Imagine living in a shack the size of most kitchens in the average American home. Because your mother has died from HIV/AIDS, you live with your younger siblings. Your sisters share a tattered double bed while your brothers sleep on the floor each night with only a blanket between their malnourished bodies and the soiled ground. The aluminum roof and walls forming your home might prevent water from pouring in from above, but leaks and exposure to the extremes of the summer heat and frigid winter are daily battles. You and the hundreds of other squatters in your community are all too familiar with day-long hunger pangs as your dignity prevents you from begging for money. Welcome to Kliptown, a makeshift town near Soweto.
We arrived wide eyed and speechless. All well groomed, we are quite obviously well-to-do middle class men and women (if their ornate cameras don’t already give that away). What do you do? Do you tell them to turn around and stop acting like you are part of a museum exhibit? Do you castigate them for intruding on your territory and home?
In my experience at Kliptown, an informal settlement outside Soweto, these individuals did nothing of the sort. Rather, they welcomed us with the greatest surprise I could have imagined–a performance by about 30 boys and girls ranging from 9 years old to about 18. A beautiful harmony of stomping, singing and chanting all in unison nearly brought some of us to tears, witnessing the genuine delight in the community and ethnic roots prevailed over any current struggles each child was facing. To many of us, spending a mere hour at Kliptown opened our eyes and affected our lives like we never could have expected.