In South Africa, Pilgrimage for Peace helps young people see their global context

World gets smaller as pilgrims, South Africa children and youth tell their stories
March 10, 2007

The global village grew a bit smaller March 10 when a group of 40 young people from Alabama, California, Rhode Island, South Africa and Mozambique spent the day with their counterparts in Winterveld, South Africa.


The Pilgrimage for Peace visited the Tumelong Havens day care center, Bokamoso Youth Center and an AIDS hospice, all run by the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria. Winterveld is about 50 kilometers north of Pretoria, South Africa's capital, and about 115 kilometers north of Johannesburg.

"For me it is a wonderful thing to see people from America coming to my community," said Shimane Samuel Moeketsi, a member of Bokamoso Youth Center who will turn 23 next week. The visit, he said, "gives me that courage and hope for my life."

"I am learning to see myself in a global world," Liz Wagner, 17, of Providence, Rhode Island, said as she sat on a porch ledge at Tumelong Havens. "I know I'm so blessed living as a woman in the U.S."

Little children surrounded her, wanting to take her picture and have her take theirs.

Wagner said she had never traveled abroad before, other than on vacations such as cruises, which she called a "kind of a material thing." The poverty that was evident on the drive from Pretoria to Winterveld struck her.

"I was just quickly trying to take it all in. It was a lot to look at," said Wagner, who hopes to become a doctor.

Brian Bray, 32, who grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, and now lives in Atlanta, said his experience thus far on the pilgrimage has been "a lot to think about; it's humbling and inspiring."

"In American we are so very isolated," he said, adding that the trip to southern Africa is showing him "how blessed and privileged we are no matter your situation in America."

Mercio Langa, a soon-to-be university student from Maputo, Mozambique, who is part of the pilgrimage, said he never expected to have the chance to share faith stories with young people from the U.S., in part because many people think Americans are faithless.

"It's like a holy moment," said fellow Mozambiquan Arthur Matsinthe.

During the visit to Tumelong Havens, some of the pilgrims sat in a circle on the floor of a classroom telling each other their stories.

A 14-year-old girl said she dreams of being a doctor so that she can help people with HIV and AIDS.

Ashley Jacobs, 20, a third-year medical student at the University of Pretoria, told the girl to trust in God.

"God gets you to where you need to go," he said.

"When we hear people's stories, they become part of us, isn't that true?" California Bishop Marc Andrus asked the circle. "So, we will hear your stories and they will strengthen us."

Children at the center also sang for the pilgrims and scrambled to have their pictures taken with them. They took pictures of the pilgrims as being shown how to use their cameras.

Tumelong Havens primarily serves children from birth to six years of age, most of whom are "infected and affected" by HIV/AIDS. Seventy-five young children come to the center each weekday and on the weekends 182 slightly older children come for help with homework and school skills. The children get breakfast, lunch and a snack. A food package is sent home to their parents each month "only if we have some funds," said Project Coordinator Christina Mogale.

"The challenge is the funds," she said, estimating that the three centers run by the diocese need 10,000 rand a month for gasoline to transport children and 6,000 rand for food. (With an exchange rate of about seven rand to the U.S. dollar, that amounts to about $1,430 for gasoline and $860 for food.)

Mogale said she sees the center succeeding "when we can see the children have prepared themselves for school."

The Pilgrimage for Peace began with Andrus when he was bishop suffragan of Alabama. It grew out of the commemoration of the death of Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

Daniels was a seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he heard and answered a call from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to come to Selma, Alabama, to support the efforts to register black people to vote and to demonstrate against the segregation of black and white people. On August 14, 1965, Daniels and seven black teenagers were arrested for this activity. They were jailed in Hayneville, Alabama in Lowndes County.

Six days later with no explanation and no transportation, they were released. As they tried to decide what to do, they stopped at a small cash store to buy a cold drink. Before they could go in, the white deputy sheriff came to the door armed with a shotgun. Realizing what was about to happen, Daniels threw himself between a young black teenager, Ruby Sales, and the deputy sheriff. He was killed instantly. The deputy was exonerated and set free. Sales eventually became an Episcopal priest.

Andrus said the annual pilgrimage has grown to encompass all the martyrs of Alabama who died in the fight for civil rights. Noting that pilgrims used to travel to the sites of martyrdom to pray for protection and vindication, and that later pilgrimages were made to those and other locations in search of healing, Andrus said he has come to understand pilgrimage as a "sacrament of justice and healing."

As the pilgrims have traveled to different places in the succeeding years, they've heard the stories of "the veterans of the local struggles," Andrus said, and they learn that "the problems are global." Previous pilgrimages have include young people from Palestine, some of whom were scheduled to join this trip but were unable to travel, Andrus said. New pilgrims have joined the group over the years.

Fannie Davies, who was instrumental in organizing the original Jonathan Daniels commemorations, sat on a porch ledge at Tumelong Havens watching the other pilgrims talk with the children at the day care center. It was a Saturday so older children had come to the center for help with their homework and there were plenty of younger children as well.

The pilgrimage gives young people the chance to "look at the contrast between their lives and others' lives," she said. She hopes that the experience will "spark a sense of compassion and a sense of responsibility of the need to give back."

Denise Davis-Maye, who teaches social work at Auburn University and who is from Lowndes County, Alabama, stood on a walkway at Bokamoso and said she grew up always knowing that she was blessed. Her time in Africa has "reinforced the responsibility I have for the globe." The idea of the global village is not a cliché for her, she said, but something she sees in a "very heart-felt sense."

Davis-Maye, who has done research in Ghana about women's coping strategies in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, said she came to southern Africa wondering how the end of apartheid would really feel to people in their daily lives.

"I expected people with little hope," she said, but instead "here's the feeling of hope in spite" of everything.

Davis-Maye hopes the southern Africa trip helps the young pilgrims "understand how small their world is" compared with what is happening in other places.

It's not so much that young people ought to see how much they have, she said. "I think it's more important for them to see how much they have to give."

John Shumate, 17, of Providence, Rhode Island, was part of a small group of pilgrims who visited the Tumelong AIDS hospice. "It was very moving" to see the people there and to talk with the people who run the hospice. The people there "know they are going to die and they were at peace with themselves," he said. "It's just very emotional."

Bray said that his pilgrimage experiences are teaching him that "because you have so much, you actually have a responsibility to other places." He said that he is learning that "I'm also complicit in some way for what's happening because I wasn't aware" of the things happening in the world.

Connie Ramokgondo, 22, has been coming to the Bokamoso Youth Center for two months after troubles with her family turned her into a "street kid," she said.

"They really taught me about being responsible to other people and my parents," said Ramokgondo, who wants to become a paramedic.

Thapelo Mashaba, a facilitator at the center and a veteran of its program, said that the center begins its work with young people by teaching them "life skills" such as conflict resolution and anger management, and how to change their behavior "from negative to positive." Later they learn communications and computer skills, among others.

As Moeketsi sat on the porch eating lunch at the Bokamoso Youth Center, he talked about his dreams. "My aim is to help my community," he said. "I don't want to leave here because the people of South Africa have potential. I feel inspired."

A lack of development and high unemployment are challenges, he said, but added that "every year it's getting better."

He sang a rap song about Africa's potential. "I know that we can survive," he sang at the end.

The visit to southern Africa by the Pilgrimage for Peace is happening coincidentally with the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference, which ends March 14 at the Birchwood Conference Center in Boksburg, South Africa near Johannesburg.

Continuing ENS coverage of TEAM is available here. The pilgrims have attended some of the TEAM events and went to worship March 12 at St. Alban's, the Anglican cathedral in Pretoria.