On Friday, 18 July, I took part in Mandela Day – an annual international day in honour of Nelson Mandela – for the very first time. 67 minutes performing an act of kindness to honour the 67 years Madiba spent fighting for social justice. Seems a little inadequate, doesn’t it?
It was this very attitude that had kept me away from small acts of kindness for most of my young adult life. I wanted to make a real difference. So I would spend my time wondering how to change the world, then realize how much bigger the problems were, and be left disenchanted, overwhelmed and exhausted by the state of affairs. Then came the feelings of inadequacy and insignificance. Then good old apathy – that feeling, or lack thereof, that’s been dubbed the plague of our generation by some of the people that raised us.
Recently, I’ve been inspired by a Ponte-based organisation, Dlala Nje that’s doing some cool, fun stuff (which you should check out!) in order to run their community centre for Ponte residents. I was clearly less of a visionary in the business of meaningful contributions, so I decided to jump on a bandwagon that was already moving, bringing along some equally complacent individuals for the ride.
In collaboration with Maboneng’s MainStreetWalks, Dlala Nje organised a walk from Ponte in Hillbrow, to MOAD (Musuem of African Design) in the Maboneng Precinct, during which Ponte kids and volunteers would hand out blankets and warm clothing to the homeless. And whilst the actual walk wasn’t quite as daunting as I expected, the entire experience left me feeling a little odd whilst my brain got twisted in some serious thought gymnastics.
There was no doubt I had done some good. I helped someone get through a winter’s night a little easier than before my act of altruism. And even that tiny act of kindness made a difference in someone’s life.
But what really caught me off-guard was the feeling of awkwardness. Did the individuals on the receiving end care whether the act of giving was faceless or personal? Did they care to tell their stories? Or would they simply tell a story to fulfil my need to feel a connection beyond the simple act of giving? Would it make any difference? Was it acceptable to take a picture? Or feel nervous and a little uncomfortable? For some the solution is easy: “Do what you’re comfortable with. Charity is charity.” And although I see the merit in this solution, I can’t help but wonder what’s often been left uninvestigated, even if it does not alter the fundamental nature of kind acts.
Charity, at least for me, is incredibly awkward. But I understand now that it needs to be done and that my 67 minutes of discomforting realisations are incomparable to a life of discomfort. There will never be enough blankets to keep the homeless warm every winter, and I will feel that with every additional blanket I give, but at least I know what it feels like to fully comprehend the necessity of regular kind acts. That lesson alone was enough for me: understanding how much more needs to be done, how little it costs me, and how much it matters.
Check out my review of one of Dlala Nje’s initiatives, “This is Hillbrow!”, a walking tour of Ponte City and Hillbrow. Click here.
Also check out a Dlala Nje blog entry about Mandela Day gone capitalist, titled “What did you really do on Mandela Day. Click here.