I have always been the kind of mother that has wanted to expose my kids to different cultural experiences, to take my daughter to see what life is like for children in underprivileged countries. I have always wanted to help open her eyes to the privileges of living in a wealthy, western nation – but I was never that sure how exactly to do that.
In late 2011, I received an email from a friend inviting me to come on a ‘house-build’ trip to South Africa, run by Amor who are based in the U.S. The trip would take place in the black township of Botleng, about an hour east of Johannesburg. This trip was the first ‘Women of Strength’ trip, intended to be run every 2 years, where the vision was to provide a way for women to serve alongside – and for – women from all over the globe. As I read the email further, I saw that the trip would not only involve simply building a home and running a kids program at the local day centre, but it would serve to break down the racial barriers that were palpable in the community, less than two decades after Apartheid had ended.
And with the hope of raising a generation of strong women, the organisation was wanting girls as young as 11 to be involved on their trip. For me – that was the tempting part. I could bring my daughter along with me!
When I expressed interest, I had a lot of people question me as to why on earth I would even contemplate taking a 12 year old girl to South Africa to help build a house. Surely she wouldn’t be much help. My answer to them was simple: Why wouldn’t I want to take her? Why wouldn’t I want to take the opportunity for my daughter to open her eyes to the big wide world around her, and see the poverty that devastates communities. I wanted her to truly know that when she sees a need, she is able to do something about it – no matter what her age, size, or gender. She is never too young to make a difference; and she can make a difference. Why wouldn’t I want that for her? It was too good an opportunity to pass up!
And so we went. Of course, somewhat expectedly, the trip came with its challenges. Maddy had a few people question what affect she could have – being a girl and only being 12. As we were on the Kids Program with the day care centre team, she was faced with the ‘you’re too young to do this’ attitude every day from the lady overseeing the project and was told to ‘just go and play with the kids’. Yet every day, Maddy stood up for herself and proved her worth, over and over again. With the support of Amor’s leadership team, Maddy flourished and was in her element as part of the team that was contributing to the design and painting of the murals of the interior walls of the day care building with other teenage girls. She also had the valuable opportunity to spend time with the young children from the day care centre every morning loving on them and reaching out to them. She also had some of the local teen girls come down every afternoon to talk to her. One of them would come looking for her every day, saying that Maddy was the ‘first white friend she had ever had!’ Although she may not have been too involved in the physical building, what she – along with the rest of the 80 odd women on that trip – accomplished in Botleng that week was much more. She was a part of breaking down some of the barriers and prejudices of apartheid in that township, and had an impact on most of the women on the trip, through her resilience and tenacity.
Maddy had developed such resilience that when the opportunity came up to go on the trip again last year, she was all for it! We both were. For her to choose to go back again after all the resistance she encountered is a true testament to her strength. And this time around, now 14, she was a part of the trip’s leadership team. Now, she was on the building site every day, wiring walls together, installing windows and doors, helping with the roofing, mixing cement manually (there’s no cement mixer there), cementing walls – you name it! She also led a small group of women, almost all of whom were 10+ years older than her, but Maddy didn’t care. She did it and did it well.
We are both already making plans for a 2016 trip. We wouldn’t miss it. These trips changed our lives – and changed our view of the world. Maddy now knows that she is capable of making a difference and when she sees a need, she can do something about it. Through this, I’ve had the privilege of watching my daughter grow, flourish, find her voice, and find the confidence she needed.
So, my ‘outrageous’ decision back in 2012 to take her to South Africa as a 12 year old was only outrageous in the fact that it allowed Maddy to grow into what she is now – an outrageously courageous woman of strength.
Happy Mother’s Day week to all of those mothers out there. And to those mothers of daughters – here’s to strong Women, may we be them, may we know them, may we raise them!