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 Courtney Brozyno 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?”

Courtney takes some time to take a photo at the CTC10 field in Khayelitsha

““South Africa is a microcosm of the world”. These were the words that my professor left our class with as we prepared for our trip to a country that is a conundrum of contrasts. And at the end of six weeks here, it is a statement that has definitely held true. From our first sights of the country in the beautiful city of Cape Town, to our second homestays in Ka Nyamazane Township outside of Nelspruit, it is with certainty that I say I feel as if I have traveled to a vast number of countries, if not to various regions of the world, in the past six weeks. This feeling is one that I have struggled with throughout our whole time here. It is with contemplation that I have been able to mediate, but certainly not come to terms with, the profound affect with which these experiences have branded my memory.

Never will I forget the lavish beaches in the city of Cape Town, the extravagant V&A Waterfront, or the quiet suburbia life in well-to-do Melville outside of Johannesburg. No, I will not forget these scenes, or my experiences there. But what will forever burn in my mind and guide my actions quite possibly for the rest of my life are the rows of communal toilets in front of the slum houses of Khayelitsha or having to will myself to suppress the stinging tears that arose when we visited the humble home of the Mgwenya family who so selflessly took in children of poor circumstances when they clearly had so little themselves. This second set of images is one that to many is deplorable. And quite frankly, it is. But after countless hours of thought and self-debate, I have realized that it is simultaneously one of hope, and even happiness. Because it is within the confines of the largest township in South Africa, and the walls of the Mgwenya family home that I experienced the most love, happiness, and optimism that I have found anywhere in the world, with the exception of my childhood home.

And having arrived at this realization, I came to ponder along the way what it truly means to be poor. Certainly, the people I encountered in the scenes described were of little circumstance and material wealth. They did not even possess running water in their homes and were lucky to have access to electricity in a country where well over half of the population is not able to enjoy this seemingly basic amenity. To many these are factors by which poverty can be measured. But you can also measure poverty through many other factors as well. The time spent in these “poor” areas in which unemployment and lack of goods are the norm were a reality check. As many around me complained about money problems, the experiences we shared truly grounded me, and caused a renewed personal awareness that these “problems” simply did not compare to the ones of the people we met here. Even I, myself, can recall countless times when I felt “broke” or that I did not have much, especially in comparison to my fellow school mates in college. I confess that I have never encountered poverty of the sort I was faced with here before. Surely I have driven through less affluent areas at home in the United States and watched as my parents helped others of lesser means throughout the years, but I never really realized that poverty of such a great level can exist. I did always know it to exist but not in any tangible way. I had never been face to face with it before. And so, over the last six weeks, I have come to form a new sort of understanding, or empathy, for what it means to be “poor”.

Poverty is not to have a glitch in the flow of financial support from your parents from time to time. It is not not being able to afford the newest technologies or fashions or material goods. For many, this may be “poverty”, but at the end of the day the depths of poverty are much further reaching. For some, poverty may be not having health insurance, or having to wait a month to see a doctor at a clinic. But for many, poverty is not being able to see a doctor at all, ever, and as a result not being able to have your illness treated before it kills you. For others, poverty may be having access to water in their homes that is not “clean”. But for many, poverty is not having any water in your home, and the water that you do travel hours a week for causing stomach illnesses that can kill. It seems that it is infinitely easier to form ideas of what poverty is not, rather than to define what it is.

Though this task is difficult, it seems that poverty may be defined by lack of access to basic amenities that should be afforded to all simply because they are human. Among these amenities would be shelter, clothing, food, clean water within one’s home, and electricity. Access to these things would eliminate the basest form of poverty. While I cannot provide a perfect, textbook definition of poverty, I can say that my understanding of what poverty is now goes beyond what any textbook could inform me of. The past six weeks have realized the very different levels of poverty. They have also dispelled the images in my mind that went hand in hand with poverty: its effects. I no longer expect children to be crying heart-wrenching tears of misery in any poor area I travel. I do not expect everyone to hate me for simply appearing to be of greater circumstance. I do not expect poverty to take the form of a “sea of misery” in massive slum areas and I do not expect it to take the form of angered, burdened people everywhere I turn. I no longer expect these things because I have been so lucky to spend time with people who may have the fewest possessions but simultaneously have the most spirit and life out of any I have ever encountered.

