When I decided to go to South Africa, I went with the intention of taking a bit of a break. I’ve taken on a lot of trauma over the last few months and been exposed to pain and suffering I was completely oblivious and naive to less than a year ago.
One year ago, my life was simple and straightforward. The hardest things I dealt with were things like break-ups and the odd argument amongst friends. Yes I read the news but I was always able to close the newspaper and forget. It didn’t affect me. It was all far away…
Then I went to ‘the Jungle’ in Calais and my life changed. As our work quickly extended from Calais to Lesvos, then to Turkey and Jordan, no longer could I read a newspaper or watch reports on TV about boats sinking and children drowning and people being deported to their death and Iranians sewing their lips closed in protest, because I had been there, and seen it, and experienced this pain first hand. The people going through it had become my friends.
Then I went to South Africa for a holiday, and as we drove from the airport to the centre of Cape Town, what did we pass, but what looked exactly like several sprawling Jungle’s lining the road sides. The only difference was that the shelters were made from corrugated iron instead of wood and tarpaulin.
‘Townships.’ I’d heard this word, but again, it was far away and didn’t affect me. What could I do?
It made me realise that no one can take on the world’s problems. It’s an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality that I totally understand. It’s a self-preservation thing. No one can take the world’s burdens on their shoulders, feel the pain of world conflict in their hearts, it would be too much, and it wouldn’t help anyone…
HOWEVER, in England, in Europe, we can no longer use physical distance as a barrier or boundary to caring or taking action. The refugee crisis is real and history in the making and happening all around us. And we are powerful, there’s so much we can actively do, and when you can actually do something, it feels good.
I think it’s a beautiful balance. You can’t do everything, you can’t help everyone. Some things ARE far away and our of our control, but we have a responsibility to do what we can. Whether it’s the refugee crisis in Europe, or post-apartheid South Africa, whether it’s your local animal rescue centre or the old lady next door, we all have the power to use the resources available to us to do something. And we all have resources. You might be a teacher, a builder, a lawyer or a student. You don’t need to have money to donate, or even time to volunteer, but you can share a post, spread a message and embark in open conversation inspired by love and unity, and that’s enough.
Photos on film by Nils O’Hara