The Author & Jennifer James in Soweto
It already seems like a dream that less than a week ago I was in Johannesburg, South Africa as a member of the Global Team of 200, for the #socialgoodmomsjoburg Insight Trip. There I met up with Global Team of 200 founder Jennifer James who arrived by way of Zambia where she had just spent the week with Malaria No More. She had been with them to report on the rolling out of their #PowerofOne campaign to provide malaria tests and treatments for children in regions of Africa, where Malaria claims a child a minute.
So we met in Johannesburg, the second largest city on the African continent with a population of over 3.6 million, its O.R.Tambo airport is the busiest in all of Africa. I’ll be honest, it took us a few days to begin to figure out this massive modern city, that locals refer to as either Joburg or Jozi. There are eleven official languages spoken in Johannesburg, and from our experience, no attempt at political correctness when talking about the three main racial categories its inhabitants are put into. People are plainly referred to as white, black or colored (lighter skin blacks or referring to Indian or Malaysians from what I gather). We were there to meet with Global Team partners and NGOs to get an on the ground look at the issues they tackle first hand.
From the surface Johannesburg could be any large American city, but the vibe is very different, and as Americans one of the first things we noticed was the lingering racial divide. It is also said to be the wealthiest province in South Africa, and while we glimpsed the luxury lifestyles in the suburbs from the outside, our work took us into the homes of the poorest of poor. We witnessed first hand the great disparity of wealth that exists, and as an outsider to a country with so much wealth, is difficult understand at any level.
Johannesburg also has a reputation as being one of the more dangerous cities of the world. Fortunately we never felt threatened in any way and of course used the same common sense we would have in any major metropolitan area. Certainly the townships we visited for our work would be considered some of the most dangerous areas in the city. As in most places, statistically the crime occurs at the highest rate within residents of communities themselves and not on visitors, aside from petty theft, but the warnings are still to be taken seriously. While visiting with the women’s collective Rebecca’s Well we took a walk through Alexandra Township with a local woman from the organization as our guide. Our greetings were met with smiles as people went about their daily lives. The people we met in the township were friendly and some asked to have their pictures taken. When others noticed, they wanted their picture taken too, just to be able to see the images of themselves that I captured with my lens in the viewfinder, laughing or smiling in approval when they did.
One of the launching points for Jennifer’s social good work was her trip several years ago to Kenya as a ONEMom. Her experiences with ONE in Kenya made her realize how valuable the impact of seeing the things we write about first hand was, and that is the experience she decided to give her Global Team of 200 members. Documama is a ONE Moms Community Partner, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the ONE offices in Johannesburg that are the Headquarters for all of Africa.
South Africa has the highest AIDS rate in the world, so the work of one of our Global Team of 200 partner organizations, Marie Stopes , is critical here where it works to provide services to curtail the spread of the disease. They also provide education and critical family planning services to underserved populations around the city.
In between visits with organizations we toured the area to get a better sense of Johannesburg, and even had the chance to visit a lion reserve outside of the city. In Soweto we made sure to visit the Mandela house, and Hector Peterson square. We got out into the suburbs to see the lifestyle outside of downtown and found areas with amazing restaurants like Melrose Arch and Parkhurst. In Sandton and Rosebank we passed by large modern shopping centers, juxtaposing the Alexandra Township that we knew to be just down the street. It wasn’t until our last day in Joburg when we went to the Neighborgoods Market in Braamfontain, that we found the South Africa we had both expected, or hoped for. In a neighborhood undergoing gentrification downtown we witnessed the type of community interaction we had been looking to see all along. It struck us that apartheid fell just a short twenty years ago. People my age would have been in their mid-twenties already when it ended, and so the young hip crowd that populated the marketplace would truly be the generation to hopefully grow up and change the divided face of Johannesburg. Looking around the diverse crowd, they already are.
I can’t wait to share the insights from our trip and each of our NGO visits throughout the week , each one different, enlightening, and educational in vastly different ways. I hope you’ll join me!
I travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa as part of The Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of members of Mom Bloggers for Social Good that concentrates on issues involving women and girls, children, world hunger and maternal health.
Our Motto: Individually we are all-powerful. Together we can change the world. We believe in the power of collective action to help others and believe in ourselves to make this world a better place for our children and the world’s children.