I now have a deeper understanding of what poverty is after spending six weeks in South Africa. I have experienced first hand third world poverty less than an hour from mansions that bask in the afternoon sun’s glowing rays and are kissed by the sprays of ocean mist. This, out of everything, is what I do not understand the most. At first I was deeply perplexed when my expectations of those shackled by poverty did not hold true. But I am still, and perhaps even more greatly, perplexed by the microcosm that is South Africa. That this third world poverty can, and does, coexist with a first world standard of living. It is confusing, and frustrating, and simply inexplicable. While great strides have been made towards eradicating poverty in South Africa over the past twenty-something years, the country still has a long way to go. Perhaps because a first world standard does exist in some areas of the country there is more hope for the severely impoverished here than there would be in other nations where little or no class stratification exists.”

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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 Aime Silfa 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?”

Aime with client after his solar lamp purchase at MCM campaign in Huntington

“When facing a people in need our first reaction often times is to give them what they need right away. In some occasions, if the situation is severe that can be the most suitable solution. However, this is not always the case. It is vital to decide whether the situation merits relief or development. We can see the importance of considering, which applies best of the two here in South Africa.

In times of disasters, usually natural disasters, aid is quickly gathered for those in affected. For example, after hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti communities collected food, money, volunteers and other supplies to be sent and donated to those in need. This is relief work. When there is no time to plan and think of a long-term plan to help those in need, relief is more practical. If people have just lost their homes and have no way to sustain themselves food and shelter should be provided immediately. In this case, relief is effective and necessary.

Conversely, an issue like hunger cannot always be tackled with food donations. A long-term problem deserves a long-term solution. It would take people forever to donate money in order for relieve to supply the needs of those people. This would be an unrealistic and ineffective attempt to solve the problem. Instead, a solution should be offered that allows those citizens to provide for themselves in the long run. This is what the MicroConsignment Model seeks to do.

Development focuses on the betterment of life quality. This may include increase in life span, education, nutrition, access to water, etc. Improvement in these areas is often referred to as development. We have heard from the Tao tradition that “if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish you will feed him for a life time.” This is the mirror through which MicroConsignment is usually seen through. The idea is that people can develop the skills to find a solution to their need. MicroConsignment creates access through opportunities. Giving someone access to a job can help them more than giving them what they cannot access because of lack of income.

Being in South Africa has shown me the value of this approach. South Africans are hard working people. In every other corner of the streets we found people selling products to earn a living. These varied from snacks, to fruits, to beaded work and many other types of crafts. You can tell that the vendors have made these small businesses on their own initiatives because the crafts are handmade by the one selling it, and because the amount of products they sell can be counted sometimes with your hands. They find the resources available to them and do what they can to make a profit out of them. We saw cards made with real leaves and dirt. They looked very delicate and although a lot of time went into it the materials needed they got from their surroundings. They are energetic and artistic.

South Africans are capable of sustaining a program to help improve their standard of living. The issues affecting South Africa have been there for a while and it would take a carefully thought out plan to solve it. The willingness is there; the resources are needed. My time in South Africa made clear for me that development can be more useful than relief. People get excited to be able to do things on their own and to show what they are capable of. Development cannot only be more effective but may also improve the self-esteem of those involved.”





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 Deshawn Lewis 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?”

Deshawn takes a break for a photo while conducting needs analysis in Balfour

“My experience in South Africa has drastically changed my perception of South African development. I’ve been told time and time on this trip: “South Africa is a first world country with third world problems”, no statement better encapsulates the country. This is a troubling situation when approaching South Africa with the intention of relief or development work. Most of the organizations we work with are funded from the United States or Europe yet South Africa appears to have the resources to do the same. Do international donors make way for the government to provide the luxuries they provide for some of their citizens to all? Do they continue their work knowing at any point the government may step in and disrupt their entire operation? How do they convince people of the benefits of solar power while competing with a thriving “unofficial electricity sector” which provide electricity to charge phones and other devices at reasonable rates? In my opinion, in South Africa more than other places the government needs to be sitting at the other side of the table during development talks. The ANC government and private sector not only over promise but have the resources available to meet those promises, development agencies and government need to be coordinated in order for serious progress to be made.

