While Gail Johnson was in the United States, she was able to visit the South Kent School campus and Anil Ozer, a senior at the school, interviewed her. Here is her interview.
Since my return from Nkosi’s Haven, I have continued to advise the two forums. The Radical Women Forum (RWF) has continued its efforts in the various projects we set forth. Members of the RWF have tried to implement some of the fundamental ideals of the forum into their daily routine, however they continue to face resistance and/or lack of support from the necessary administrative personnel. I am beginning to suspect that the lack of support is due to my actions toward the end of my stay, which resulted in my expulsion from the community. The fact remains that a simple act of frustration and minimal rationale on my behalf has resulted in minuscule communication or support from the administration.
During the months of August and September I have also had to grapple with various methods with which I can continue to aid these ambitious forum members, and how to further our efforts in empowering these ostensibly powerless orphans. Thus far I have been able to discuss possibilities of attaining a 501c3 status (non-profit) for the forum. I have also had extensive discussions with a dear friend, Kobi about obtaining this non-profit status, and extending our network and support systems. I have also received assistance in further researching fundraising methods and grant writing possibilities which we have not yet explored. All these are efforts made simply to assist me in effectively aiding Nkosi’s Haven forum members better their lives and the lives of community members. The work of Gail Johnson ought to be supported by individuals who genuinely care about the very cause she was inspired by.
The forums members are still excited about the potential of having great effect on lives of others within the community, but our success is contingent on administrative support and common goals. The Catholic Worker has shown great interest in my experience at Nkosi’s Haven, and I am scheduled to make a presentation at the New York City location during their Friday night meeting on November 16, 2012. I am also working on an article they will be publishing on their well-known Catholic Worker newspaper which is has subscribers worldwide. It is with such exposure and generosity, that I believe my fellow brothers and sister at Nkosi’s Haven will finally be heard and benefit from the global community. The effort of empowerment has proven to require patience, trust, and most importantly persistence from all parties involved.
August 23, 2012
Four days upon my return from South Africa, I have come back to an indifferent or overwhelmingly self-centered community. No one has taken genuine interest in hearing about the efforts made during the trip.
Friends have been pestering me to deliver gifts, or share stories of parties and night life I experienced in South Africa.
I have explain to them that I did not go on a lavish vacation; rather I went to develop a forum in an orphanage. The idea of volunteering while unemployed has caused my friends to question my logic and reasoning. I have thought about the real reason behind my commitment to South Africa, specifically Nkosi’s Haven. Subconsciously, I believe that Nksosi’s Haven has provided me with the sense of purpose and belonging I have been longing for all these years. I have started to reflect, I have identified many influential factors that have shaped me into the person you all know.
My enormous commitment to service comes from feelings of frustration in societal structures and systematic injustice. From my departure of my home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, until my arrival in America, honest and genuine support has been scarce. Family friends, and family members alike deceived both me and my family time and time again. Those unfortunate events inspired me to always stand up for those in dire situations and be the honest and genuine support they need. Be an advocate without personal motives.
At a young age, I lost faith in the goodness of man, humanity, and I have worked hard to eliminate the oppressive feeling of doubt. I am not deeming myself a martyr, I simply want to confront and make you all aware of what inspires me. It would be foolish for me to believe that there is a profound or angelic reason I participate in service. There really isn’t one aside from me wanting to correct all of the wrong impressions made from my childhood;
Which leads me to the next point, while at the Haven, I was troubled and frustrated with how much resistance I and the forum members suffered from certain staff members simply because of our cause. It is understandable that people hate to see others progress or the notion of change being daunting, but what seemed most shocking to me was that these people committed to a vocation such as caring for orphaned and battered/AIDS infected women seemed to be as destructive to the kids and community as the oppressive situations they had left behind.
Some of the children’s discouragement to be involved in the forum is nothing more than a testimony of the severity of the intimidation they are experiencing from adults in the community. These destructive acts must be exposed and quickly dealt with. I have been a victim of intimidation by my own caregivers when I lived in Johannesburg Children’s Home, and have suffered greatly and quietly, and my isolated and never reported oppression have only resulted in self destructive behaviors. So I call on those in positions to affect real change to address this issue at Nkosi’s Haven now. Ignorance cannot be an excuse for inaction.
