Camping, or is it luxury vs. poverty?

As soon as you start living your dream, your dreams evolve.
When I was a young child and still living in Scotland, camping was all the rage. Or at least, I was led to believe it was. My father would attach a roof rack to our car so that an enormous tent could be placed on the roof and there would still be enough space in the trunk for everything my mother needed to pack. And, let me assure you, we never had to look very far for all the mod cons of home. I’m certain the kitchen sink went along although I have no proof. I do however have the polaroids to prove that a number of evening dresses were packed since my mother would transform into a very elegant princess to go out with my father at night. Come to think of it, my mother probably loved camping as much then, as I love it now. Not very much at all!

The last time I truly enjoyed camping, was when I was in my early twenties and in love with a windsurfer who owned a ‘one and a half man tent’. After all these years, I’m still trying to find the half a man that the tent producer was marketing to. Needless to say, the tent could only be described as cozy.

Remembering my youth, the tent was family sized. It had at least 5 separate rooms, with ‘doors’ which could be zipped up to divide bedrooms from living rooms and kitchens from patios. Holiday snapshots show very happy children in swimming costumes, buckets and spades, sea, beach, caravans and of course jumbo-sized tents. Camping vacations were great fun-filled family times.

Earlier this year I spent 7 days in Cape Town, South Africa with 3 wonderful friends. We had a marvelous time, the weather was perfect and the accommodation was a far cry from the camping sites of my youth. We rented a car and I played tour guide for the week, driving my friends around to see all the beautiful places you expect to see in the Cape, but we also saw the bad and the ugly.

If you’ve ever visited Cape Town, you may have seen the ‘informal settlement’, Khayelitsha. When you drive passed Khayelitsha, you see children of all ages playing football alongside busy roads. There are no sidewalks, just stretches of bone dry soil which turns to mud in the rainy season.  It’s dusty or muddy and the children are dirty and happy. And, fortunately there is still a lot of laughter to be heard. Many older children however, turn to drugs to ‘escape’ the hardship that they live in and regularly skip school as they just don’t see the need.  It’s very easy to become invisible as a child in Khayelitsha; the shanty town, where homes are made from road signs, advertising boards and other scrap metals, leaning against one another for support. Water is often a tap located 5 kilometers from home. There are electricity cables, but that doesn’t mean to say that the people can afford to use it. There are very few mod cons.

“There is more space between the tents and caravans on a European camping site than between those homes,” one of my friends said. “I’m sure my boyfriend’s one and a half man tent was far more comfortable and we know that the ablutions on any Dutch camping site are luxurious by comparison,” I replied.

My friends then realized why I had packed my clothing in a weekend case and had foregone the use of my suitcase to load it with 4 used laptops. I met Lucinda Timoney, a volunteer at LifeXchange in December 2010. Lucinda and LifeXchange’s other volunteers teach young adults simple things like reading, writing and life skills. Adults whom at some stage in their lives have dropped out of school. It became apparent to me that for these volunteers to do an even better job, that they needed equipment to teach computer skills. Fair Chance Foundation has strong links to the NGO Close-the-Gap. Close-the-Gap collects ‘old’ computers from companies and redistributes these to needy organizations around the world. And don’t be concerned, these laptops don’t end up on third world country landfills. Computer equipment is tracked, traced and disposed of correctly. My friends at Close-the-Gap were more than happy to help me and I made LifeXchange the happy owners of 4 laptops. LifeXchange volunteers now teach e-learning and computer skills to their students. It’s really rewarding to hear about their great work and the difference that it makes.

When I went camping in my twenties, the short walk to ablutions for water, the lack of electricity and general feeling of discomfort, was all part of learning, growing up and getting back to basics. I now realize that the camping sites of my youth can be considered 5 star by many people’s standards;  getting a basic education is not guaranteed; and, electricity and water should not be taken for granted.

Every little bit that we do counts, Often it’s linking people to people in our networks, calling in a favour, or just rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done. In the words of Mother Teresa, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Let’s make waves! Namasté.

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