On Mother’s Day we went to see the musical Spam-a-lot at the Murat in Indianapolis. It is about the quest for the Holy Grail. Now here we are staying at the Grail Centre in Kleinmond, South Africa. Many people ask us what our journey to South Africa is about (people here in South Africa and people back in the United States!). Part of it is the desire for a real time of renewal with our family – which is wonderful. Part of it is an exploration of this incredibly diverse, wonderful world of ours. Part of it is a genuine interest in what others are doing around the world which is inspiring and what I like to call – in-spiriting (or inspirational, I suppose). This last, perhaps, is my Grail.
Friday morning we visited the penguins out at Stony Point in Betty’s Bay. These African penguins are quite social with one another – hanging out on the rocks in groups and talking and resting and playing and dancing with one another. The view was amazing. But it seemed as if bad weather was coming so we headed back to the Grail Centre. In the afternoon we were blessed with a visit from Ann Hope, one of the founders of the Grail Centre. She stopped by with her walking stick and her dog Pepper. She sat down in our living room with us and chatted. She told us about her history – 7 years in Kenya and 7 years in a couple of other countries in East Africa. She had done community and economic development work there (she and her partner Sally Timmel published the very helpful series “Training for Transformation” based on the work of Paolo Freire). She said that she would try to get us together with some of the staff from the Centre here.
Ann grew up in South Africa. When she graduated from college in 1948, the election results, based on campaigns against the “black danger” and the “Roman [Catholic] danger” were showing that the years ahead would be difficult ones. She spent time in the United States and in Kenya and other parts of East Africa. She and her partner Sally Timmel opened this place in late 1999 (wanting to beat the clock turning to 2000).
They are doing excellent work in development. But as with Peter-John I was struck by her feeling that they weren’t really accomplishing a lot. They are making attempts at doing things, but it is clearly overwhelming. While they are providing a training centre here for people around South Africa and across the continent – it is their work here at home, in Kleinmond, that is most specific and tangible to her. They are working on something called “Mthimkhulu Village Centre.” This effort at community development is working with the large number of people who live in the township here in Kleinmond. The township has 2/3rds of the population of the town (most of the “colored” and “black”) membership. They live, literally, by the city dump and power plant. There is one toilet for every 190 people who live there (though the number who live there is growing all the time – with people coming from even more rural areas looking for work). Unemployment here is 76%! They are working in several areas at the same time – they are working to build 611 homes for the 611 families who are without. They have built around 6 in this project just started a few months ago. But already, they said, the number is larger than 611 that need housing! The houses they have built and are building are all “green.” Anne pointed out that all will have to be green in 10 years time, anyway – it will be required by that time. The homes are solar powered and also will conserve water and waste.
They are working in economic development. The Fynbos is a name given to the unique vegetation – some flowering – that grows around here (the picture of the plant from Thursday that we posted is called the Protea). They are developing a program where you can order Fynbos flowers and have them delivered within 36 hours – as an economic development effort for folks around here. The Dell Corporation recently gave them 30 computers which they are using for adult education. They are building an amphitheatre and cultural centre. They were trying to decide on a site for the amphitheatre when they were visited by a friend, whose partner is the architect for the Globe Theatre in England! He suggested a location and has provided some technical assistance to getting this built. It will be a place that “encourages local talent from schools, churches and communities to bring the whole community together.” Cultural and seasonal events will take place in it, as will local farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings to “encourage social cohesion and sustainable healthy food production.”
The dance of community development here (human and penguin) is a privilege to watch. It’s beauty is just the Grail I seek.