As a forum founder and leader, I am inspired and confident that with Gail Johnson’s leadership, the changes we as forum participants are looking to achieve will be made a reality in time. We are looking to improve the community a young and brave boy envisioned before his death, and in his honor, we vow to fight for justice for all, as he has for those on the fringes of South Africa’s society. I feel absolutely responsible to carry on the struggle young Nkosi Johnson embarked with his resilient mother, Gail Johnson. Just like the two bravely faced adversity for the greater good of many, I too am ready and willing to withstand whatever challenges that may come with this responsibility and engagement.
We are pissed right now. Gail told us that we must get ready because you were coming to say your last good byes and we were so excited, we waited by the gate for you forever and we still are waiting for that day you will show up and say a proper good bye to us. Maybe to you it might seem weird but you have become part of our lives. We look up to you and it is so sad to know that you’re leaving us in few hours time.We can’t help it but feel sad and wondering if we will see you again. Just know that to us you are our hero and just know that you really changed us to better people and for some reason we have started to dream again.
We love you man (ONE LOVE)
I’m sorry I didn’t make it. It was wrong to have you guys wait and not inform you that plans had changed. I’ve been too busy trying to accommodate everyone and have catered to a lot of people a the same time. In short, I was wrong, but understand that I’ve done all that I can to show you I care, and if the task of sustaining this forum not enough of a testimony to show my loyalty, thank I’m afraid there is not much else I can do.
I hope you all truth that I’m faithful enough not to give up on you all, we are family. I’ve longed for belonging, and despite the language factor, I feel very much at home with you guys. And if we are family we all have to have a common goal, and let that goal be success. So let’s not get caught up in the bullshit.
This is an example of what Tre has been teaching the forum to do – be organized, write proposals etc.
The boys’ forum has proposed a number of new programs. See Boys Forum Proposal for a boys soccer team and other community services.
Weeks 3 and 4
The seemingly improbable task of building a self-sustaining forum in Nkosi’s Haven has discouraged me on many occasions to continue the work in establishing the forum. The idea was to have a forum for the boys and the girls to focus their energies and express their thoughts.
It appears that there is a sense of jealousy and administrators are systematically trying to dislodge the forum. On several occasions during the past two weeks, the administration has tried time and time again to interfere with forum plans. The adults in the community are patronizing the forum leaders, and its increasingly affecting and causing those involved in the forum to discontinue their role in the group.
“You guys are sitting here with your legs open, your rooms are dirty, and you want us to support your forum,” is the response heard from at least one adult.
The forum leaders are concerned that the lack of support from the adults in the community has led the participants of the forum to be discouraged. I’ve noticed that the deliberate attempts to discourage those partaking or affiliated with the program and this has led me to speculate of the imminent role of these adults. These are the very adults who have chosen to work in a community put in place to support neglected kids, orphans and the sick. It has been utterly disappointing to witness firsthand, how detrimental the adults can be in the development of the kids.
Despite the odds, my forum leaders are resilient and inspired, not to be dissuaded by the doubts and lack of support they’re facing. The forum leaders have realized that the adversity they are facing is going to be a challenging ordeal to overcome. But time and time again, we all are making plans on how to address the administration, and sustain the very strong unit we’ve worked tirelessly for.
Please make no mistake about it, we are motivated and inspired by people’s ill energy towards us.
I, as the forum founder, am committed to see to it that these eager and bright leaders stay above the negative influence. I have been challenged on many occasions to step down; the work environment has become rather hostile. I’ve failed at including Hannah in the project as much as I should have, and I take full responsibility of that. I am aware of the difficulty of engaging in humanitarian effort work, but have also learned that without a clear mind, you’re bound to be ineffective. I believe that there where times when my mind and my inability to de-stress has led me to make irrational dissensions. But I’ve realized my shortcomings and have not given up on my ability to succeed in achieving and instilling a self-sustaining forum.
During the next week, the boys’ forum will present two proposals to Gail Johnson. One of the proposals is regarding a developmental soccer programs as a means for the boys to learn the essential skills of being a part of a team. In the soccer program, the leaders will try to correlate life values in the games. We will make communication a very big part of the game. Just as I was taught by my coach, Owen Finberg, about communicating while playing during a match, the leaders will try their best to instill that same principle. The other proposal will be regarding community service and camps.
The following week, we will be finishing up with the Forum Constitution and the code of conduct we will be expecting every participant to abide by. The girls’ forum has already signed contracts, and we’ll see to it that the boys who are interested in participating in the forum also sign.
