Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Initial Interpretations

Fact versus fiction.
Data, statistics, research.
Narratives and stories.

Like everywhere else in the world, South Africa has many versions of its history.  You can talk to Afrikaners or Africans or English-descendents or Indians or still others and each group will interpret the past differently.  Unlike everywhere else in the world, however, South Africa’s conflicting narratives fueled extreme segregation policies that lasted into the 1990s.  Apartheid may have ended in 1994, but its residual impacts are still being felt.

Like the past, current viewpoints are also continually evolving.  Different interpretations of the past lead to different interpretations of the present.  This has become increasingly apparent to me as I’ve told more and more people about the civil engineering internship I’m starting in Johannesburg.  My placement was created through a partnership between the Canadian organization Rooftops Canada and the South African organization Madulammoho Housing Association (MHA).  It is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).  I’ll be working with MHA to maintain and upgrade low-income housing in Johannesburg to make it more sustainable.

The reactions of my friends and family have varied, to say the least.  Concern, enthusiasm, pride, sadness, excitement – but the most common response has been fear.  Interestingly, the most fearful responses have come from people who have never been to South Africa.  They’ve heard horror stories from friends that have gotten more dramatic with each telling.  Or they’ve focused on the negative news stories that highlight the worst aspects of Johannesburg.  But this is a place where people live.  These are communities in which people have made their homes.

Yes, I am nervous about going to a new country on my own.  But I expect lots of exciting adventures, meeting a variety of new people, and learning all sorts of things ranging from sustainable building technologies to international development strategies.

Stay tuned for further stories and insights.


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2 thoughts on “Initial Interpretations

  1. Lynne Alton on said:

    Bethany, Christine sent me an email with your “Rebuilding Foundations” blog. I’m very glad she did and will continue following your new adventure in Johannesburg. I’m getting a sense from your clear writing of your work there and some of the history and culture of that part of South Africa and also maybe a sense of why you are there. I’m reading a book by a man named Thomas Merton, a writer, a philosopher, a monk, a contempative activist who was know as the “Zorba Monk” and who in the 60’s wrote about the disentegration of our western culture in a way that feels amazingly true for today. Why I am saying this is that I think you may share some of his belief in ways we can ( and must ) become more human, more connected with one another. I want to share some of what I’m learning of your work and experiences with some of the young people I know.

    I wish you well in your stay in Johannesburg.

    Lynne Alton

    • Thanks for your thoughts Lynne. The book by Thomas Merton sounds really interesting. Please feel free to pass on my blog to other people you think would be interested. Also please let me know if you have any questions or specific topics you’d like me to address.

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