Monday, April 03, 2006

My Shining Moment

Hello everyone! I love the responses to these emails and find that both writing them and also the responses I get help me to process, to feel supported and please keep responding, it helps me a lot!

So this past weekend I spent in the township, Nekkies. It was good. It was very intense. And I will write about it sometime soon and what we did and all that happened (in two days it seemed a lot happened, but then again it seemed pretty typical to them, so who knows)'ll just have to wait in suspense until I find the right words to describe the weekend...for now, I want to write about what happened today, because in a time when I have been here for two weeks, I have truly felt the power of what MadAboutArt does here, how it empowers these kids, how- despite all of their hardships that are too great to even list or understand fully- they have a lot to teach me, to teach the world.

Before I get there, a bit of background. I'm living with the founder of MadAboutArt, a white British man named Larry whose vision in life is to teach kids about HIV and empower them to make their own life choices. Last night, as we watched the sunset from his back porch in Plettenberg Bay, he was explaining the name: MadAboutArt. The Mad part actually stands for Making A Difference because for him, it's not just about making art. It's about motivating these kids that they can Make A Difference with their art, that they have some purpose for it and for their lives, to help others. He explains how he hates the world victim..(think how many times you've heard the phrase victims of HIV). It disempowers the kid, leaves them helpless. Instead, he views them as survivors, who can be made stronger and can help others who may be in the same situation. Indeed, one of the things that stand out about my time are my conversations with these kids, with shacks in the background, that they want to help other kids around the world. My friend said what she loves about Nekkies is that despite having little, they always share what little they have- her family has run a soup kitchen for the kids for years now. Another boy, Richet, told me today that he wants to work to give people living with HIV a voice. They are amazing kids, and I continue to be amazed...particularly today...

So, today the kids started to shoot a film that they are creating. On Friday we had our first brainstorming meeting, where we discussed several things. One, what was the value of filming, and what do we hope people can get out of it. They answered they can tell others' their own stories, with the hope that they - particularly youth in a similar situation- can learn from them. Second, we decided on the story- one that each of them have taken- coming from Nekkies and how MadAboutArt has changed their lives and empowered them, particularly through the Rainbow of Hope (that went to London), Hero Booking, and learning about and then teaching other kids about HIV. Finally the film will end for their hopes for the future, entitled Looking Forward to the Future (taken from Andhile's hero book title) that shows both visions for themselves and MadAboutArt. We broke into crews who is each in charge of one day of filming, with a director, cameraperson, lighting/sound person, note taker, technician, and 'actors.' Today we went out to the community, interviewed each other...and it put a huge smile on my face to see them get so into it, to see Kenneth climbing up on trees to get a good image.

After a long day of filming in the sun, we sat in the shade of a tree beside their high school (by the way the reason we have time to shoot is that they are on a one week holiday, and yet they still want to keep learning and coming to MadAboutArt), and I asked if they were scared about stigma or discrimination when speaking out about HIV. They all quickly shook their heads no, that the only way to breakdown that discrimination is to talk about it, to teach others. What's even more profound to me is that they have taken this lesson and applied it to the annual gay pride festival. Though they are not gay, and though they faced a lot of criticism from the community and their families, they decided last year to march in support of gays.

It is an amazing concept, one that shows an incredible depth of thinking, of empathy, of understanding- to say, Yes I Understand Stigma and Discrimination and I will Support Others, Not My Own Group, Fight Against It..I Will Stand Beside Them as an Ally. From the work I have done with various groups, all too often I am so surprised at the inability of one group who has been discriminated against to empathize with another group. All too often I have witness a "who has suffered more" contest. For these kids, though, anyone's suffering is their suffering. Anyone's discrimination is everyone's. It seems appropriate that Passover is coming up when we Jews proclaim, No one is free until we are all free...These kids are putting those words into action.

And as I sat there, underneath the tree, thinking about how much I admire them, how much I appreciate their honesty and embracing me, allowing me to see into their lives...I decided to reveal a part of myself I had not yet to the kids (but did to my friend that I write about in emails)...I came out to them. What's funny about writing this in an email now is that it feels almost scarier than actually saying it to them, but I suppose if I feel the right to reveal extremely personal bits about their life then I should be gutsy enough to do it for my own life (and anyway, I assume if you are reading this then you already know!)...In anycase, I told them how amazing I thought their work was, that I wanted to share a part of my own life also, and some of the monsters (feelings of shame, guilt, secrecy) that I had to overcome in my own life. I showed them a picture of my beautiful girlfriend and said, "You are able to show support when even people in the United States are not...That I too, because I love someone who is a woman and whose skin is as dark as theirs...That I too have felt stigma and discrimination, and know that it can be scary and vulnerable...but that it must, for all of our sake, be fought against." Suddenly, they started clapping.

If only the world were as empathetic, open-minded, and driven towards tikkun olam (repairing the world) as these kids in Nekkies. We have a lot to learn from them.

This was one of my most hopeful moments here in South Africa, when if I turn the corner, I am again faced with the despair that many of the people face...but I promised hopefulness and here it is, effecting me in a way I could not have expected.


Post a Comment

<< Home