After working tirelessly with resilient girls on achieving goals and resolving conflicts within their community, I was fortunate enough to meet two sisters who fueled my passion for wanting to represent individuals who have faith and hope but limited resources. The forum and I have successfully achieved our goal of attaining hats and scarfs for needy students.
We have now moved on to proposing job opportunities for those teenagers willing and wanting to earn some money for their personal needs. The girls will be looking to present a proposal to the administration that will provide a clear explanation as to why they need the jobs and how they expect the administration to facilitate their request.
This week’s report is going to be primarily focused on the two sisters who have symbolized and validated my time here and have reaffirmed the need for social and communal participation in the lives of the less fortunate. Mbali Simelane, 22 years old, and her sister Rumbi Gumede, 15 years old, are both natives of Swaziland. They moved to South Africa in 2003 after their hard working mother lost her job at Bae’s Furniture Shop. The girls lost their father in 2004. Although the father never stayed with them, Rumbi has vivid recollections of her father. She describes him as a short, dark man. He liked children and working. He was an entrepreneur priest.
These two girls have had a lasting impression on me due to their loyalty to each other. Mbali has committed herself to be a primary caregiver to her blind, HIV infected, younger sister. She has assumed the roll of primary guardian as well; this has been evident to me throughout my stay here. She respectfully upholds her sister’s dignity, and tries her best not to overshadow her. There has been times when her sister has had to address inevitable conflicts with other peers on her own and Mbali is always there to provide moral support for her younger sister whenever necessary.
These two girls have demonstrated devotion to each other in a way that is invigorating. When Rumbi is asked to describe her sister, she proudly describes her sister as a selfless person. She comments, with a chuckle, that her sister is a poor dancer and horribly mistaken that she sings well. But over all, she wishes her sister the best in achieving her goals and strongly urges her older sister to pursue higher education in hopes to have financial independence her sister longs for. Mbali’s resilience has been especially infectious to me.
When asked about her initial reaction to her sister’s blindness, Mbali, seemingly embarrassed and remorseful, says that she was in immense denial. She would test her newly blind sister to verify the seriousness of the alleged condition by asking her to identify colors and clothing articles. Mbali, who was relentlessly seeking for her sister to regain normalcy would include and expect her sister to play games outside with all her friends.
With the very needed support of the therapy Nkosi’s Haven provides, Mbali has been able to come to terms with her sister’s condition, and has accepted her new roll as confidante, provider, friend, and most importantly she provides very descriptive details of anything in sight to her little sister.
These two girls are overwhelmingly hopeful of their future and the goodness of individuals. When I’ve grown doubtful, they have been a constant reminder of the fundamentalism of service and our social responsibility to each other.
As we’ve all stepped up and done our part in bettering lives, I have been fortunate to meet two sisters who have reaffirmed the goodness of service and intervention when needs be.
Our first week at Nkosi’s Haven has been rather overwhelming. The teens have been receptive and eager to achieve many objectives while we are here. They have demonstrated an unyielding commitment to changing the status quo in their community. Their energy is unbelievable. They have chores, other commitments, and yet they still come to our cottage at night to discuss further goals they want to achieve while we are here.
Based on the conversations I’ve had with the various teenagers, it appears to me that they feel that the disrespect or condescending tone from those in leadership positions has affected them most. A few have described the feeling they have from these caregivers as destructive and intimidating. Some have lost so much hope that they refuse to even speak to the therapist on site, their reason is that the therapist would comply with those in charge and not believe (the child).
This kind of mindset has led many teens to seclude themselves from the community and any therapy services provided by the institution. This has also led to many incidences that the administration is not aware of and the teens engage in destructive activities amongst themselves, such as body mutilation, alcohol and drug use, unprotected sex, as well as violence towards each other. The most profound revelation is that these activities are taken part by kids as young as 5.
As we enter week two, we are hopeful and resilient in achieving the goals we have set forth for the week. We have our scheduled meeting with the caregivers and mothers to discuss their attitude towards the children. We will create a community manifesto in hopes to have every caregiver and teenagers sign it as a symbol of future cooperation between the two parties, and also with intent to unite the community more. The teenage girls will write a proposal this evening, Sunday July 8th, 2012 requesting school hats and scarves to protect them from the cold. They have been able to schedule their own meeting, and will be prepared to meet with Lynn on Tue.
This has been our first observation, and we will update you further about the progress made next week. Have a good week all.