In Queenstown, which is about 2 hours North of East London on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Hope Africa and Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), work together to support a project called The Tshwaranang Resource Center. Tshwaranang is a Sesotho word, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, meaning, “joining hands” or “let’s hold each other”. The mission of Tshwaranang is “to facilitate and support local responses to community needs in support of HIV/AIDS, poverty, gender based violence, and child abuse through training and human rights advocacy and building of partnerships and alliance”.
Tswaranang has a number of different projects, including: home based care, orphans and vulnerable children, food security, job training, AIDs/HIV care and advocacy, and computer literacy.
A group of ERD staff and board members came to South Africa for about one week to talk with their partners, learn more about South Africa, and to visit the Tshwaranang sites. I met up with the group in Queenstown, and was lucky enough to visit some of the work sites. The group was divided into 4 smaller groups for the visit. Many groups visited the homes of people, who are receiving home-based care for medical issues such as, HIV/AIDS, strokes, TB, and much more.
My group visited a church, community gardens, an after-school program, a school and a soup kitchen that feeds the school. At the church and school, we handed out wheel chairs to people who were in great need, who could no longer get around on their own. One woman announced proudly that she would use her new wheel chair for church. She then showed the other woman receiving a chair how to maneuver it.
At the same church, a group of women and one man were out in the hot son working in a garden. They told us that the food they were growing was going to orphans and vulnerable children in the area.
I was particularly impressed with the after school program. They have a large staff that work together to create a safe, fun, learning environment for children in the community.
Finally, we visited a local school, where many of the children who go to the after-school program attend. At the school, we passed out more wheel chairs. Many of the recipients had lost one or both of their legs due to diabetes. One man was so depilated from the effects of AIDS, that he could not walk on his own.
After the wheel chair ceremony, school children sang a couple of songs for our group. Everyone was very impressed with their beautiful voices, and we got a laugh from one of the songs that refers to them as being communists!
The following morning, before the group left Queenstown, we met with Fr. Michael Lapsley, the director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories. Fr. Michael gave the group the opportunity to reflect on their visit and think about the challenges they have moving forward.
The Institute for the Healing of Memories is an incredible organization that gives people the opportunity to tell their stories for healing. They run workshops where people tell their stories from apartheid and in having someone acknowledge what happened to them, people have been able to start the process of healing. Over 60,000 people were displaced from their homes during Apartheid; however, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not hear any of those stories. Fr. Lapsley is doing his own kind of tswaranang; he is bringing people together and letting them hold each other’s pain, so they no longer have to be alone with their memories.
Tshwaranang has many meanings. Tshwaranang is a living faith; it means, holding and supporting those who are suffering, as Christ did. Tshwaranang is also the bonds we make with one another has a human family; it is the bond between Hope Africa and ERD and their bond with the Tshwaranang Resource Center.
Before coming to South Africa, the Young Adult Service Corps group met to discuss what it means to be a missionary in the World Wide Anglican Communion. One conclusion we came to is that we are all one body in Christ – that the suffering of one member of the body hurts to the entire body.
As an American I cannot propose to come into South Africa and try to “fix” the problems of South Africans, rather, I have to acknowledge that these problems are not South African, but problems of the entire world. Because we are bound together in Christ, because we need to hold one another, as Tshwaranag suggests, these problems of suffering and injustice can only be solved when we work together. We cannot abandon our brothers and sisters; we must work together for peace. This is exactly what ERD and Hope Africa are trying to do in their partnership.