One of the most modern and expansive malls I’ve stepped into is the V&A Waterfront, located right off the ferry to Robben Island it is a great tourist location. The V&A Waterfront also provides a great shopping center for South Africa’s middle class and beyond, containing any store one could want. Located about a 30 minute drive away is one of the largest townships in South Africa, Khayelitsha a shantytown with population numbers in the millions and counting. Some areas still lacking basic access to electricity only 30 minutes away from a mall sporting a Ferris wheel in front eternally lit at night for the simple task of attracting attention. How do international relief and development organizations go in offering solar lamps when at any time a BMW can be spotted driving from a well lit, water supplied first world mall? The situation is even bleaker for local initiatives finding themselves underfunded and over regulated by their countries governance. Baphumelele is an orphanage working in Khayelitsha providing a home for the community’s orphans and much needed health and nutritional education for its residence. The organization receives most of its funding form international organization but over the past years while the amount of local funding has not increased the government regulation of orphanage has drastically increased, specifically limiting the means children can be accepted and placing excessive red tape on the registration process for aid and medicine.

These are not situations unique to Khayelitsha but have been the norm in most of South Africa. It is not a country in need of relief but in desperate need of development. But development is needed on a grand scale because the haves of the country are so far ahead of the have-nots. A Community Enterprise Solutions entrepreneur could potentially create a small business that lifts her out of her shantytown dwelling. These types of success stories are far more desirable than the blatant overpromising and underperforming being practices in South Africa today. My experience in South Africa shows how much more work is needed in South Africa.”





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 Argemira Florez 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?”

Argemira discusses water needs in the Balfour township

“Albeit my two weeks of preparation, and the general knowledge fed to me by professors, friends and family, I arrived to Cape Town, South Africa six weeks ago, still drowning in my stereotypes; expecting an immediate language barrier, people walking around barefoot, and cars driving on the right side of the road. And while most of these expectations were immediately challenged hours into my arrival, I am beyond pleased to admit that this left me filled with unknowns. Yet, the greatest thing about unknowns is that they force themselves into you, like a bee into a flower, tasting opportunity and sucking its fill out of it. These unknowns create potential for new questions to be asked, knowledge to be acquired and understanding to take place, and in my time here that is exactly what took place.

My group and I have had the privilege of meeting several social entrepreneurs, business managers and overall inspirational people. It is through these people, their initiatives, projects and the causes they have dedicated their time to, that I have been able to see South Africa, see the things that my untrained eyes would miss. JJ and Mama Mgwenya, for example, two exemplary human beings who saw the need orphans in the community had and took it upon themselves to be their care-takers. Then, there are those such as Nitto and Thulani who have helped me to understand the need within their communities. They served as the eyes and ears of those in need, having seen what needs to be done around their homes and other neighboring cities, listening to those whose voice is silenced by the burden of poverty and socioeconomic status. Nitto, with his many connections, working as the mediator, discerning where our donated clothes and sneakers would be most effective; what language would be most effective for our food and health posters; and what cause needed the most funding. Thulani, with the boldness of his bilingual lexicon, uplifting to those in Baphumelele while still dropping knowledge on youths, South Africa’s future.

While memories of these individuals, their smiles, their words, and their example have been the ones warming my heart on these cold, winter nights here in South Africa, the country itself has branded me with its beauty. The raw, first-hand experiences I have had with its breathtaking landscapes, culture social structure and politics have really impacted my understanding on poverty and the need for development vs. relief. South Africa is one of the most incredibly unique places I have ever known, specifically because of its blatant disparity. A consequence of ruling under Apartheid, a system that ended so recently, no more than 17 years ago. It still blows my mind how the people who lived through Apartheid have been capable of transitioning into an ostensibly new South Africa, under new leadership, with new goals and methods. After experiences such as visiting District 6 and reading Mother to Mother, I see how significant the ideologies promoted by Apartheid influenced and contributed to the poverty people in townships are subject to. It astounds me how people were kicked out of their homes, after watching them be crushed and trampled by monstrous machines, could find a way to still live in high spirits. Still go about their daily lives? And today, still talk about those times as a minor detail in their history, to be forgiven but not forgotten, and to learn from. How do people who were forced to move then find it in themselves to trust the government that so many years ago betrayed them so brutally? Seeing the townships themselves, surveying people within them, making a home within them with our home-stays, have all been part of a life changing, watershed experience for me.

