Published in Westerford High School‘s Newsletter (30 August 2019: No 27)
An assembly talk that was presented by their Habitat for Humanity SA committee co-chairpersons, Joanna Corder and Tanvir Ranchod
“If I had to ask what you need to build a house, you’d be quick to answer: cement, bricks, tiles, spades, wheelbarrows.
But then you could pause and add: a quiet place to be on my own, a warm room to share with my family, a back garden over-grown with childhood memories, a book shelf with hidden adventures. For most of us, our houses are just that – and more. They represent our families in every mismatched sofa and scruffy dress-up box. A house has seen every sibling throw a
tantrum and every parent throw a surprise birthday party. Home is a beacon of nostalgia and unity. However for millions, home is… a new shop doorway every night, spilling onto hurried feet and a cold darkness.
We take things for granted. It’s an unavoidable fact. We can talk all day about it – about our privileges, our advantages. We can even post articles on our Instagram stories. We’ve elevated our egos, but not the living standards of the underprivileged in the article. Maybe we can stop doing nothing, and pondering everything, and do something.
But we’ve heard this talk so many times before: be grateful for what you have and contribute to charities. If you think that these talks aren’t necessary any more, that you’ve heard it only a trillion times, you should wake up. And not in a “Just five more minutes” way. This isn’t an issue that affects only the poor; our housing crisis includes all of us.
When we looked up 2018 monthly income levels in South Africa, we thought there must have been a mistake – please let these devastating figures not be real. But unfortunately, the suffering is real.
At this school and with its fees, we can assume that a lot of our households’ incomes are over R19 089 per month. If this is accurate, then a lot of us here lie in the top 2% of South Africa’s wealth. Top 2%. 80% of South Africans earn R3 807 per month. 40% earn R758 per month. 25% earn just R531 per month. That’s… one pair of jeans or a few dinners out. This means 14 180 000 people have money to buy enough calories for an emergency situation in a day. If this doesn’t scare you but clowns do, maybe think again.
So it’s easy to establish – poverty seeps into every crack and thought in our country. It’s grossly overwhelming but we have to use this energy and turn it into something positive. It doesn’t matter how minor your contribution is, it’s certainly more than nothing. Something that has struck me recently is the fact that all service work is service work. It sounds simple but it’s profound. Whether it’s making a sandwich or filling an eco brick or doing a drive, it’s all important and relevant. Different people are drawn to different issues and that’s so vital. Our diversity allows us to tackle many problems. So if you’re cutting out meat from your diet, or recycling, or protesting human trafficking then – thank you. For us at Habitat for Humanity, we choose grit and grime and all things cement.
Habitat is extraordinary because it doesn’t just stop at four walls. It not only employs the area’s local people to support them financially as leaders and builders, but after a house is complete, Habitat continues to keep in contact with the
homeowner. Whilst we were walking around Wallacedene just a month ago, our Westerford committee noticed the many
pastel-coloured houses. These Habitat houses are recognisable in their construction and show how Habitat doesn’t just build a home, but a community too. Habitat views the 1.9 million informal dwellings in SA, not as a disaster, but as an opportunity to rally groups of people connected by where they live. Habitat as a global collective has helped over 9,8million people in 70 countries, making it the largest non-profit building organisation in the world.
But none of this can be done without people. People who hold bake-sales, people who hand out pamphlets, people who transport equipment.
It would be ignorant to say you don’t know how to get involved in community service. You don’t have to travel to Kenya to make a difference. Just look around you: we all have so much power that we don’t realise we have. We can control whether a student raises a smile as a result of a Bread Buddy sandwich, or receives sanitary ware for the month. We are privileged enough to have a choice to help others… whereas a significant number of people are in the position where they have to choose between …meals or shoes.
We have this privilege now and we can’t get rid of it. There’s no use feeling guilty about it because that doesn’t change anything. What does change something, is grabbing your privilege by both hands and making a tool of it. This tool may be a hammer or a petition but it’s a start.
There is a part to play for every one here; for everyone to do good. Sometimes it feels so crushing when you hear
celebrities spending millions on paintings, pure-bred cats, fashion and cars. And it is so absurd. A scary fact is that a small group of our world billionaires could pool together and end extreme poverty seven times over – if they bothered to do so. Let that sink in.
But just because that’s not happening, it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. A struggling person will still appreciate a Santa Shoe Box, or a free clinic operation. There is a lot of evil around us, but there is also – a lot of humanity. And at this point, if you aren’t part of the solution then you might be part of the problem. It has to start today and it has to start with you. You can be the spark of an epic chain reaction that will only accelerate with every selfless act you do.
If I had to ask what you need to build a house now, maybe you’ll say: a charitable idea, some confidence and many, many hands.”
Habitat for Humanity SA is so blessed by the Schools and Universities who tirelessly support us. Thank you for building our beloved nation with us. If you would like to get your School, Church or University team involved, contact us.