Kristen (USA) joined us on our Pre-School Teaching Program in Cape Town this July. As she discovered, 'Ubuntu' is a word heard frequently while volunteering abroad in Cape Town, and here she shares what it meant to her.
There was a foreign word I overheard in one of my first memorable moments of my trip, as we were led on a tour by an African Impact staff member and local member of the community. The word was: "ubuntu." Something about this word struck me and as soon as I got back to the volunteer house, I did as any other person from the modern world would do if you wanted an immediate answer to a question you don't know...you Google it.
Well, according to Wikipedia, the most basic translation of "ubuntu" means "human kindness." When you think about the general concept of volunteerism, ubuntu ties in beautifully. Volunteering means that an individual willingly gives their time, skills, and resources to an individual or group in need, in return for the gratification for doing a good deed rather than money. Whether this is something you do in your own backyard or in a location halfway around the globe, helping others is a universal concept among the human species. During this first week on projects in the communities of Khayelitsha and Red Hill, I have begun to see how "ubuntu" has a much deeper meaning here in the volunteer community and beyond.
On a deeper level, "ubuntu" means "I am, because of you." Humans are connected through experience, and our actions have an effect on each another. Our perception of ubuntu carries into how we show it in our daily actions and interactions with one other. The South African people endured numerous struggles in the years during and after apartheid, a time when racial segregation severely divided a nation politically, socially, and economically. Over time, since Nelson Mandela ended the apartheid regime, "ubuntu" within the local and volunteer communities has played an enormous role in rebuilding a nation that has truly seen its share of hardships over time.
Putting 'Ubuntu' Into Practice
The three words that African Impact uses in its motto are "Explore, Inspire, Impact." However, another word that has come into conversation numerous times over the past few days is "sustainability." African Impact utilizes volunteers--everyday people of all ages and walks of life--to empower the communities they work within. The focus is on long term, positive change, rather than a short-term fix. There is an old saying that says "Give a man a fish, and he will feed for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime." Ubuntu and volunteering means exactly that. You can enrich yourself in a way that also enriches others, and help someone obtain a sustainable skill that they can use to better their life for hopefully years to come.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, ‘’A person is a person through other persons." My brief experience at African Impact so far has allowed me to take a deeper look at how individuals can demonstrate kindness and service to others on many levels. Whether it is teaching preschool age children their basic letters and numbers, organizing a talent show with foster children in their home, or providing activities at the library for teens who don't have a safe place to go after school, the values of service, sustainability, and ubuntu at African Impact go hand in hand. Start small--even a stick and a thread are enough to teach someone how to fish.
What can you do to make volunteering and "ubuntu" a part of your life?
If you are interested in volunteering in Cape Town, feel free to visit my personal blog to read about my experiences with the Over 30s Preschool and Teaching project at www.pvgoestosouthafrica.tumblr. com.
Or, feel free to check out the many other projects African Impact has to offer in Cape Town: