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"How Was DC?" (Part 2)

by Lwamba Chisaka
Lwamba Chisaka
Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.
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on Aug 05 in Experience 1 Comment

Americans know how to Ubuntu.

We (non-Americans) are often times led to understand Americans as self-interested bordering on selfish. It would seem capitalistic principles and the “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” attitude that underlies American society is all that informs social relations. My experience was quite to the contrary. On one afternoon the team took time off from our internships and attended the Points of Light conference. The conference is the biggest of its kind in the world: a conference dedicated solely to community service and the spirit of volunteerism. Thousands of people gathered from all across America to share experiences and inspiration about giving back. The conference itself was impressive (at least the afternoon sessions we attended): Donna Brazile was the MC, speakers included Karl Rove and J.R. Martinez, and the plenary was as glitzy as what I imagine a national convention to be like.

More than the Points of Light conference I found everyday Americans to be helpful, giving and highly aware that there exists a duty for every person to treat others according the Golden Rule. Every time I asked a stranger for directions (which ranged between once a day to once every block) they would not hesitate to explain how to get to my destination in detail (as opposed to simply pointing in the general direction – what I’m more used to). When they were a little unsure of exact street names or number of blocks they stopped dead in their tracks, dropped their bags and whipped out their iPhones (aside: witnessing how many people had iPhones it was not hard to understand Apple stock prices – EVERYONE HAS ONE!). One particular evening while wandering around DuPont I asked a group of people walking in the opposite to the one I was moving for directions. It turns out the exact spot we were at when I asked them was an intersection of what seemed like 15 different streets including a couple of the dreaded “diagonals”. One of the girls in the group gave me what she thought were the correct directions. After I’d walked a few blocks the girl sprinted back, iPhone in hand, and apologised profusely to giving incorrect directions. Pardon my shoddy story telling skills but it really took me a back that after giving directions and not being sure, she Google-Mapped the address and sprinted after me to ensure I got to my destination. This story is similar to the one I shared in an earlier blog about an evening the team was running through the streets of NYC in search of Times Square when a friendly New Yorker offered me his umbrella despite his need for it being greater than mine.

On almost every street corner in downtown DC there are a group of young people getting petition signatures or fundraising for some or other cause – the situation of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, USA inner city education or lack of clean drinking water in Zambia. Would you or do you find the same in South Africa? It goes without saying that there are people working exceptionally hard to fight similar or equally important causes in South Africa. Perhaps their methods are more effective than college kids in the centre of DC. Perhaps not. What I took from this was the same sense of duty, volunteerism that was being praised at the Points Of Light Conference. This is a spirit that can be encouraged in our own country (if not encouraged then at least recognized more publicly).

It cannot be said enough times – the generosity and graceful hosting by not only the host parents but also board members really changed what I thought I knew about the way things are done across the pond.

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Lwamba Chisaka

Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.

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sally Saturday, 10 August 2013 · Edit Reply

Good to hear! Yes, perceptions need to be tested. What a great experience you had! IFH is working on mobilizing youth and strengthenin
g positive, informed activism........this should create more visibly active young people.

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