From that moment in September 2016 when I met Julita Dorman, I knew I was in the presence of an authentic community healer. Julita, the project manager for Sakha Isizwe Development Organization (SIDC), allowed me the opportunity to experience the magic of her program focused on empowering women in the township of Delft, Cape Town in South Africa. The following is a description of my experience.

Excited about the opportunity to see Julita’s program, I shared my plans to visit Delft with my new friends and staff at the Cape Town Lodge. To my surprise, they did not share the same excitement. In fact, they attempted to persuade me to cancel because they feared for my safety. The crime and gang activity in Delft is said to be so horrific that even Uber drivers refuse to pick up or drop off in the community.  I also learned that the Delft is considered a vulnerable socio-economic community with 45% of the residents earning no or minimal(600R) monthly income. The people of Delft number approximately 150,000 with 52% speaking Afrikaans (labeled by some as Colored) and 46% speaking Xhosa (labeled by some as Black). Over 50% of the community is under the age of 24 which, from my perspective, only makes the work in which Julita is engaged more vital. I was committed to experience the people of Delft, SIDC and Julita in action.

Driving into Delft, I encountered unfamiliar sights and sounds.  I saw dirt and people everywhere. The yards were dirt, not grass like I am accustom to in the US. The streets were dirt, not paved or cobblestone as are those in my neighborhood. The air was thick from the dirt kicked up by the sweeping of the driveways and yards. Young men walking in groups were also everywhere, bantering back and forth with joyful faces. Very young children were also running, kicking a ball or engaged in some other game-like activity both in the streets and in the fenced yards. Surprisingly the women were absent from the streets save a few that were tending a shop or boarding a taxi.  The taxi appeared to be the main mode of transportation beyond walking. The taxi’s horn was deafening, at least to my ears. Beep, Beep, Beep…never ending…Beep, Beep, Beep.

First on the morning agenda was to observe a home visit that is part of the Family in Focus program in Delft managed by SIDC for the Foundation for Community Work. After meeting the home visitor and getting permission from the program participant, we entered her home. The cinder block home with a fenced dirt yard was said to be a typical government home that is given to residents meeting set criteria. The dimly lit four- room house was in minor disrepair yet very cozy. I quickly felt at home as I sunk into an overstuffed upholstered chair. Proudly displayed on the entertainment center in front of me were school photos of two of the children in the household, one of whom was present at the visit. Grandma was home with the children on this day. She held a younger sibling suffering from some respiratory issues during the home visit lesson and homework assignment. My heart was warmed as I panned the home and saw evidence of prior homework hung on the wall.

As we transitioned from the home visit to the community center and children’s activities, I was filled with thoughts and emotion. Given the socio-economic reality of Delft, I was struck by the fact that I did not hear despair. Instead I witnessed a peace and a trust that I have difficulty putting into words. I felt community. I felt a sisterhood. I felt hope. I felt love. All of this was in spite of the reality of the racially motivated creation of the township and the continued inequity among the people. I was humbled and in awe of the resilience I witnessed in the home visitor, also a resident of Delft.

Last on the agenda was time in the community center with program parents and their children.  We entered during group play and I wasted no time inserting myself in the midst of the sea of children and blocks. Before long I had two, three and four children crawling on my legs, copying the block structure I was building and even knocking over one or two block towers. The language barrier was of no consequence, the smiles and hugs were evidence that we were connecting. That connection continued into dance and music time where I was able to join in and shake my body with the group. The final group activity was story time which was the most amazing of all. Amazing because I witnessed all of the children arrange themselves tightly on a small area rug with legs crossed and hands in their lap. There was not one inch of wasted space nor squabble of someone being too close. The unity of the young children, children too young to know of the socio-economic realities they will face, is an image recorded permanently in my head and heart.

I met Julita’s invitation to experience her program in Delft with excitement. As a member of the National Council on Family Relations and certified family life educator for decades, I was anxious to observe South Africa programing. What I did not anticipate is how the program would change me, the observer. What I observed was not just families receiving support through home visits, education and activities but true community being development. I observed a care and commitment from Julita and her team that went beyond professional responsibility. I saw the soul of the community being nurtured. I saw life. I saw hope. I saw a future for each of the children.

I did not anticipate being changed by the program, but I was…forever. The magic I observed from Julita and her team called forth the gifts within me. Observing the program in action reminded me that we are our brother’s, or in this case, our sister’s keeper. It reminded me that we all have an accountability and responsibility to share our gifts. In writing my experience I hope to call others to observe, to partner, and to fund Julita and her team. I truly believe SIDC has the potential to do what its name implies Build a Nation one life at a time.

Suzanne M. Begin is a speaker, trainer and coach specializing in intercultural development. She is the founder and CEO of Begin NOW! LLC, a consulting firm partnering with people committed to be all that they were born to be. Suzanne currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.