickness, my own selfishness, my own self-involvement, my own fear.  And if those women could laugh… and dance… and give… and serve….those who had buried their babies… those who had lost all their relatives to disease… those who had been beaten up and trodden down… those who lived in shacks with no water or electricity…  then what was my excuse?

And if my mother – who has seen and witnessed some unimaginable horrors in her life – could hold on fast to her Big Dream, and walk forward with a sense of determination and self-respect (in spite of all the doomsayers and their dark predictions) – then what was my excuse?

Tapestry of Dreams provided a turning point for me.

The Fears fell away completely – replaced only by a deep, deep sense of gratitude for everything that I have (and I have a LOT!)… and – of course, the next obvious question that I asked myself was this:  “I have so much!  What can I give?  How can I help?  What can I do that can ease the plight of others who have soooo much LESS than me?”

Tapestry of Dreams was a start… but it didn’t end there.  It couldn’t end there.

With The Fear gone… I had a new sense of urgency – of determination – to do so much MORE than just survive this life for as long as I could.  I didn’t want to survive anymore – I wanted to LIVE – and not just live, I wanted to make a difference…I was tired of whinging and complaining about the state of things… I wanted to BE the change…

Somewhere during the course of 2009, our plans to emigrate to DC went out the window… and all kinds of new, crazy dreams developed.

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In 2010, I launched another project – this time, working with impoverished youth in the Zamdela township (this time, only an hour’s drive from home).  The project was called VENT! – and it aimed to give permission and create a platform to youth who felt angry… disempowered… as though the world didn’t “see” them… or “hear” them – or even give a damn that they existed at all.  I often wondered about the men who had shot Riana and Johan.  I wondered what had set them on the path of such destruction.  I wondered if a project like VENT! might offer… a different option… to angry young men, embarking on a dangerous, destructive path…

These thoughts were never far from my mind as I worked with 50 youngsters between the ages of 19 and 29.  Here’s another video – this time about the VENT! project…

And here’s a photo (more on the VENT! website):

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In 2011… I launched a non-profit organisation called WOODO (Women who DO!).  This came in response to the many women who came to a turning point in their own lives – where they’d ask themselves that same question (that I asked myself in 2009):  “What can I give?  How can I help?  What can I do?  I have so much – and others have so little… I want to help, but I’m not sure where to start!”.

Here’s a few photos (I love photos – can you tell?):

WOODO is now in the capable hands of my friend Jo – as I embark on new dreams… new adventures… new projects… although continually powered by the questions:  “What can we give?” and “How can we help?” and “How can we BE the change we wish to see?” and “How can we LIVE and THRIVE… instead of only ‘survive’ this life?”

It’s a liberating place for me to be in.  I feel free.  So very, very free.

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Fear doesn’t keep us safe from The Monsters.  Fear IS the Monster.  It robs us of life.  It robs us of beautiful opportunities.  It keeps us imprisoned behind locked doors and high walls.  It keeps us hiding in the so-called “Safe Places” – whether it’s the security of our own homes… or in the predictability of jobs that we secretly loathe…. or within the stagnant pond of The Known.

But life’s most beautiful moments are often found outside those comfort zones… away from the packaged, static, predictable routines that give us that feeling of safety…. that sense of security.

And besides, what is safety anyway?  Is it just another feeling?  You “feel” safe?

Well that’s nice – but does it mean that you actually are?

I’ll discuss this – and more – in the final post on the theme of Fear here.

Thanks for reading.  I know that these two posts have been very long.  🙂