Fridays are the only days of the week that all of our schedules overlap. In the morning we clamber into the vans and drive to UWC. As it always is, when all 19 of us are together, some sort of ridiculousness usually ensues and we arrive in fits of laughter to Sharon’s class. “Grassroot Organizations and Development” is a course designed by the Marquette program to allow us structured time to reflect and apply social theory to the work we are doing at our NGO (non-government organization) sites. Slender, and in her mid-sixties, Sharon’s body carries the mark of a lifetime in the South African sun. Every class period begins with an update of how our sites are progressing, and what we have done there in the past week. For the next two hours, there is a lecture of sorts on South Africa, the informal settlements, or social research. “Empowerment” she said in her high-pitched poise, “is a funny word. You cannot empower someone else. If you could, then you could take that power away. Rather, people become empowered.”
At 12:30 we pile back in with Sharky and Pearnel and take the N2 downtown. At St. Georges Cathedral we wind our way past the elaborate stone masonry and stain glass to the back courtyard. In a large, well lit room, black plastic chairs are set up in a semicircle around a stage. “Theology of Freedom, Reconciliation and Justice, is really a theology about you, about us.” Chris Ahrends’ words pour like silk sheets from his mouth; wrapping around us, and settling lightly over our shoulders. “Apartheid was the murder of the human spirit. It made people disposable” he tells a captivated audience. “Part of the reason we have so much violence in this country now is because of this disposability. Context creates content” and we nod, jotting a few notes in our journals.
Some weeks, one of these classes will be replaced by a guest speaker, or special event. It is these days that I most look forward to.
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Part 1 of 3