I found the happiest people living in poverty

McKenzie Fysh, Staff Writer

This Christmas, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa with my family and see the land where my dad’s side of the family grew up. Throughout the fun-filled three weeks, I never guessed that I would visit a place that would impact me so significantly. I learned that I needed to count my blessings when I toured a township called Imizamo Yethu near the hub of Cape Town.
Walking through the township, we learned that it housed thousands of people with minimal infrastructure for sustainable living. The streets were cluttered in garbage, and children ran around in torn clothing. With no sewage system, many women balanced jugs on their head to collect water from the Disa River, which has the highest level of e-coli bacteria in South Africa.
Living conditions there were slightly improved by the Niall Mellon Township Trust in 2002. This non-profit organization based in Ireland sent volunteers to build several hundred basic homes for individuals in Imizamo Yethu. However, we learned that the township peoples’ own government couldn’t care less about them.
With a fire station less than a mile away, it took the government fire fighters over an hour to come to the township and extinguish the flames of a bush fire. By this time, homes had been destroyed, and there were three deaths. The firefighters just stood by idly. This is just one of the ways in which the government turned its back on the township.
But as I looked around at the smiling faces, children playing in the streets, and a woman whose jewelry store was under the shade of a broken umbrella, I realized that these were the happiest people I had ever seen in my life. Expecting nothing, these people were grateful for what they did have, which was not a lot. This sort of attitude that Africans embraced in their lives inspired me.
I realized that all of us in the U.S. need to change our outlook and be grateful for what we have. Not everyone can change poverty in Africa, but everyone can honor these people by living each day “Mbonge uYehova” (feeling blessed in Xhosa).