I had the most eye-opening Mandela Day experience with Dlala Nje last Thursday. In the midst of having a ‘woe is me’ few days, I pulled it all together and went to help Dlala Nje out with their Hillbrow blanket walk and party for the Ponte kids at Maboneng.
We started the afternoon off by taking some blankets to those living in a park near Ponte City, hailed “Junkie Park” for obvious reasons. There is only one word to describe what I saw and experienced: HECTIC. These people literally live in the park and are hopelessly addicted to a drug or few. Walking in there was like walking into heavy smog, although it was a clear day. Desperate eyes look at you – the kind of desperation that I have never (and will never have) experienced in my life. Behind those eyes was darkness. It was chilling. They swarmed us as we started to hand out blankets. Desperate.
As we walked away from there, someone called out “they’re only going to sell those for drugs, you know”. They’re probably right. At least the sold blanket will end up keeping someone warm, I guess.
Next up was to round up the kids living in Ponte Towers and to go on a walk through Hillbrow, handing out blankets to the homeless along the way. More desperate eyes were met. People fought with each other for them. For a BLANKET. It was touching to see the kids take the blankets off their backs (it was a pretty chilly afternoon) and give it to those that needed it more than them. We dodged man-holes along the way (the covers are stolen to sell to scrap metal dealers) and stopped kids from falling into sewerage. This is their neighbourhood.
When we reached Fox Street, where the Maboneng District had prepared a party for the kids in the area, the little boy next to me lit up when he saw the jumping castle. “Is that a jumping castle?” he said. “Yes, it’s lots of fun, hey?” “I don’t know, I’ve never been on one.” He was ordered to immediately take his shoes off and jump on. He ran for that jumping castle, with the biggest holes in his socks I have ever seen (he might as well have not been wearing any), with pure joy that I have not seen in a long time.
I left there feeling humbled and emotional. And grateful for the life that I have. My woes were small in comparison to what so many people in our country experience and overcome every single day of their lives.
If every one of us just gave something to the desperate community on our doorstep, or even better, helped to empower others, it will go a long way in making our country more bearable for a lot of people. Pay it forward.
There are bigger things in life than #FirstWorldProblems.