Barcelona Days

Sister Margaret Knobel OP

Several miles outside of Benoni, Gauteng, hidden in a corner of mealie fields, tall grass, tin shacks, dry ground and many children running freely, is a patch of God’s good earth, known as Barcelona.  This world, home to thousands of families, is a tough scenario.  Yet, it is home.

Barcelona got its name from the famous World Cup Soccer held at Barcelona in Spain.  At that time, many young people were homeless. Hence, finding foreigners and travellers in a similar situation, shacks were set up, young families made a home for themselves amidst this ground. Many looked to the future with hope, despite untold difficulties.   In the rainy season, shacks were flooded, blankets sopping wet, little ones coughing and hungry, yet they survived.  In the dry season, water was often a big hassle as the central taps for the community would run dry, pit toilets were the order of the day and trees were stripped of branches to provide fuel to cook the meagre meal at sunset for the families.   Shade diminished,  burning heat in the summer blazing days took its toll on all as even the tin shacks were little comfort from the searing heat.  Mosquitoes pestered the people along with rats, mice and other beasties that even took to chewing the few lines of wire that kept the rickety fridges going.  What patience and endurance I witnessed, what sickness I saw, I do not know how they survived, but the people did. 

Thank you, God, that circumstances are mightily improved.  Each family that could produce an Identity Document received a lovely new home.  We call these block homes “Reconstruction and Development” homes and they are truly a home.  Now we have electricity in every home, running water (what a blessing!), new strong outside toilets, some even have toilets inside their homes. The roofs are strong, with tiles, and each family has an allotted plot where vegetables can be planted.  Many who have work have managed to fence off their homes, thus keeping the children safe.  Life is truly far better now.

However, the age-old problem of unemployment is now a major challenge for people.  Many moved into the area as unskilled people.  For those who are  fortunate enough to find employment one sees tremendous improvement in the quality of family life.  For others, a subsistence existence remains, and it is a daily struggle to eke out a living.  Some sell sweets, chips, fruit or vegetables, but very little profit is made.  Transport to town is expensive as petrol is now very pricey here in South Africa.  For those who have, life is okay, for those who struggle to find employment, life is a heavy burden.  Drug-lords have entered our country, messed up the lives of the youth, and the ubiquitous liquor is easily available to youngsters and parents.  Here is a big problem as children drop out of school, become alcoholics and drug-possessed.

The country is making a big effort to support child-headed households, single mothers and the poor.  There is hope.  There is much prayer too amongst families, churches provide solace and strength for families, there is wisdom and deep respect generally amongst people and we pray for our country, South Africa.

Sister Laurentia (left) and Sister Margaret with Sizakele Mahlangu in Barcelona. Through monies she received from various sources, including fund-raising projects in England, Sister Margaret supported Sizakele’s schooling. Sizakele is now a fully-fledged educator, has her driver’s licence and her own bakkie, her own house, provides for six children (four from relatives who has died) and takes care of her mom’s homestead, even providing for all the unemployed members of her family.  Sizakele is a committed Catholic, takes care of many children in her area in Barcelona, advises them, chats to adults, elderly, those in trouble and pain and wisely discerns who else might receive help that Sister Margaret ca provide through the generosity of benefactors in England and Sisters’ fund-raising work.

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