 Doing research and engaging with South Africa’s people and the Social Entrepreneurial field are two completely different things, and being able to do both, within these 6 weeks has left me forever grateful. I must admit, however, that there are many times where presenting our products in these townships, to people who are living in shacks, with unstable water supply, all while suffering from unemployment, was difficult. We had to make sure families understood we were not selling the Q Drum, and/or any of our other products, but were simply asking questions to see if in the future they would want to use such a product, or even sell it to others in their community. We asked questions such as, “Do you think this would be useful in your community? And “How do you get your water? How do you clean it?” Such questions really gave me an inside perspective to the rural areas of South Africa. It’s one thing to see pictures, read newspapers and see statistics, but to really see water shortages, and its effects in communities is astounding. At the end of one of our surveys a woman asked, “Are you here to just ask questions or are you going to give us/do something?” That was a tough note to end on, especially because right after that we were off to lunch. It is impossible to run away from or deny my more privileged lifestyle, even in situations such as these. I responded to her, “Know that we want to help you. It’s just if we give you, we would feel bad not giving to everyone else.” It’s always hard to walk away from that, especially when all I wanted to do was give to everyone in her community. But, that is where I remind myself, “we are an organization that focuses on development, not relief.” This is a harder reality than I expected. Sometimes it is easy to think that relief is what the people need. I am comforted by the idea that we have helped Social Entrepreneur Corps collect sufficient information so that one day these people will be able to have all of these products and become entrepreneurs in their communities as well”





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.”





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 Hang Pham 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?”

“Having grown up in a third world country and pursued higher education the US, one of the so-called first world countries, I saw both the very rich and the very poor. However, I never really pondered the concept of poverty, not before I did an internship in social entrepreneurship in South Africa, a third world country that has a first-world population living in it.

In Cape Town, our first stop, it took us an hour to drive from Camps Bay where multi-million-dollar mansions stood along one of the most beautiful beaches in the world to Khayelitsha, the biggest township in South Africa where 1.5 million people live in crowded shacks made out of carton boxes and tin roofs. It took us 45 minutes to drive from Melville, Johannesburg, where our beautiful hostel located, to Itsoseng, a township where half of the people were unemployed and there was no electricity or in-house water system. My initial perception of poverty was anything in contrast to the well off. Along the 6 weeks moving from townships to townships, I went down the different levels of poverty. I was prepared for a swim in a shallow lake and got tossed into a dive in the deep ocean. At Balfour, a township in Zone 7, we surveyed a household with three people: a middle age woman, her son, and her sister who was HIV positive, to see what their needs are in terms of energy. It was a matchbox cabin made out of tin roof lying on top of a windy hill looking down to a vast shacks area. There was no electricity in the house; the woman cooked with paraffin and lighted the house with candles. They lived off the monthly R260, or $40, child grant provided by the government. When we did the survey, the HIV positive woman kept asking for “sweets and meat.” I wanted to give her the sandwich I packed for lunch, but I felt wrong to treat her as a beggar. The house was also very cold and there was no heating device. Compared to people like them, those who I considered poor before suddenly became the fortunate, the richer, the less poor, and the rich and poor contrast became tangibly bitter and disturbing. Four years ago when I worked at a French restaurant, I met a great old man manned Peter, who worked in development in rural areas in Vietnam. He told me “if you have clothes to wear, a house to live in, and a school to go to, you are rich.” His words, which I never seconded, suddenly sunk in.

Poverty is not only the absence of basic-needs satisfaction but also the lack of resources to get out of it. One of the main reasons for the 50% unemployment rate at townships and rural areas is that people don’t have the skills required for and information about the job market. However, as much as I was sadden by the pervasiveness of poverty in South Africa, the remarkable development in education among the younger generations, especially those living in townships and rural areas, sparked my hope in a fundamental change. The workshop on college and career application we conducted with CTC10, a youth leadership program for adolescences in Khayelitsha, is the most inspiring project I worked on. In our first meeting with the youth leaders, they impressed me with their dream careers and determination to proceed to higher education in order to pursue their dreams. Most kids I talked to wanted to be doctors, “to help other people” they said, some girls wanted to go to culinary school and be a dessert chef because “love baking,” a very shy boy shared that he wanted to go to law school. They told me that children in townships now understood the importance of education and took it seriously, a fact that brightened up my entire trip. We ran an info section with workshops on Resume and cover letter writing tips, interview skills, scholarships and financial aid application, and study abroad opportunities. I still remember the feeling of enthusiastically sharing all the knowledge I had about South African education as well as my own experience as college student with financial aid, and of the youth leaders’ enlivened faces when devouring every piece of information. I lost my voice after an hour of continuous talking to a big group, but the triumphant feeling transcended all physical exhaustion. When I was at this age, there was a group of college student came to my school and talked about studying abroad. Thanks to their very brief introduction, which reminded me that there were opportunities out there if I kept my eyes open, the thought of studying abroad flourished in me and changed the course of my life for the better. I hope that this little workshop will do the same thing to the CTC10 leaders. I also believe that the key to solving the poverty issue does not lie in a social intern like me, in an organization like Social Entrepreneur Corps, or in a government like South African government, but in a younger generation that’s born into the poor but has a will to get out of it.”





