Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Resilence and optimism in South Africa

Just returned from 10 days in the beautiful country of South Africa and my head is spinning! It's hard to believe that I could feel so at home half way around the world. Of course being able to make art and work with beautiful preschoolers creates a nice comfort zone but there was more to it than that. One of the most refreshing things I found in SA was the recognition that democracy is an imperfect work in progress. While we proudly promote our democratic structure in the US, we are miles away from the thoughtful reflection shared in SA. The dialogue is more open, and there is a stronger will to admit mistakes of the past and work for change. Of course I'm always the idealistic one here but the hope and transformation was palpable, even when we were working in the townships where resources and opportunity are hard to come by.

I had the chance to speak to many people about access to education. One powerful conversation was with Dorothy Garcia, one of the directors of ArtAidsArt. She has been working in Khayelitscha for 12 years now. She shared how the dialogue and perspective about education has shifted. While access to education is still barred by school fees, uniform fees, transportation expenses, etc. conversation in the township has shifted. The women we worked with expressed a strong desire for their daughters to become lawyers, teachers, and the first female President of South Africa. While the barriers to opportunity, economic mobility, and education are still significant, this noticeable shift in perception is promising. It reflects a shifting set of priorities and a concerted effort to provide a better future.

As my research about the myth of the American Dream has indicated, a vision of mobility is not always a reality. Regardless, culture has a huge impact on policy and development priorities. The optimism of moms and children alike in South Africa should inspire all of us to evaluate the profound opportunity that comes with access to education.

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