What to do when there is not much you can do?

I’ve been sitting on how to write an update on what’s happening in Enkanini, a place where we’ve been active for the past 10 years. Strangely, this is the first year we aren’t going there and it feels like the right decision. It’s a huge contrast as it’s been the favored destination with our InSite teams, we’ve had more movement in terms of social projects with the most potential for real community transformation, and yet, it’s not happening as we hoped.

I’ve wrestled with how to talk about it. What do I share? What do I reveal? What do I keep on the down low? How can I be honest and transparent without hurting or blaming others?

I’ll lay out the facts and then take it from there.

  • Spring 2017 the bakery structure was completed in Enkanini and the funds to build it were donated by the Philips Foundation. Yondela (Insite SA’s co-director and Enkanini Resident) organized the ovens and other materials needed to start the business.

  • Fall/Winter 2017 Philips began installation on the 10 solar street lights for Enkanini as this informal settlement had no street lights.

  • There were many problems and issues with the installation and it wasn’t completed until Feb 2018. Our team was there for the final installation, but they were turning off too early. That was a problem as the whole purpose was to provide light when it was dark.

  • May 2018 -

    • A site visit showed the lights weren’t working properly.

    • We discover there had been some huge ethics violations with research done in Enkanini from local Universities regarding the treatment of residents of Enkanini over a 7 year period.

    • An attempt to fix the lights leads to them not working at all.

    • The mentor who was going to work with Yondela regarding running the bakery quits unexpectedly.

  • All of these events result in loss of trust, motivation, confidence, towards outsiders who say they want to help, support and make things better for the people of Enkanini.

  • Presently - the lights have been vandalized - the bakery not functioning.

  • Plans to restore and rebuild are spoken but nothing has materialized as of yet.

Trust is low.

There has been so much disappointment for the residents of Enkanini. And I have to own that some of this has been brought on by InSite. We brought in Philips. We knew the research was happening and without checking too closely, there was exploitation happening all around us.

Now, I do believe most people coming into Enkanini have good intentions, wanting to help, but it’s so easy for things to go sideways:  plans change, things don’t work properly, rumors start, assumptions are made, and race plays a major role in how things are experienced. How can it not in a country that has fundamentally been built on the control of people based on race, for hundreds of years? Presently, race determines one's access, opportunity and education.  

Personally, this has gutted me. Feelings of powerlessness, deep disappointment,  and anger often consumed me over the past couple of years. It has caused us within the leadership of InSite to change how we approach our partnerships. We no longer speak about how we can “help” others. We do see how easy it is to do harm even with the best intentions.

My need to feel like I was “doing something” for others has been challenged and replaced with my need to feel connected to others. It’s been a confronting path and am grateful for the relationships I have and how they have sustained, and changed me. I’m a doer, a fixer, I like plans. I’m a very typical INTJ mastermind so this process felt very counter intuitive to me.

So the questions we sit with and ask as we move forward are: How might we walk alongside others, support and give voice to the injustices without causing more? How might we measure impact within the context of relationships? How might we challenge one another to move forward in our aim for a better world?

For Yondela and the community of Enkanini, we wait with them. We wait for the lights to be repaired. We ask and wait for a mentor for Yondela as he looks for one. We wait to see if there’s a way to bring justice for the past exploitations or prevent them in the future. We take this time when we would usually be planning our trip to visit, to evaluate and collaborate with them and not just default to what we’ve always done.

Shawna Snow