Initial Mode: My initial Concept and Understanding of a “Community”.
‘Community’ is an aspect that we interact and associate with in our day to day life activities and yet ironically one of those broad major aspects as human beings that we struggle to understand and grasp its concepts. We daily emphasise on the need of unity and collectiveness in our diversities and differences, quality service delivery and co-existing together in peace and harmony without really pausing and reflecting on the deeper concepts and insights of what really a community is. Most of our understanding of community and rather the definition I was exposed to was that A community is simply a collection of people who speak the same language and have the same cultural practises and history living in the same location residence. This was the same definition and concept that both my Primary and Secondary Education system raised me to view the aspect community as. Having grew up in a small Kenyan Village where most people practised farming and spoke the same Kamba Language, the younger version of me would have agreed and settled for this definition and concept due to the lack of exposure to other ways of life and practises.
Transition and Learning Mode: Other Concepts and Aspects of a Community.
My understanding of the term community has changed and diverged since my exposure to the Social Infrastructure Course. I have learnt and understood community beyond my normal assumptions and stereotypes that I linked to the word community. For example, my initial assumption that a community must speak the same language and cultural practises has been challenged by my recent visit to the District Six Museum. While here, I learnt and was fascinated by the fact that the District Six comprised of people of different races, cultures and even languages and yet they co-existed together in harmony and peace as one large diverse community.
Rohleder et al. (2008), suggests that a community is just not about trees and shops. And that a community can be described in multiple ways depending on different experiences and backgrounds of the individuals. The Exploring to the City Class experience opened different markers of affiliations that people use to describe communities. One of the aspects that came up was Race and the Levels of Income issue. Although we were on the same Cape Town City geographical location some regions were well off in terms of service delivery and infrastructure compared to other regions and each of these regions had a majority certain type of race that lived in that space. It was clear that the conditions at the Station Deck were deteriorated compared to the ones at the Bree Street and yet ironically these two regions are just some minutes’ walk away from each other. What stood out most was the Suffering of Black Lives at one part of the City and the luxurious fancy lifestyle of the White people at the other part of the City. It was also sad to notice that the only black people who were in these privileged spaces were only there as servants to the white people! This is a clear indication of how race and levels of income has played a major role in community segregation and division today.
On the other hand, I was also amazed and shocked to discover how mere buildings, structures and infrastructure play a very deep role on the aspect of community. One of my classmates pointed out the issue of Statues. The big contrast between how black and white people are remembered in our societies today! She pointed out the fact that black heroes’ statues are mostly presented in chains and shackles symbolising them as submissive while white people statues are presented while raiding on horses and sitting in throne chairs symbolising them as superior. This has challenged me as a young emerging professional to not conceive the community as just an object that I can plug into and interact with to just get my job or project done! Link et al. (2011), suggests that we should slow down the service- learning process and rather spend more time assessing the nature of the communities around us.
Link et al. (2011) brings another view of what a community is when he suggests that the ‘community’ is far from a unified, monolithic entity that we have presumed it to be. He emphasise how communities are complex, changing and multi-faceted and we should NOT always perceive community as always stable, concrete and unified collective but rather as a heterogenous entity. I could relate and link Link’s view to how the Government Policies play a big role to either building or destroying our own very communities. The same government and government officials that we as normal citizens vote for! I interacted with Sir Mohammed Benjamin at the District Six Museum and he pointed out the previous nature of District Six Community; how they had a rich culture, character and integrity. How children grew up with an understanding that they had to greet, to say thank you and not to fight and argue. “We had a perfect community of Afrikaners, English, Jews, Africans and even Indians. We lived as one Big Family. But the government couldn’t just understand how so many different nationalities could live together?”.
Link et al. (2011) says, “It is of course no surprise nor is it necessarily alarming that our project experience did not match up with our classroom experience; such is the nature of experiential education.” During the Explore My City and the District Six Museum visit I quite felt related to this statement in a way. There was a very wide gap between my classroom engagements, views and discussions about the whole community aspect compared to what I found out community to be when I was physically immerged in the community itself! I felt like everything that I was ever taught about community was wrong! I felt like the Education System has been brain washing me and sugar-coated what really community was all this time! I didn’t feel like I really belonged anywhere! I just felt hopeless. Or maybe this is all what community is all about! Just hopelessness! All I could feel was just anger especially when I was at the Prestwich Memorial. The sad fact that even the dead people are being displaced! These poor lives have been stripped out their identities! And the fact that they are just taken and regarded just a number! One of the banners read “The smell was so bad that the air in the streets was absolutely offensive” while another banner quoted how during the displacement some slaves token and shackles where found underground. This meant these poor lives although dead they were never given a chance to be free! They were still entitled to slavery even when dead! Does this symbolise community segregation even among the dead spirits? I found this quite disrespectful.
Another site that we visited that has contributed to my view on community was the South Africa Parliament. Upon arrival we discussed the environment itself, the monuments around and the different ways of lives around the parliament at large. And the first sight observation that I couldn’t avoid it no matter how hard I tried to, was the availability of the many security guards and fierce dogs around, which maybe I understand why or maybe not. I kept asking myself, “Is it to protect the Government? And if so, from what and who really?! Is it its own people?!Was this to symbolize Power or Fear?” And anyway, who protects the normal man? Or the normal innocent man does not succumb to any dangers?! I had all these many questions in my mind and I don’t quite have their answers yet. I don’t really understand how these systems work. To me such an environment was quite intense. Too many security guards around but I still didn’t feel safe!
Despite all these security at the “Governments’ gates”, it was quite emotional to also see street people and some street families making a living just outside the Parliament gates and everything happening around as if nothing is wrong. Robert Chambers in Link’s article published in 1983 that “Poor people are rarely met; when they are met, they often do not speak; when they speak, they often cautious and deferential; and what they say is often either not listened to, or brushed aside, or interpreted in bad light” There was so much suffering and poverty evident among our people, not even far behind the city walls or in townships; not even far from our own eye pupils; but just around us maybe even within some of us! To me a Parliament is a symbol of unifying, justice, equality and responsibility. But all I could see was the Greed and unconcerned attitude of the government and its official. And I kept asking myself “How much more poverty are we supposed to be immersed in before the Government can actually do something about it? How much more suffering for our people?”
Final Mode: My Current Enriched View Of What A Community Is.
This transition journey of understanding the community has widen my view scope of what I conceptualised community to be. I have challenged my assumptions and stereotypes that I initially linked and associated community with. Although I might not have a defined set of words to define what I understand a community to be, deep down my heart I know the things and the aspects that don’t make and contribute to building a community. I know that we all can co-exist in peace and harmony together just the way we all similar human beings all together!
Importance to me as a student and future professional.
I have reflected in depth as a young emerging professional the importance of looking critically into the interests, large cultural variability and different attitudes of everyone in a community and not just work with the interests of just one particular person or organisation. I have also learnt the importance of creating equitable and effective solutions to the community without creating further impacts and problems for example as with the Shamila’s House Crisis case.
Importance to me as a Citizen.
I have also learnt and understood the role I play as a citizen, and how my actions either build or destroy my own community. As a citizen I have also learnt to know my rights and my community’s rights and voicing up in a civilised way when these rights are violated or not exercised. And as a democracy country I have also learnt to look beyond race and ethnicity divisions and also embracing my role in voting in for the right leaders and governing policies that benefit and uphold my community.
Building Communities. Building Lives.
Written by Bredah Musili Nzuki.