I live in Africa. This means that I am confronted with some of the worst poverty in the world on a daily basis. Even though I live in South Africa, and the government is fiscally able to support the poor, at the end of the day, people in my village go hungry, kids shiver themselves to sleep, people die from curable or treatable diseases, and children come to school without coats and shoes in the winter. In my village, where I call home.
The level of suffering in my village is hard for me to comprehend, even though I see it often. Kids steal unripe food from the garden, kids eat veld grasses, and nearly every child in the village is small and stunted. When I was in America, I was stunned to see how big and healthy young children looked. The adults suffer too. Hardly any people between the ages of 20-40 live in the village, either because they have died or because they live away from the family to find work. Almost every child in the village is raised by grandparents, many of whom live completely off their pension and social grants, or raise themselves.
Other PCVs are able to do fundraising, such as casual Fridays, where a kid can pay 1-2 rand to wear anything besides the uniforms. They do that once or twice a year at my school, and many children show up in the uniforms because they can’t pay the 1-2 rand. That’s about 25 cents, USD. Most schools have “snack ladies” that show up and sell sweets, biscuits, and crisps during lunch. My schools don’t, and the shops rarely stock such items because nobody can afford it.
Living in this reality makes me realize how truly blessed I am. I didn’t grow up in a rich family, and my parents certainly didn’t cater to my every whim. Yet I never went without what I needed, and my family usually found a way to provide for the things I wanted. I never went a week without seeing my parents, and I grew up in a fairly functional family. My sister and I weren’t passed out to relatives to raise us. I never had to worry about whether my mother or father was going to die. I never went hungry, thirsty, cold, sick….I never had to experience what nearly every child in my village has to experience.
Being a PCV can be truly heartbreaking. But it also shows me how truly good my life is. God has blessed me with so much, and before joining Peace Corps, I took most of that for granted. When was the last time you thanked God for a shower, steady electricity, insulation, carpet, a ceiling, not having to shake your shoes out for scorpions/tarantulas, reliable transportation….In America, we say Grace for our food, but how thankful are we really? How can we be truly thankful when most Americans have never gone hungry? I am incredibly grateful for the simple things in life, because I know what it’s like to live without these luxuries, now.
My life is good, and now I can spend two years trying to make the lives of my villagers better.