Final Reflections

12 07 2011

The following blog entries are Social Entrepreneur Corps interns’ reflections on their experiences after six weeks working with Social Entrepreneur Corps in South Africa. Interns began their time in South Africa with two weeks of foundation building, which included discussions, readings, and reflections about poverty, development work, relief work, and social entrepreneurship among other topics. Interns then spent four weeks working in the field in three different environments of urban, semi-urban, and rural.  During their field work interns:

  • Performed grassroots consulting with 7 different local organizations
  • Conducted the first two MicroConsignment Campaigns in South Africa (with over 100 eye exams and 72 glasses sold)
  • Completed 77 needs analysis and product feasibility surveys for the expansion of the MicroConsignment Model in South Africa
  • Developed funding proposals to support three local nonprofit organizations

SEC intern Natasia Fable reflects on all of her experiences working in the field and in the classroom to respond to the question, “How has your experience working with SEC in South Africa impacted your understanding of either poverty, development vs relief work, or social entrepreneurship?”

Natasia conducts an eye exam at MCM campaign in Pienaar

“There is a big difference between relief work and development work. We studied this a little bit in class, but my experiences in South Africa working with Social Entrepreneur Corps helped to put things into perspective. It’s easy to see which areas or country as a whole needs relief and which needs development. South Africa, as a whole, needs development.

Relief work is described as temporary assistance and support to an area that has just suffered a disaster or catastrophe. The purpose of relief work is to help those in need as soon as possible and as frequently as possible until they are able to get back on their feet. This is done through any means necessary. The Red Cross is involved in relief work. They send food and supplies to countries like Japan after their earthquake because Japan was a disaster area. However, the Red Cross will not support Japan forever, nor will the supplies they donate.

Development work is assistance and support to an area, but using a different method. Development is a long lasting concept in which various techniques are used to empower a country to be more sustainable and solve pressings issues. In development work, the solution is not always available right away as in relief work. That is because development works to create sustainability, and sustainability is measured over time.

Traveling across South Africa, we saw poverty left and right. We came here with what little knowledge we knew of the country, expecting to learn more, understand more, and help as best we could. We expected poverty. We expected to give. We realized that this is one of those situations in which we could not just throw money and supplies. South Africa, as a whole, needs development. There was a time when we interviewed a young woman of 16 about the need of the Q-drum in her community. She seemed interested in it and definitely thought it would be useful. But then she questioned us. She asked us why we were there and if we were really going to help. We explained to her that we were doing a study to see if we CAN help and if we CAN bring these products to her community to empower them and bring in some self-sufficiency. She did not understand the concept of the MicroConsignment Model as we understood it. She did not understand the long-term effects of what we were trying to accomplish. What she responded to us was, “I am here living alone with my two year old child. I am starving. Can you help with that?” That broke our hearts. This 16-year-old girl living in this tiny, tin makeshift shack with a two-year-old daughter, and they are starving. She has no husband and no job. The only assistance she receives is R250 a month for her child. That’s about $37 a month. Who can live off of $37 a month? We all wanted to give her our lunches right then and there.

            Okay, well that would have solved her starvation problem for that day. Maybe even the next day. But what about the day after that and the day after that and weeks later? What about the rest of the community and other areas in which people are starving every day? No, relief work would not solve this problem. The problem is that the people we encountered have no income, no sustainability, and no empowerment. They have no resources or access to resources. That is why we are here doing what we are doing. We are trying to use the MicroConsignment Model to create access to the Q-Drum to create sustainability in small areas that will later help the development of the country as a whole.

Through the MicroConsignment Model the community gains access to a desperately needed product for a low cost, and some families in the community are able to generate income as local consultants supplying such products. Not only that, the once unemployed seller has gained more confidence and stability. Everybody wins. This is a part of development work, but it takes time. We have seen this in South Africa.

South Africa is recuperating from a time of segregation and discrimination. Black South Africans were subjected to rules and regulations that White South Africans were not. Black South Africans were beaten and starved. They did not have access to clean water and sanitation. They were forced to build their own homes in overcrowded, disease-ridden townships surrounding the wealthy cities. Black South Africans suffered greatly. Even working in Khayelitsha, one of the biggest townships, we saw the lack of sanitation and running water in homes. In some of the rural areas, people still relied on communal taps and lived in poorly built shacks.

But the country is repairing itself. Slowly, but surely, the country is developing. More and more Black South Africans are able to take advantage of the same opportunities White South Africans are able to. The families I stayed with, one of Indian descent (known as colored, who were also discriminated against) and one Black South African, lived in beautiful homes. They had cars, cell phones, and respectable jobs. The father of the colored family is a construction worker for the government, and the mother of the Black South African family is a teacher.

There is no way relief could have created this. Had we come into this country giving those in need food and money for a temporary amount of time it would have helped, but for how long? The families would most likely spend the money on cars, clothing, or food, but how does this help them get a job to keep the money coming in after we left? It doesn’t. Nor does it supply all of South Africa with clean running water and properly constructed homes. While South Africa has its wealthy cities, it is still developing. It is not in a state of catastrophe or disaster. It is righting its wrongs by allowing Black South Africans to have access to things they have not before. In Japan, no one had access to clean water or homes. The country fell apart. Everyone needs food and clothing, and they needed it right away. However, the people of Japan are rebuilding their country to be able to sustain themselves once again.

In South Africa, the poor have clothes on their back and some food in their mouths. They are living day-to-day with a meager amount of money and unsure if they will have water that day. We cannot provide everyone with clean water. The people should, overtime, be able to sustain themselves and increase their standard of living. They should be able to survive on more than just government grants. They should have access to clean running water whenever they need it.  They should be able to go to their doctor or clinic. With development work, this can occur.

We want to provide immediate assistance to everyone. We, as humans, want to provide relief. Sometimes, relief work if not the best solution. Sometimes, a community needs a solution that will go on even after the donations have diminished. That is when development comes in, and I understand that now. I understand now that not all situations require more money. I no longer have the idea that the richest people can solve the world’s problems if they just invest their money in something more meaningful than expensive cars and fancy clothes. I understand now. I truly understand the difference between relief and development and when each one is necessary.”




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