Community Impact in Cape Town

Marcus O'Malley -- November 18th, 2009

Guest blogger (and former hburgnews contributor) Marcus shares some of his experiences in South Africa.

The dominant drug of choice among youth in Cape Town is Methamphetamine, Tik as the kids call it. They will do anything to get their hands on it, and as a Mail & Guardian Online article I read stated regarding youth in Cape Town:

“Most are unemployed, yet they spend an average R3000 a month on drugs.”

R3000 is roughly $400 at the moment and probably a descent month’s salary in Cape Town. One of the most intriguing aspects of social change that I got to witness was the transition of the young adults (ages 15-18) and their relationship to the kids in the community (ages 7-11) as a result of the work myself and other young people from the church were doing. When I arrived it was a very dominant group of young adult males in the area. The young kids did whatever the older boys demanded and if they didn’t anything from beatings, thrown stones or worse was their punishment. They were often used in forced criminal activity, e.g. shoved through a window or over a wall to find something to steal that the older kids could use for their drug money.

The amazing part was only weeks after I arrived, I gently tried to persuade the young adults to stop hurting the children. Soon after they began picking on their own; if a young adult hurt the kids the other young adults would attack him and defend the kids. The church began meeting regularly with the kids and the young adults eventually left the kids alone for the remainder of my year in Cape Town.

It was so amazing to watch the transition and how quickly it happened. These young men were just looking for someone to guide them and they found it in our group. All it took was showing up.

Engaging kids at Easter to avoid drugs and gangsterism

Engaging kids at Easter to avoid drugs and gangsterism

Marcus O’Malley started Immerge Technologies in Harrisonburg before taking a year off to spend doing missions work in South Africa. He’s now planning another business in Warrenton, VA. Read more on Marcus’ blog from the trip.

8 Responses to “Community Impact in Cape Town”

  1. Jamie Smith says:

    Good article, Marcus. It appears it does not have enough controversy for the regulars on this blog.


  2. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

    Thanks for sharing with us, Marcus. Sounds like a real, out of control gang/drug problem. Are there no other church and/or government crime prevention programs for the youth?

  3. Renee says:

    Always good to hear a story of positive impact being made by “regular people” (by that I mean not multi-millionaire celebrities, so it seems within-reach for any of us to do) that has a big effect on kids’ futures!

  4. Marcus says:

    I went to a discussion on the governments and police departments outreach programs. They were literally talking numbers of reaching about 15-20 kids; not programs, 15-20 kids.

    They just have no money for it and are dedicating less and less money toward it.

    There are a number of individuals in the community trying to do things and starting after school care programs, but nearly 100% of the cases are out of their own pocket and they try it for a while and eventually can’t afford to continue or just get disheartened without support and give up.

    The churches offer youth programs and many that I visited want to help with drug addicts, but many are not equipped to know how to handle drug addicts and don’t have the money to get training or higher rehab program coordinators. Most churches I visited the youth programs are run by the youth themselves voluntarily because the church can only afford one pastor.

    There are some rehab centers and many are run through churches, but they are overwhelmed with need and don’t have funding to handle the outrageous numbers.

  5. Marcus says:

    I agree with you Renee – we can’t impact everyone, but we can definitely impact someone, just depends what we make a priority.

  6. Dany Fleming says:

    The problem Marcus is describing is only a real concern for the (relatively) small number of people working on it. Actually, you can substitute the United States for South Africa in this discussion and it generally still holds true. There are few countries where the first and third world are such close neighbors.

    The fact is, whether you’re in Khayelitsha (a Cape Town township) or inner city Chicago, these kids are too often viewed as sacrificial; they have few powerful voices working for them. Those kids certainly know how the game works – that is, that it’s not a fair set-up for them.

    My experience is that SA youth (generally considered up to the age of 25) understand the value of taking care of each other, when given the chance, and are politically active. That they’ve stepped up in Marcus’ program is indicative of many youth there, much like what actually seems to be happening with kids in this country.

    The organization I helped found there over 15 years ago raised well over a million dollars and set-up centers in the townships of Khalyetisha, Mannenberg, Alexandria, and Soweto. Lots of folks were helped, lots of current government leaders were involved and Mandela applauded the work. It was a valuable band-aid to a gushing wound.

    These types of programs are vital: the work that Marcus is doing is incredibly meaningful and saves lives. However, though these programs get support from churches, foundations, non-profits, and even governments, the majority of the work comes from the need to survive coupled with the big hearts of folks like Marcus.

    The gross and unfathomable inequities of access to proper resources are still fundamentally unchallenged and unchanged. Just look at how quickly bankers got bailed-out (from both sides of the political aisle) while early-childhood educators are still begging for scraps.

    Brent, I do think Jaime’s comment might be more true than you suggest. Connecting our morals/values/actions with injustice in the world (or backyard) is not controversial enough right now to bring about a real change. I’m a big optimist, but I know that’s still where the battle is.

  7. marcus says:

    Sorry for such a late response:

    Dany – I just wanted to comment on your last point especially regarding Jamie’s…

    I agree with you, but I think the climate is changing and getting ready for some really big change.

    Oprah Winfrey, Obama, Warren Buffet, Bono, tv shows like Biggest Loser, Philanthropist and others, green initiatives, and other’s are moving in that direction of desiring world change for the better. Like them or hate them it’s happening and catching on. I think the next generation is going to see an even bigger movement toward green, world change and giving back.

    Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I see hope!

  8. Dany Fleming says:

    I’m an optimist as well, Marcus. I do believe there is a strong movement afoot – led by the next generation. I also believe some of the push back is a last ditch battle cry from the (relatively) small groupings who like the status quo – much of that is more bark than bite.

    However, I also don’t believe that folks bearing the brunt and worst of the world’s problems view it this same way. The potential for change is of little value until it happens for them. “Just wait a little longer” and “change is coming” are slogans that provide them little comfort. I share your hope. It’s also important to understand this other perspective.

    By the way, Long Walk to Freedom is one of the books I recommend to folks, as well. During my time there, I was fortunate to meet and work with some of the folks in the book. I took a flight from CT to Joburg once with Mandela and about 12 other people. I asked his one body guard if he had any way to protect Mandela. He said, “no, it was still illegal for Blacks to carry guns or weapons” – which I knew. Just like the rest of us, Mandela got on and off the plane, walked through the airport, got into his car (he did have a driver) and drove home with no other escort. No fan fare or security details. It was amazing to see what little fear and pretense he has. Certainly a reason South Africa is such a hopeful beacon.

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