Human Dignity on Human Rights Day

Published on 9 June 2017

One of our partners reflects on her visit to Zama Zama on Human Rights Day.

On Human Rights Day, I had the privilege to spend some time with a remarkable woman called Adelaide. Adelaide lives with her seven-year-old son and 18-month-old triplets in a one-room shack, with no access to water or electricity.

Adelaide doesn't choose to be remarkable; the demands of her life compel her to be. Her reality demands of her that she goes about the daily task of mothering four young boys on an almost zero budget and with almost no resources or support.

Like any mother, Adelaide has her ups and downs, joys, struggles and frustrations. Amidst this she manages to maintain her dignity.

More and more, human rights are being understood as growing out of human dignity. I had that in mind as I visited with Adelaide. Maintaining dignity in deep poverty (especially urban/shack poverty) must be unimaginably difficult.

One can fight for one's dignity, but perhaps it is also something we can affirm in another as a gift.

What might the gift of affirming another's dignity look like? I imagine it probably has both a practical and relational side to it. Practically, we can offer people the means to take care of themselves well, or at least, better. Being able to take care of one's own children is fundamental to parenting. So the gift of affirming dignity might mean empowering a mother to take care of her own children.

The James 1:27 Trust is trying to do this by empowering Adelaide to remain in her community and keep her children with her where she can take care of them herself. Ideally, Adelaide would love to earn her own income. At the moment, that's impossible (as a single mom with not one, not two, but three eighteen-month-old boys!). In the meantime, we can try gather essential resources around her that allow her to be the best mother she can be.

Relationally, this means seeing the other, hearing them, and acknowledging their struggles and joys. Living in extreme poverty, it may feel like you've been forgotten, there on the margins of society. Simply having your day-to-day reality recognised for the complexity that it is (without judgement, without anyone trying to 'fix' it for you according to their own ideas or agendas) may count for a lot.

This is what I'm hoping to learn to offer Adelaide as I partner with the James 1:27 Trust in becoming part of Adelaide's extended support network. In the process, perhaps I may find my own dignity affirmed, as I struggle with my own losses and suffering, and with the complex feelings of guilt that come with being one of the 'haves'. My desire is that I might be seen not as a 'have' but as a person with my own joys and struggles.

I invite you to join me in becoming part of Adelaide's support network. We don't want to inundate her with a stream of face-to-face visits. But we ask that you'll join us in thinking of creative ways of standing alongside her.

Immediately, this definitely includes financial donations, nappies, clothes, toys and food. We're working hard to ensure these aren't simply hand-outs but form part of a holistic, relational engagement with Adelaide and her kids. We also imagine setting up an educational fund for these boys' future. We're still learning, and are open to your thoughts and ideas around how to genuinely offer and receive the gift of affirming human dignity.