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Nomzamo is a township 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Nomzamo originally came to be as a result of the population growth of a nearby township called Lwandle, which itself was originally a labor camp for migrant male workers during Apartheid. The current conditions in Nomzamo reflect the township’s origins, and are a far cry from what most Americans are used to. The Township is primarily composed of one story, one room improvised houses built with metal siding and wooden planks and are only occasionally insulated or heated.

“Nine out of ten times they are the same kids we all were. But every so often they reveal the side of their upbringing that is starkly different. They reveal the side that was raised in Nomzamo. They reveal the side that grew up in a township created as a result of overpopulation in an Apartheid era labor camp for migrant workers. What is truly remarkable is that this side of them is not harder, coarser or more selfish. This side of them is in fact warmer, kinder and utterly selfless.”

Resources are even more scarce. You would expect that in an environment like this, where there is fewer for each person, people would hold on to what they have even tighter, and strive to get as much as they can. The opposite is true. The children are remarkably generous and willing to sacrifice for each other. On Thursday, I watched a child walk up to a group of his friends with a lollipop in his mouth. He was the only one with any candy or food. Upon seeing the envious gazes of his fellow campers and the inequity of lollipop in his momentary community, he resolved without hesitation to institute his own personal plan for a redistribution of wealth.

I watched in confusion as he dropped to one knee and promptly smashed the lollipop against the ground. He then collected the bits and pieces and began distributing them amongst his fellow campers. It was not the most hygienic display I have ever witnessed, but it was among the most generous. I watched older boys pushing the youngest of the group to the front of food lines, making sure the smallest kids got food first. When we had less plates than children to serve, I witnessed tables of campers pooling their servings onto one communal plate. They gave the spare plates back to us so that the children who had not eaten would have a plate to eat off.

Nine out of ten times the children we work with are indistinguishable from your average everyday group of American children. They laugh and run and fall and love to play soccer. They smile and joke and dance and cry when they scrape their knees. They argue about who should be first in line and then they push and shove when they cannot agree about who should be first in line. Nine out of ten times they are the same kids we all were. But every so often they reveal the side of their upbringing that is starkly different. They reveal the side that was raised in Nomzamo. They reveal the side that grew up in a township created as a result of overpopulation in an Apartheid era labor camp for migrant workers. What is truly remarkable is that this side of them is not harder, coarser or more selfish. This side of them is in fact warmer, kinder and utterly selfless. This side of them is willing to give up food so that a friend can eat. This side of them is driven to ensure the weakest of the group eats first. This side of them has triumphed over adverse circumstances and inspires me to be stronger myself.

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