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ABCD training venue in Freedom Park.

Arriving in Freedom Park, an informal settlement just outside of Rustenburg, one notices many things. Compared to the predominantly rural settlements and villages in which we usually work — where despite severe poverty, the surroundings are often rich in natural beauty — Freedom Park is many things, but not many would call it beautiful.  Located on land used for mining, the shacks are arranged haphazardly between mining shafts, quarries and other industrial structures which cast the area with industrial starkness and pollution. The roads that are not used for mining transport are poor even for dirt roads, and are littered with millions of pieces of broken glass. Trash is everywhere and collects in large piles and spreads throughout the streets, enjoyed at least by the dozens of goats who are happy to call it lunch.

Instead of everyone being from the same place and a strong sense of family, many of the almost 200,000 inhabitants in the area are from all over South Africa and even from other African countries.  It is decidedly a colder, urban feel.  Yet, as always, life goes on.  Little food stands and businesses are everywhere and as we drive in, a lady in a ‘hair salon’ about 1 cubic meter in size looks up at us from where she is busy braiding her customer’s hair.  People will always find a way to survive – we just want to help give them hope that there can be more to life than only surviving.

Day 1 - starting to shift mindsets

On the first day of ABCD training we pulled up in a trail of dust and set up shop in the local shebeen (tavern) owned by businessman Willem Nel.  We do not often run training sessions in taverns but in this area it is one of the safest and most comfortable places to be. As we waited for the participants to filter in for the first session, we noticed that there was a poor turnout and only a few had arrived almost an hour after we were supposed to start. Asking around, we received an explanation – that morning 5 locals had been killed in the area and people were scared.  After spreading some reassurance we eventually got a good turn out however, although we started a bit late.  The events of that morning had made it clear that this was definitely going to be a bit different from the other ABCD training sessions we had done so far.  There would be new challenges in this more urban context, but we knew we would adapt as always.

Freedom Park

The rest of the first day’s sessions went well, as did the day after with the newly added trust and self-discovery exercises.  However, it was clear that the participants were at very different levels in terms of education and ability and also many did not speak English nor any of the other South Africa languages well as they were from neighbouring African countries.  We partially resolved some of these problems by grouping the individuals according to their abilities and spending more time on the basics with some while helping the others complete more advanced activities. This seemed to work well.

The final two days also went well, though it was clear that we could only use a very simple version of the Leaky Bucket economic tool.  Mapping out the community in terms of assets also showed us the differences between this and other communities.  There was land available, but likely not for farming

ABCD participant, Clifford, shows where he plans to put his vendor rental business

activities, and the overcrowding and crime would also cause more risks to new ventures. One battle we had to fight was also the participants’ general disillusionment with development organizations, since due to the proximity to the mines the group had undergone a lot of interventions, many of which were not carried out properly or done only by the big corporations to ‘save face’.  Promises were made and not kept too many times.  Getting this community to trust us will be a little harder than other places, but as always we are determined to help them grow and become drivers of their own development process. We may have to work with some on a more individual level but we are sure that good things will come from the ABCD.  As the workshop proceeded we could sadly see that a few participants tuned out, having seen too much failure and hardship and likely needing more than just a 4 day workshop.  For some others however, the lights in their eyes started to shine again — especially when we talked with them one on one.

As a community organization with limited resources, we know we cannot reach everyone, though we always try.  Even though the hurdles are larger in Freedom Park than some of our other work areas, we will not give up.   The people of Freedom Park, regardless of where they come from, are a part of our community now which makes us responsible for them and them for us.  If we can help even one person get a successful business or social project off the ground there, we will feel as if we have made a first step to helping Freedom Park create a better future for itself, and will make the Greater Rustenburg region a that much better place to live.