As an Associate Member of Learn to Earn, we were privileged to attend their Living Justly conference in July â€“ and what an experience it was.
What is living justly? Could it be as simple as helping people who are living a life of dependence and struggle to one of independence and dignity? Is it not time to stop teaching people what to think but rather teaching them how to think?
Brett â€œFishâ€ Anderson,Â one of the keynote speakers who, in his own words is Â â€œpassionate about loving God and people with a heart for South Africa and Africa and whose dream is to see us eradicating the gap between the haves and have notsâ€, was a true inspiration.
Brettâ€™s session addressed the concept of privilege, saying as part of the privileged minority, it is time to rethink how we are going to redress the wrongs of the past. He summed it up so well: â€œThere is still significant bridge-building to be done and it is long overdue for someone else to do the talking and for us (as privileged minority) to sincerely pay attention to what â€œtheyâ€ have to say. We need to learn to listen. We need to come to grips with our â€˜privilegeâ€™, get over it and start listening to other conversations around reparation, restitution and reconciliation. We need to become quiet and listen to the stories, hopes and dreams of those who are not privileged. This doesnâ€™t mean we shouldnâ€™t be part of the conversations but we need to let â€œthemâ€ lead the conversations.â€ Brettâ€™s words made us think of Stephen Coveyâ€™s view on this topic: â€œMost people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.â€
Another presenter, Laura Bergh, from an organisation called Poverty Stoplight, whose focus is to assist NPOâ€™s with strategy and impact assessments through using the Poverty Stoplight tool as an important part of that process. A question she posed to the audience was: â€œWhat does it mean to be â€˜NOT POORâ€™?â€â€¦â€¦..This is a question even those deemed as the poor, struggle with. Understanding of the term â€˜poorâ€™ differs vastly from person to person and community to community. For example, people that have no access to running water are poor, but in just this small example there are at least three levels of â€˜being poorâ€™: people who get their water from a contaminated river are considered to be extremely poor, people who fetch water from a well are considered to be poor and people who have clean, running water from a tap in their homes are considered to be â€œnot poor.â€
Laura also shared the following meaningful thought: â€œAs NPOs, our role is to assist people on their journeys out of poverty and enable them to make informed life choices; we need to not just alleviate poverty, we need to strive to eradicate poverty.â€ Listening to this, we were so inspired by the fact that this process is exactly what FCD applies in our programmes. We listen to our studentsâ€™ stories, challenges, dreams and goals. We talk to them about personal interaction, relationships and ethics so that they can develop the values and attitudes needed to direct their own lives out of the poverty cycle. On top of that Spiritual development at FCD, plays a fundamental role in equipping learners to deal and cope with the realities of the social ills that they are exposed to. We believe this process goes beyond economic empowerment â€“ it holistically equips our students for a more meaningful life.
According to Parusha Naidoo from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (another presenter), the only way to create a just and equal society is to break away from the way that justice and equality has been conceptualised up until now. â€œWe need to create a country that is honest about its past and realistic about its present so that we can create a future that allows us to meet our potential in providing adequately for all.â€ In her mind, if NPOs want to transform communities, they need to provide quality holistic training â€“ again this conversation brought our core focus to mind. In addition to the talk affirming the relevance of FCDâ€™s approach, she also reminded us that: â€œNPOâ€™s must be involved in advocacy, with the aim of creating awareness among all the social classes.â€ Her words bringing to mind Arundathi Roy, who won the Man Booker prize for her book The God of Small Things. She put it this way: â€œThere is no such thing as the voiceless, only the deliberately silenced or preferably unheard.â€
Our last guest speaker, Valerie Anderson (Operations director & Strategist at Common Change Africa & USA and wife of Brett (Fish) Anderson) prompted us to consider whether: â€œOrdinary (privileged) South African Christians, have tended to outsource the Biblical mandate to â€˜act justly and love mercyâ€™ (Micah 6:8) to the NPO sectorâ€¦â€¦surely I donâ€™t have to feed the hungry, visit those in prison, or clothe the naked when there are brilliant professional organisations who do it so well?â€
Valerie put an uncomfortable truth out there and confirmed for us that for our country / communities to make progress, we need more privileged South Africans (whether Christian or not) to do some honest introspection in this regard. Her talk also confirmed to us as staff, that NPOâ€™s, like Fisantekraal Centre for Development, â€œneed to build bridges for ordinary individuals to enter into authentic relationships with the underprivileged & vulnerableâ€.
It is our strong belief that inequalityÂ is largely rooted in the absence of relationships across social and racial divides â€“ leading to destructive ignorance about the realityÂ the majority of our South African brothers and sisters, live in. Through the work FCD does, we are privileged to experienceÂ first-handÂ how relational bridgesÂ canÂ break this inheritance of inequality and disconnect, it is also the keyÂ to rescue and buildÂ the future of our beautiful country.
We returned to FCD, filled with gratitude, inspired to walk humbly and to become more intentional about living justly whilst enthusing the community around us to do the same.