The list of ‘firsts’ for our 22-year-old traveling companion was as lengthy as his first long-distance car journey: He had never in his life been on a holiday – ever. He didn’t know what it meant to be so excited that you battled to sleep the night before your journey. He didn’t know the thrill of being up before dawn, packing up as a family and heading off on an adventure, munching your sarmie and drinking a coffee.
He had never been out of Kwa-Zulu Natal let alone into another country. He had of course never needed a passport and were it not for this trip and our rooting through Swaziland to the Kruger National Park, he might never have needed one. He had never seen an expanse of water like Lake Jozini, a landscape as wide as Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal or a sky as blue as the Lowveld on a hot summer day.
Many of you will know the privilege of taking a child or indeed an adult on their first holiday; the wonder, the awe, the unfettered joy on their face; seeing a world that is so familiar to you through someone else, is a true blessing. As a family we go to Kruger as often as we can; it is our happy place and we know it extremely well. But through Paul I saw the magnificence of the place afresh as I witnessed it through his virgin eyes: I saw the beauty of an impala as if for the very first time; I laughed out loud at how comical warthogs are and marveled at the size of a giraffe; I willed a cheetah to show off her speed; my eyes grew bigger at the sight of elephants and I longed – longed – to see a lion (and I did!). I had my first ever bush braai off a Skottel braai and my first sundowners by a river. I had the time of my life.
Paul is a young man that has been in our life for many years. He calls me his big brother. I have mentored him through our Bright Stars Mentorship Program and I have watched how a young 14-year-old that the system forgot, has turned into a fine young man. I have walked the road of his failure to matriculate and watched as he worked tirelessly to make a real success of an IT apprenticeship, achieving necessary qualifications and clawing his way from a trainee to a junior IT consultant. I know there are many of you who have had similar experiences; you will know that mentoring a vulnerable child is as much a gift to the mentor as it is to the mentee.
I have seen how desperate Paul has been to work his way out of shack living in Mayville and into a decent life where he could one day have a wife and children and be able to provide for them. I have sat for hours listening to the specs of every Mercedes Benz on the market; Paul is passionate about Mercedes and his big dream is to one day own one!
Yet, he has never seen an Impala. He has never seen a big mountain range. He has never had a picnic out in the wild and he has never had a family that could afford to take him on a holiday. And when he Facebooks his mates to tell them all about his adventure he gets comments like: “Why does this sound like a Grade 8 oral where the kid is lying about what they did on holiday?” Paul is one of millions of South African children and young adults for whom life is a dreamless, colourless, hopeless march to the beat of the drum of poverty.
Have you seen an impala Mr Zuma? Have you and your friends been on a holiday? Do you have a decent home where you can have a family and dream about things? Your actions are indefensible not necessarily because they have been proved or disproved by your Secretary General or in a court of law, but because our Pauls live in poverty that disallows them a decent life. This is the true and most devastating fallout from your failure to lead. This is the consequence of your greed.
And it’s not just Mr Zuma and his pals who have turned their back on our nation’s impoverished young; we all have to some degree. I feel deeply ashamed about Paul. How can it have taken me nearly 10 years to take him on a holiday?
Until every child in this country can be a child; wonder, gasp for joy, jump up and down with excitement; laugh from their belly; go on holiday and see amazing things, then we have all failed.
Every one counts. Consider mentoring one of the millions of kids who need to learn to dream again; take a child on holiday if you can – or just to your local beach or bird park; for an ice cream or for a game of Putt Putt (another first for Paul). How can we expect our kids to become productive adults if we don’t love and care for them?
It is up to us.
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