It has been about a week since returning home, and I am still at a loss of words for what this experience has done in me. I have been putting off writing this because I don’t think I have the words yet to convey what I truly feel inside. People keep asking how the trip was, and I suppose I should have formulated a better answer, but all I can muster is “it was incredible!” I have been thinking a lot about the limits of language and pondering how to express these inexplicable feelings of the purest love, joy, peace and hope I have experienced. My time at S-CAPE taught me, just as Thistle Farms proclaims, that love heals! There is truly no other force greater than the power of love. I feel incredibly grateful to have witnessed the transformation of women by love. To see others glimpse their worth and begin to walk into their fullness, something I too struggle to do everyday. I am crying as I write this sipping my tea at Thistle Farms because it truly feels like a dream. But this is what heaven on earth looks like, and this is my heart for the whole world, to glimpse and walk into this life of love and service to each other.
My project itself looked a bit different than I anticipated, but I am very thankful for that because it was the things I had not planned on that changed me the most. The goals I had for my five months at S-CAPE included grant writing, working on sustainable business/entrepreneurship projects with the women, assisting with fundraising, and running workshops. I did indeed work in all of those areas along with many others.
I submitted a grant we are still waiting to hear back on, and compiled a detailed grant application and all supporting documents that S-CAPE can use in the future.
My sustainable business project manifested more as an entrepreneurship skills training for the residents. We received a large donation of old costume jewelry, so we used that along with other avenues to develop our entrepreneurship skills. We began by talking about budgeting, marketing, how to set up an email and how to keep track of revenue and expenses, which we worked on during my workshop time. Each of the residents designed their own brand for the jewelry and I printed labels for them to retag the jewelry with. We discussed revenue and expenses, along with loans and how to grow a business. The residents each received 20 sets of earrings, bracelets and necklaces as “seed funding” per say. They reworked the items, retagging them and fixing any broken pieces. We then went to local markets to sell the jewelry at and to learn about our target market. That was probably the most challenging aspect of the project for several reasons. First of all, culturally it was very different. I did not know that the best time to sell at markets is on the second and last weekend of the month because that is when payday is. Secondly, finding markets that actually fit our target population was difficult. We tended to sell at flea markets, or cheaper, family oriented markets (because we had a lot of kids jewelry) due to the nature of our product. In my head, I wanted Thistle Farm’s quality products, I wanted to be in all the local stores, at the bougie markets where people with lots of disposable income shop, etc, but at this time that is not feasible. There are two values I held very closely, the first being that I wanted to women to feel empowered selling their product, thus when we went to market, these women were not victims of human trafficking but business women. Secondly, I wanted this project to be culturally relevant and be in line with the goals of the residents. And because of this, entrepreneurship skills training seemed to be a better fit than trying to create a business in my short time there without someone to hand it over too when I left. We were also very short staffed so inevitably the neverending list of day to day activities of running the organization and keeping up with the Department of Social Development’s standards so we can retain our recently increased funding would take precedence over this baby social enterprise. All this being said, the final phase of the project is that the women have the option to buy a box of jewelry (and there is A LOT of jewelry in each box) for a low price so that they can continue selling jewelry when they leave the safe house if they enjoyed it. The women also learned to make lip balm which we sold and used in the goodie bags at our fundraiser. Finally, the women learned to knit and made a plethora of beanies and scarves that they also sold. There certainly is an entrepreneurial spirit in the ladies I worked with. Everytime someone new came to the safe house for a workshop, or they went to church, they would take some of their product to sell. It was really powerful and encouraging to see how empowered and at ease they were when selling.
Fundraising wise, I did help the part time fundraising coordinator in the acquisition of vouchers for our big fundraiser. I helped create a sponsorship inquiry letter in an effort to get corporate sponsors that will donate a certain amount of say, food, each month to help keep our cost low at the safe house. That is something really amazing about Cape Town, people are so willing to help, all you have to do is ask!
What I treasured the most though in my work is the amount of time I got to spend with the residents. From long days at the clinic and home affairs, to workshops and outings, to covering house mother shifts and long car rides, some of my sweetest memories have been in the conversations I had with the women who taught me how to hold great love and great suffering, to embody joy, love, hope and peace while simultaneously holding the tensions and pain of the world and my life. I miss each of them dearly, and I can hear their laughs in my head right now and them imitating my most used line, “what is happening here folks?”
In the sweetest birthday card and words I have ever received (I am not exaggerating), one of the residents wrote that I was like Esther, and God sent me to bring joy into their lives during a very tough and sorrowful season. I immediately started to weep and told them that I felt the same way about them. Again, there are no words to convey the feeling I have when I think about the past five months. The only way I can describe it is feeling fully alive. I experienced and felt love in a way that made me simultaneously want to laugh and cry. Like my insides were the sun and my body a stain glass window. My deepest desire is to reflect the love and joy and hope and peace of Christ through this stain glass window of this wonderful human abode. I break so more light can be let out and heal so that the colors turn into even more magnificent and mystical hues.
And on that note, I feel it appropriate to share that this is not the end of my journey with S-CAPE!!! It has been made abundantly clear (which I would love to elaborate on in person) that it is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life. So, Lord willing, I will be returning to the Mother City in January 2019 for a more long term commitment to the work of S-CAPE! And the will of God is a tricky phrase, but I do believe it is the Lord’s will, if by the will of God we mean as, Thomas Merton says “the will of God is not a ‘fate’ to which we submit but a creative act in our life producing something absolutely new . . . something hitherto unforeseen by the laws and established patterns. Our cooperation (seeking first the Kingdom of God) consists not solely in conforming to laws but in opening our wills out to this creative act which must be retrieved in and by us.” I am VERY excited for what is to come, and the real challenge is trying to be present in this season and figure out what the next few months mean, as my “five year plan” has drastically changed. But I have a great deal of peace, because I trust the direction I am journeying in now is exactly where I am supposed to be.
On one of my last weeks in Cape Town, I got up to walk on the beach for sunrise as had become my morning ritual. I was feeling a lot of dissonance, doubt, sorrow about leaving and confusion for what the next six months will hold. I was walking towards where the sun was supposed to be rising, but there was a thick layer of dark clouds so I turned around to walk back down the beach because it appeared I wouldn’t see the sun glide over the mountaintops this dreary morning. I was walking and looked up at the mountains in front of me, the greatest contemplatives of all creation as O’Donahue says, and I felt this still, small voice say “Behold, I am doing a new thing” and something in me decided to turn around to look back at the sun and it was the most magnificent sight. Rays of bright light were breaking through the dark clouds and I just had to laugh at the awe and wonder of the inexplicable mystery of God. I don’t know what this new thing is, but I know I walked home that morning with an insurmountable peace about the uncertain future.
I am not sure how to neatly tie together the wild, life altering, better than I ever imagined adventure that the past five months has been. I am forever indebted to the Lumos committee for receiving this opportunity, indebted to S-CAPE for inviting me back and indebted to the women who loved me so well and taught me so much. This experience has cultivated a deeper compassion, love and authentic joy in my soul and I am very excited to share more about my time at S-CAPE with everyone here in Nashville. Stay tuned for how you can maybe partner with me and the work with S-CAPE in the future too 😉
Enkosi (thank you in Xhosa) for reading and trekking along with me on this journey. May we live with a deeper understanding of ubuntu, that I cannot be fully me without you, and wake up to the beauty and gift that is the inescapable network of mutuality connecting all beings everywhere.