During my recent trip to South Africa I visited a township, Soweto, located in the city of Johannesburg. A syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships, 40 percent of Johannesburg's population is estimated to live in Soweto. In my time there, I took a bicycle tour led by our incredibly vibrant and passionate local guide, Wellington.
Wellington outlined the political and historical importance of Soweto; a site popular for acts of resistance during the apartheid regime. The most famous, or infamous, incident that occurred was the Soweto Uprising -- where mass protests erupted across the township in response to the Government's decision to enforce all education to be delivered in Afrikaans, rather than other native languages. These protests were met with a police response, where they opened fire on approximately 100,000 students marching through the streets.
The immediate effects of the Soweto Uprising reverberated through South African society, as townships across the country became points of intense, political repression. This theme of 'access' for the youth, according to Wellington, continues to this day. Even though apartheid ended a number of years ago, Wellington outlined that the Government still fails to provide township youth with adequate access to education and opportunity.
On this tour of Soweto, we met a number of the township's youths. There were young toddlers, wearing ill-fitting clothes, which were torn at the seams and covered in a light dusting of sand. Teenagers --clearly influenced by American pop culture -- rocked fake gold chains and fake designer goods. However, none of the fancy trappings could hide the fact that these kids were merely looking to survive. Wellington explained:
"In Soweto, kids only have one dream; to get to the next day. They wake up; do what they have to do to get by. Then they go to sleep, dreaming that they'll be lucky enough to wake up and see a new day."
His words have been echoing in my head ever since.
I couldn't imagine being a kid living in a cycle of survival entrepreneurship. When I was growing up in Singapore, I was running around parks and playing with Pokémon cards, not a care in the world. Children don't deserve stress, they shouldn't have to worry about how they're going get to the next day.
Before I left for South Africa, I witnessed a crazy exchange in a camera store between a father and his 11-year-old son. It went something like this:
Son: I want this tripod thing that Casey Neistat has for my birthday.
Dad: It's too expensive, we can't afford it right now.
Son: BUT IT'S MY BIRTHDAY, I SHOULD GET WHAT I WANT!
Dad: Please... come on now...
Son: NOOOOOO (continues to cause a scene).
Compare that exchange with the way kids have to grow up in the township of Soweto -- grateful for every meal, every piece of clothing and every human exchange.
And that's what's been missing in contemporary society -- gratitude.
Gratitude for being alive. Gratitude for having each other. Gratitude for every opportunity we are blessed with.
The odds of being born is one in 400 trillion, that's a ton of zeros. But we've become so comfortable that we expect everything, and take our fundamental blessings for granted. So when we want that tripod but can't have it -- we make a scene.
But if there's one thing to take away from this piece, it is perspective -- because if those who have significantly less can still express some gratitude, we should have no excuse.
See more from Ryan here.
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