Last week I went on a 4 day trip with a colleague of mine to Durban and Johannesburg. During trip we met up with some very special people. Stella was one of these. Stella lives in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, Alex is the oldest township in the country and will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, but more of that in another entry.
We had hoped that Stella would be able to join us in Cape Town last month for the specialized training that I have been involved in delivering for Fusion’s Front Line teams in the country. Sadly as the time drew near Stella’s health sent out alarm bells, she was booked for a CTScan and within a week had to adjust to the news that she had stage two cervical cancer. Stella was recently diagnosed with Insulin dependant diabetes and lives with a range of other health difficulties.
Stella connected in with Fusion in 2009 and ever since has been running kids clubs in the drive way of her little home, for the kids in her street. She has several children of her own and has ‘adopted’ many others over the years. If you spend any time with her she will soon start sharing about ‘her children’ and the concerns she has for various ones. Her eyes light up when she shares about the kids that come to her kids club each week. This time though there was some sadness as she shared that with her recent health issues she hasn’t had the energy to run kids clubs, but the kids still come and hang out with her. Her dream is to see a youth centre where the kids and young people of Alex can come and play, work, learn and grow in safety.
You see in Alex the kids as young as 3 or 4, when they are not at Stella’s place, play unsupervised in the streets and gutters where the sewage runs and household waste is thrown out on to the street because there isn’t adequate sanitation or refuse management. Young people loiter in groups board to distraction and violent crime is an every day occurrence. The police can do little because its hard to track people down in such an overcrowded setting, and often the corruption in the service continues to erode their credibility and effectiveness.
Stella lives in the same house that her parents lived in and her grandparents before them. It’s a small three room affair. Often what happens is that families live together and as they expand new members build shacks of corrugated iron and wood, onto the side of the property. In this way the overcrowding continues and the pressure on inadequate sanitation, water and infrastructure builds. Stella is running for local election and her dream is to campaign for a solution to the housing problem in Alex.
Stella is no stranger to campaigning for change, during the Apartheid regime she was a freedom fighter and earned at least one stint in prison for her involvement in activism. Now that apartheid is over she is one of the many committed citizens still fighting for freedom for the poor and oppressed in her country. Whilst we sat with her she shared how much it meant to her to be part of the Fusion family, the significance of knowing that others across the country and globe hold her in their hearts and minds. There have been many times when she wanted to give up and not get up, when the task seemed too huge and her efforts pointless but she shared that knowing that she was part of this wider family gave her hope and the strength to keep going. I was humbled as I heard, I have so much to learn from Mamma Stella.