June 16 – Youth Day

10441327_10154285774145074_2456973897392330603_nLast week was Youth Day in South Africa. YAGM Alum Emily D. writes about her memories of being in Soweto, South Africa, on Youth Day in 2014.

June 16, 2015

One year ago, I was living in Soweto, South Africa. The organization I worked for, Diakonia AIDS Ministry, was holding an event that we had been working hard to plan for weeks. I was wearing a Morris Isaacson school uniform and marching through the streets of Central Western Jabavu. I was watching the youth I worked with sing songs, perform dances, and have a live debate. I was cooking kota and working in the kitchen. I was exploring a newly-opened museum in my neighborhood. I was taking pictures with friends and having the time of my life.

39 years ago today, however, was a different story. School children in Soweto were having laws forced upon them that made learning difficult, if not impossible. These same students were planning and executing a peaceful protest of these laws. Police were reacting to the protest in hurtful, intimidating, and deadly ways. People were upset, angry, and scared, but not defeated. The world was slowly starting to realize what was happening in South Africa as a result of Apartheid.

Now that I have been back in the United States for almost a year, I realize that my memory of June 16 in Soweto is seen through rose-colored glasses. For me, June 16 was a day to learn more about the history of my community and spend time with my friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Overall, I would call it a wonderful memory.

For many people, however, June 16 is a day to remember the heartache, pain, and suffering of that day in 1976. For many others, it may bring up memories of the apartheid era in general. Still, for others, this day may bring up feelings of pride and honor. June 16 means different things for different people.

Having grown up in a small town in Minnesota and not being born until about 15 years after the events of 1976, I cannot even fathom what the youth of that time were going through. I also cannot understand what June 16 means to a native Sowetan. Despite having lived in Soweto for a year, I know that I will never truly understand what June 16 is and what it stands for.

These feelings of not completely understanding June 16 are frustrating. I want to comprehend people’s feelings of hurt, pride, pain, and joy. I want to be able to articulate what Youth Day means for Soweto and South Africa — but I know I never will.

What I do understand is that June 16, 1976 is not only a day to be remembered and commemorated with a national holiday. It is a day to be mindful of and to learn from. It is a day to listen to stories and learn more from others around you.

For me, June 16 was, and still is, a day to celebrate the power of youth. It is also a day to remember the wonderful people I met in a South Africa. It is a day to think about my second home in Soweto and the history and culture that makes that community unique and vibrant. It is a day to appreciate people of all ages and their individual and collective capabilities. Finally, June 16 is a day to be thankful for those brave enough to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the cost.

Thank you, Soweto youth of 1976.

Home

Hannah, second from the right, stands with members of her community at her service site.

Hannah, second from the right, stands with members of her community at her service site.

Hannah lives and serves in rural South Africa. She writes:

I believe the writers for Disney are geniuses. Disney movies entertain the youngest child to grandparents. They know how to use words to make us laugh and to wrench our hearts. From “Some people are worth melting for” to “I thought we all were the children of God” and “I love you,” the Disney writers know how to capture our hearts. Growing up watching Disney movies and now watching them as a young adult, I can also see the deeper messages in them: love, family, acceptance, personal growth, forgiveness, and so much more. A line I used to laugh at when I was younger is Pumba’s “Home is where your rump rests!”

Lately, I have been struggling with the concept of home. What exactly is home? I know it’s different from the word “house” which refers to a physical structure, whereas the word “home” seems to have more of an emotional attachment. I realize I have moved around a lot since I turned eighteen. A new place every year during college. An apartment in Philly for a semester. The house I grew up in during the summers. A house in Matsulu for 4 ½ months, and now a house in Langeloop for 5 ½ months. But were any of those home? Or were they just places I inhabited?

As my time here quickly moves to the end, I think about going home. But I’m not sure what that means. I’ll spend a month at the house I grew up in before heading off to school again. So what do I mean when I say I’m “going home” again? What do I mean when I sometimes say I’m homesick? What is the “home” I keep referring to?
At first when I thought about Pumba’s definition, I viewed it as one place where you put roots down. But what if we think of it in a more general sense? How many different places does your “rump rest” in a day? A week? A year? Is your home the comfy chair in your living room? And maybe also the window seat in your favorite coffee shop? What about the church pew?

While I like thinking of home as a literal place, I also wonder about the roots of our homes that we put down that aren’t attached to a place. What about the roots we plant in people’s hearts? What if my home is my people? My mom, dad, brothers, and sister; my college friends scattered across the US; my church family; my theatre and dance families; the YAGM across the globe from Hungary to Madagascar; the YAGM all over Southern Africa; my host pastor and first host mom; my host sister in Joburg; my friends in Matsulu; my host family in Langeloop; the volunteers at the drop-in center; the kids at the center. These are my home.

My home may never actually be a place, a space I occupy, but my home is all of the people around the world who care for me and I for them. You are my home, and I carry my home in my heart wherever I go. In a few short months, I will return to my, my friends and family in the US. But I will also be leaving a part of my home behind. My home will forevermore be partially in the US and partially in South Africa. My home has been stretched across two continents. While I am excited to return to my home in the US, I will shed many tears for my home here that I will not return to for an indeterminate amount of time, maybe ever. But for the next few months, I will cherish my home here and look forward to returning to my home in the US. I guess the cliché is true for me: home is where the heart is.

It Takes a Village . . .

11265114_10204250799247023_2087251582728663855_nFor as long as I can remember, community has been a reoccurring theme in my life. Since arriving in South Africa in August, that theme has only been strengthened. When thinking about the importance of community and supporting each other, I am reminded of John 15:4. Jesus tells us to “remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remind on the vine.”

While Jesus was telling us to remain in his and God’s will, I also wonder if we can take this with us in regards to community. So often we are told not to forget where we came from, but possibly there is truth to that.

I have noticed that people do not forget their roots in South Africa. Even once they move away, some people that I have met try to stay entrenched in their communities (past and present) in any way that they can.

I want this for my people and for myself, for what better way to remain in Jesus, than to remain committed to those who have always been committed to you? Be that in spirit or any other way. We must be the branches that bear fruit.