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 Lizzie Hensler 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.

Lizzie explains the benefits of a rocket stove to women in Balfour

“We stood shivering outside of a small tin shack, waiting for the okay to enter and ask some questions about electricity needs.  A woman walked out, asking for help.  One of our team rushed in after her, only to reemerge not even two minutes later with a shellshocked look on his face.  He said something along the lines of “Maybe a woman should go in and help.”  Alli went in to help with the task of lifting a woman suffering from AIDS into her bed.  After she was settled in, our group of five attempted to find space to sit around her mattress on the floor.  This was difficult due to the fact that the shack was small to begin with, but the rooms, divided by a vertical mattress holding the roof up, were even smaller.  We attempted to ask some questions with the help of a translator, but for me personally, it was difficult to focus on solar lamps when being confronted with this level of poverty and sickness in front of us.  The family, living in this small space, consisted of two sisters, one of whom was very sick with AIDS on the bed in front of us and her sister who suffered from lung disease and was acting as caretaker, and a young orphaned boy.  We discussed solar lamps and stoves and other things that seemed trivial in comparison to the hardships these three were facing.  This was our first day of MicroConsignment field work.

At the time, it was hard to see the effectiveness of what we were doing.  How is surveying about the feasibility of selling solar lamps in the future helpful when the people we’re talking to need dinner for their families today?  It took some reflection to really understand the extent of what we’re doing here.  “Changing Obstacles into Opportunities” isn’t just a catchy motto for Community Enterprise Solutions, but a mission of sustainability being worked for on a daily basis.  My initial expectation was that every day we were going to change the world and by the time we left, poverty would be well on its way to being alleviated.  Naïve and impossible, I know.  In these past six weeks, I’ve learned that development is a process, one that will be sustainable because of the extensive preparation and research that we’re putting in today.  This isn’t easy work, particularly when you know there is a peanut butter and banana sandwich waiting for you in the van and it would be that easy to give that to someone who needs it more than they need a survey.  But to go in blind, without the preparation we’ve been doing in these communities, would be foolish.  It would be impossible to effectively meet the needs (be it energy, water or vision) of a community if we don’t ask people what exactly they need and observe what causes that extra bit of hardship to their every day lives.

Bucky told us that the day this work stops hurting is the day you need to start looking for a new path.  He said that if you become distant from the people you’re trying to help, you’re doing it wrong.  In these short six weeks, I’ve seen how true that is.  The only way to be effective is to make it your own, to shove yourself as far into someone else’s shoes as possible to understand what they might need.  This work hasn’t just been filling out surveys and playing with smiling kids (although there has been a lot of that), but a constant effort to understand what people want and need and how to provide that service in a sustainable way.

Before coming here, I thought I understood poverty and wouldn’t be surprised by what we were in for.  I was wrong in the best way possible.  The people we’ve been talking to aren’t just statistics with decimal points or parts of rising unemployment rates.  They’re also not just photographs of “that one time I went to South Africa”, but people with stories and families and quirks.  But the ability to put faces and names with the numbers makes the lack of immediacy in development just that much harder, but also that much more rewarding in the long run.  This understanding has made it very clear that I don’t want to just give Thulani a hundred dollars to he can make a few more loaves of breads for the orphanage, and I can wash my hands and call it a day.  I’ve learned that I’d rather help him set up relationships with buyers and help him turn his bakery into something long term sustainable; and while there is the immediate satisfaction of relief work, it’ll be more satisfying to look up Mama Rosie’s Bakery months from now and see that maybe it’s grown to employ a few more people and is turning a profit.”