It’s been six long years since I journeyed with Millennium Kids Inc to South Africa but what I experienced and learnt over that short trip has shaped myself and my thinking forever. At the time I was a naïve private school educated boy who’s closest experience to anything I was about to encounter would have been briskly passing through the streets of Jakarta some six years before that. I thought I knew what I was to come upon. I had seen it on television or heard first time encounters from my mother’s experiences, but I guess the sheer shock of witnessing it firsthand made me stand up and realise how much I took for granted, even the simple things we are gifted with here in Australia.
Arriving in Johannesburg Airport, which had just been refurbished for the upcoming World Cup, was designed to hide the flocks of tourists that were soon to arrive in the country from 95% of its surrounding areas. After barely a 10 minute drive we started to see the real South Africa, incredibly rich areas with 10 metre walls and electric fences, juxtaposed against shantytowns that housed the majority of the population. We continued our drive for another eight hours to arrive in the town of Mafikeng where we would stay for the majority of our trip. Mafikeng was situated on the Molopo River and its beautiful surrounds, however many of its inhabitants were impoverished- families of 4, 5, 6 all squashed in a one room mudflat house. It was mind-blowing to see poverty on this scale and this was just the beginning.
The river was littered and polluted with waste. It was where people would come down to wash clothes and complete day-to-day tasks. The schools generally had one to two rooms where 80-100 students were taught at once. What really shocked me was the positive demeanour that was carried by so many people throughout Mafikeng. I had become accustomed to my creature comforts back home in Western Australia; these people had never known anything else and were generally happier than your average teenager. It felt unjust! Why did I deserve my way of life when the resources I used day to day were capable of assisting 20+ children here? Everywhere we went they sang, danced and just showed sheer enthusiasm with the resources we were giving to their communities. It was a very humbling experienced that made me realise how much we take for granted and how we all should be doingour bit to ensure that everyone possible gets an equal opportunity in this world we live in.
John Taylor (23)
6 years on I am still involved in Millennium Kids, working in the office helping with the logistics of the upcoming MK20 UNConference to be held in October 2016.