Olivia Shaw
Olivia Shaw
South Africa, 2021
My name is Olivia Shaw and on January 13, 2021, I will be hopping on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa to begin work in Woodstock at a group home for immigrant and refugee children. I will be living in Cape Town for about six months and am so excited to see how my work will develop in my time there! Read More About Olivia →

Climate Control

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain
Platteklip Gorge, a route of Table Mountain.It’s surreal to imagine that I’ve already surpassed two months in South Africa, and that I’m steadily approaching the halfway marker of my time here! When I think about where I am now versus where I was in preparation to moving, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all I have learned through the communities here and the cherished stories of individuals that I now have the privilege of holding.
It is these very stories that have exposed the true meaning in what I was attempting to learn about before I was ever here to experience it. Written stories, biographies, movies, history books, standup specials- these are amazing foundational blocks when beginning to learn about another culture, but as Trevor Noah (a native South African comedian) stated in his standup special Afraid of the Dark, “Traveling is the antidote to ignorance” and I believe that.
When I first began to share to the people around me that I would be moving to South Africa, I was often met with concern and questions. The concern was genuine and valid, but it was not rooted in a genuine and valid understanding of South Africa. The political climate may be tense at times, but their climate is not altogether dangerous and I wholeheartedly believe that I’m not naive for saying that. I also sincerely believe that if we lived our entire lives in a place where we feel secure and safe, we would not grow or be challenged, and our ability to impact our environments would be drastically limited.
Those who experience uneducated and baseless fear for other cultures, races, sexualities, and religions, I fear suffer from something worse than fear. They suffer from a heart ridden with hostility, bias, and prejudice that has reinforced unjustified fear.
So consider this an introduction to climate control if this is one of the first times you have been asked to think critically, engage with uncomfortable material, or have been challenged with information that contradicts ideals that you have learned and come to know as truth.
If you are experiencing feelings of curiosity, conviction, guilt, inspiration: Read. Explore. Ask questions. Watch documentaries. Below are a list of books, comics, films, and other pop culture resources to learn about South Africa and the true political climate- a climate that is more than justified, a climate manifested from years of political unrest, blatant racism, segregation, colonization, heartache, and hurt.
  • When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • A Long Walk to Freedom
  • Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
  • A History of South Africa: 4th edition, by Leonard Thompson & Lynn Berat
  • Zapiro comics
  • Madam & Eve comics
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Nelson Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend, ownby Christo Brand
  • Awakenings: The Art of Lionel Davis (available at the District 6 Museum)
  • No Future Without Forgiveness, by Desmond Tutu
  • My Traitor’s Heart, by Rian Malan
  • A Rainbow in the Night, by Dominique Lapierre
  • A Long Walk to Freedom
  • Invictus
  • Skin
  • Sarafina
  • Cry, the Beloved Country
  • District 9
  • Trevor Noah standup (That’s Racist / Crazy Normal / It’s My Culture)
These educational resources provide a foundational, textbook understanding of the political climate of South Africa, but it does not often yield the opportunity to be deeply internalize the affects that the political climate has on the culture. This you can only learn through connection, relationship building, and conversations saturated with empathy and trust. If it’s not South Africa, (for your own sake or mine), pick your own country, cultures you’re exposed to consistently, questions you have about the climate you inhabit. Ask all the questions, learn what you can, and demand justice. Sign the petitions, call your state representative to advocate for the injustice and crime that is occuring in your own neighborhood. And take time to rest and implement self- healing practices while you are learning and advocating. Empathy is hard and draining and challenging, but this is where the best work begins to occur.
The best antidote to this discomfort is to place yourself, steady and ground yourself amidst the intersection of compassion, education, humility, and curiosity- this is where meaningful learning and respect for others develops. It is the start to developing a heart posture of understanding that is conducive to an environment that breeds advocacy and justice instead of fear and bias. It is a type of understanding that goes beyond head nodding and sympathy. It says “I understand that I will never understand, but I will stand with you and listen and never stop seeking to understand.” It is an understanding that does not encourage us to step forward, but inspires us to step back from our platform of privilege and in our place, push others forward so that they can be heard.
This is the place and the posture that sparks and ignites, and grows to encourage others to listen, change and then grow themselves because there is simply no other rational way to respond. I’d love to hear about ways that you are learning to extend a helping hand to your own communities or vulnerable communities that are suffering and in need of advocacy: send me a message and tell me what you’re learning about right now so that I can learn with you!
In your corner,

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