If you read Part 1 of this article, you have become acquainted with the members of the Rural Women’s Movement, many of them unmarried mothers who participate in my research project on the struggles, survival, and agency of single parents. Theirs are stories of tragedy, heartbreak, strength, joy, community, and celebration. And, as I wrote in Part 1, in telling their stories, I could focus my attention – and yours – on their pain, oppression, and need. Certainly, the pain is an integral aspect of these women’s stories, of Sizani’s story, of my story. But why would I stop there? Why wouldn’t I tell of how these young women have a passion for education and that three out of four of them are either back in school or are seeking funding to go back to school? Why wouldn’t I tell about how one of them dreams of being a social worker, one wants to be a nurse, and another a police officer to rid her community of drugs? Why wouldn’t I tell of how women, young and old, have brilliantly created a thriving garden on the side of a mountain in the middle of the worst drought in a lifetime on a shoestring budget, how they have created a peaceful community of hard-working, hard-laughing women who mentor one another? Why wouldn’t I tell of how they have become proof that an alternative exists to privatized, dominative, patriarchally-driven, economically-determined lifestyles?
These women have captivated me, and I am eager to be their ally. I want their needs to be met so that I can see that what they are doing is being celebrated by our world, that this sliver of the Kingdom of God embodied by RWM is attractive to many of us and that the Kingdom is in fact coming, that we are helping to build it. But how do I garner support for them?
It is not easy. South Africa is often forgotten by humanitarian groups, funders, and relief work because, well, apartheid ended twenty-something years ago, right? And their GDP is the second-highest in all of Africa, right? Nevermind that the discrepancy between the elite class and the poor is the highest in the world, according to one source. I know that telling stories in powerful ways is crucial to creating a community of caring allies. But which stories are we telling?
Here is where I worry: the most successful stories when it comes to fund- and support-raising, it seems, are those that elicit from us that powerful emotion, sorrow. Sorrow begets compassion. Let’s break hearts and then offer a way to end our pain – and their pain – by sending money, doctors, clothing and food that undercut the local economy. But nothing really changes. Sure, wells are dug, people receive much-needed medicine, and children have new orphanages and schools due to these efforts – all of which are good. But why are we content with Ugandans relying on wells when I can get my water from a tap? Why do we pat ourselves on the back when we ship medications overseas instead of fighting the policies that have permitted Western monopolies of the manufacture of these medications and prohibited research and development of pharmaceuticals in developing countries? What does not change when sympathy is our most compelling emotion is the flow of power. Those who sympathize retain the power, and those who are worthy of our sympathy remain in need of our power to care, heal, give, build, and teach.
This is not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a tiered system of lords and serfs, the latter of whom remain reliant on the goodwill and sympathy of those who own their land and purse strings. Patronization has no place in God’s Kingdom. Instead, the Kingdom of God is a community of celebration and of equality. We do not sympathize; instead, we celebrate the agency, dignity, and creativity of our brothers and sisters, and we rage against that which attempts to thwart the best efforts of our neighbors. We celebrate, we support, and we unite to fight alongside one another.
Why are we not most compelled by stories that ought to be celebrated, by the ideas of women like those in the Rural Women’s Movement who have come up with career paths for themselves that will allow them to give back to their communities as well as to provide for their children? Why do we not get excited, spread the word, pull out our checkbooks when we hear about the resourcefulness of women in a drought who may not have a dollar to their name but who have managed to grow beautiful crops and deter pests – without killing a single one? Why do we not sign petitions that pressure the government to stop foreign mining companies from stealing these women’s land and polluting the air and water supply, so that these women can produce for themselves on thriving land and have the power to decide what to do with their resources? It is almost as if we have this codependent desire only to fix that which cannot be mended by the broken themselves; is it because this keeps us superior? Why do we feel we are not needed if we are not the ones leading the solution? Just because someone is resourceful does not mean that we cannot be one of the resources they use; just because one is not without hope does not mean that they have resolved all problems and that our energies are not needed by them.
We need to stop sympathizing and start supporting. Support affirms the goodness of these indigenous women’s ideas. Let us tell stories that capture the dignity and divine spark of our neighbors, as well as the crimes against this dignity. Let us be moved not only by tragedy but also by triumph.