Monday, November 4, 2013

One Man's Story: One Man's Advice

Today Takudzwanashe Chikoro (Takudzwa for short), a law student that the Legal Resources Centre hires for part-time casual labour, and I disassembled, tugged, shoved, and reassembled library shelving. I taught him about electric drills and he taught me about perseverance and resourcefulness as we struggled with stripped screws and weak muscles. 

Descriptions and introductions matter. I wonder what thoughts came to mind when you read "law student." Takudzwa's story is so much more complicated and inspiring than the images invoked by the words "law student" and "casual labour." 

Before I met Takudzwa, I'd read his story and seen his school picture in Sanctuary: How an Inner-City Church Spilled onto a Sidewalk by Christa KuljianSanctuary chronicles how Central Methodist Church chose to help the most vulnerable when the South African government failed to do so. I'd come across the book in the LRC library. In reading it I came to learn that the LRC represented Central Methodist Church in its fight to provide sanctuary to the thousands of Zimbabwe refugees when the City of Johannesburg and others sought to shut down the church's efforts.

Cover photo: Paul Jeffrey 

During much of the period between 2008 and 2012, the church provided support to and housed over 3,000 refugees at a time. Under the leadership of Bishop Paul Verryn, Central Methodist Church remained unwavering in its support of the refugees. This support would cause political and ecclesiastical turmoil. Takudzwa and about 1,000 other refugees still live at Central Methodist Church.

Takudzwa and I have spent some time together over the last few weeks. He has an incredible sense of humor; which has made for some good times as we bundled up hundreds of books, relocated shelving, and hauled away trash. 

Celebrating Completion of Book Removal!
During that time I have come to learn his story. At age 7 be became an orphan. At age 18 he became a refugee, leaving Zimbabwe for South Africa. When Takudzwa first arrived in South Africa in 2008, he slept on the streets of Johannesburg until he found refuge at Central Methodist Church. He would go on to attend, and excel at, Albert Street School. The school, started by four Zimbabwean refugees in 2008, is affiliated with the Central Methodist Church. At age 24, he is halfway to completing his law degree. He has some financial assistance with tuition. The rest of his school costs and living expenses he earns doing part-time work.

Occasionally Takudzwa studies at the LRC library. The LRC library is much quieter and safer than the Central Methodist Church. During his last exam period, the LRC law librarian invited him into her home so that he could rest and study in a quiet environment. Sometimes he will let me buy him lunch. 

Sanctuary details the story of how Central Methodist Church chose to help the most vulnerable when the South African government failed to do so. Chose to do so despite opposition from many of its own church members and officials. Most importantly it tells the stories of many of the people that survived because of its efforts. Takudzwa is one of those stories and even though he has a long way to go to achieve his dream of becoming a human rights lawyer I have no doubt that he will do so.  

In 2008, Takudzwa met Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general, Jimmy Carter, and other human rights workers when they came to Central Methodist Church to speak to the Zimbabweans that had fled from the choas of the Mugabe regime. In describing the meeting to author Christa Kuljian, he said, "Before they left they told us, 'We will see what we can do, but we don't promise anything.' People say that to me all the time. Visitors from Europe. Journalists from the BBC and the Mail & Guardian. I think it would be better to say nothing and then help if you can help." Wise advice from one so young.

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