Simunye - We are One
Simunye means "we are one" in Zulu. For the past 10 years a group of people have come together from all around the world to help struggling communities in South Africa. The Simunye Project was started by a South African couple who saw a need in their country and decided to act on that need. From the squatter camps in Johannesburg to the creches (day cares) in Hoedspruit, Simunye works to make the places they help become self sustaining and to show people that someone cares about them and values their work.
Every year, the two week journey begins in Johannesburg where the first thing we do is buy food staples and basic hygiene supplies for about 150 families. To put that in perspective, when all the supplies that we need are bought, we fill a two-ton box truck with all the goods for these families. In the hotel parking lot we set up all 150 “hampers”, unwrap everything and fill all the bags with what supplies we have bought; making sure every family gets one of everything. All those hampers are then taken to Tshepang.
On top of a little hill, overlooking the squatter camp is a daycare and afterschool program for the children who live in the squatter camp. The location of Tshepang doesn’t sound like it would be a beautiful place, but it really is. Children of all ages crowd the area. They run, play, dance, and sing, making Tshepang one of the most happy and lively atmospheres I’ve ever been in. Paintings from past Simunye groups cover every wall, and red dust that has been kicked up from the ground by the sneakers of running children lightly covers every surface of anything that stands between the ground and the African sun. Love beams through the eyes of anyone you will meet there, but in particular; Susan’s eyes. Susan started Tshepang, and has devoted her life to helping the kids (more than 300) who live in the squatter camps.
This year we fitted clothes and shoes for all the girls and boys, fixed a sewer line, waterproofed a non-usable classroom, deliver ePap (a fortified food supplement) , and put up 6 shelves to re-organize a food pantry. Susan wasn’t our only stop in Johannesburg. We also visited an adoption home (for babies up to 2 years old), we took a tour of Soweto, visited Nelson Mandela’s house, and did a bit of local shopping.
After Johannesburg we headed off to Hoedspruit where we helped a series of different small creches, elementary schools, and met lots of people. Every place we drove to, we were greeted with singing, dancing, and hugs. Sometimes, the people that Simunye helps we have never met before, and other times we return to a place that we have helped become self-sustaining. We do this just to check in on how they are doing and to see what progress they have made with what we have given them. We built everything from kitchens, playgrounds, fences, and gardens. We painted murals, and organize clutter. Mostly we made connections and bonded with locals who are desperately trying to bring their communities out of poverty through education. We learned about their lives, their families, communities, and cultures.
To me, the most amazing part of Simunye is how personal our giving is. We don’t work though a large organization. Everything we do is planned by the Simunye volunteers. Every dollar earned through funds raised is spent on cement, food, ePap, and supplies that we bring. Every article of clothing that has been donated is personally handed to the kids. We see the excitement in their faces when we come with face paints and games that we have planned to give to them. We take time to talk to people, we learn their story, and they tell us what an impact we are making on their lives. No two Simunye trip is ever the same. Each year, we go where we are needed, learn from our mistakes, and trust that God will lead us where we need to be. By simply giving a building a fresh coat of paint or digging some tires into the ground for kids to jump on, we attract more families to send their children to the small day cares/schools we help.
One afternoon, after digging a permaculture garden for a day care, we all sat down and discussed what help that brings to the community we had just built that garden for. For a good 30 minutes our list went on and on about the ripple effects of what a garden can do to help an entire community. Giving is powerful. For 10 years Mr. and Mrs. Dry have devoted their spring break to giving. Most people want to use their spring break to relax, but the Dry’s use it to give. They have made a difference in their country, and have inspired many students to know that they can make a change in what they want to see changed in the world. They show us how much we can do and how many people we can help with the will to work hard. They inspire me to keep turning cement instead of taking a lunch break, or to learn about someone’s life instead of sitting by myself; but mostly, they remind me that we are at our best when we give.
I am my happiest self in South Africa. I love the feeling of driving away from a daycare or a creche that we have just helped and waving to all the happy faces of the people who will be benefitting from what we have provided them. I love the feeling of our vans bumping along the dirt roads, and I love how every person on the side of it turns to smile at us. I love how the people we come to help always end up helping us just as much as we help them. They help us find ourselves: the people we are when we give and love. They bring out the best in us. Simunye means "we are one", and there is no place else in this world where I feel so strongly that when we work, give, and love through God, we are one.