We challenge you to identify a significant change, tangible action, or inspiration in your life that has not been influenced or directly related to a human relationship.
We believe that human relationship is one the most formative influences on our world. This was evident in our lives when we traveled to Soweto, South Africa three years ago. After first arriving in South Africa and telling a Customs security guard in Johannesburg that we would be spending a week in Soweto–a township southwest of Johannesburg–he appeared shocked and told us, “You know that’s a ghetto, right?” Contrary to this initial encounter, our experiences in Soweto have taught us that while Soweto’s history as a township has left many of its residents in deprived socioeconomic states, its rich culture and thriving community make it wealthy at heart, and this richness all stems from genuine human relationship.
So, we have returned to Soweto each year since because of our friendships and because of the generosity of the St. Martin de Porres community, where we have stayed with Fr. Bruce Botha S.J. This summer, we are returning once more, returning to the homes of our global family with a new hope. We found storytelling to be the most effective way to bridge cultural differences because as we learned, storytelling is relationship building. As we became more comfortable and excited to share and to receive stories, we discovered that human beings are essentially, at our core, a collection of stories. We realized that knowing and beginning to love another person starts with stories. In fact, to “know” anything means to understand stories.
This is why we are returning to South Africa. The stories of hope and despair, disadvantage, justice, and empowerment have changed our lives because the people telling these stories have become our friends and therefore a part of our own stories. We want to share stories from Soweto and South Africa because they are stories that have transformed our lives, and we believe that they can transform the lives of others if people begin to understand a central idea present in the Soweto narrative that continues to excite and inspire us. This idea is Simunye. Simunye is Zulu for, “We are one.” While our personal stories are certainly unique, and while we enjoy the the differences that make our cultures distinct, we have come to see that the stories we were sharing are actually smaller parts of a greater human narrative that we only understand through history. Particularly today, in our globalized world, our stories clearly connect. It is beyond doubt that our histories influence each other’s future, and while each person experiences something unique, we are in the shared process of telling a very dynamic human story.
We are traveling to South Africa to listen. We hope to collect and document stories from many different people around the country, which has a rich history of courage against corruption. We hope these stories might offer ideas for how we move forward for justice. We are also eager to listen for our own story. Too often we think that our story begins and ends with us, our family, our community, or our country. This outlook is simply not true in our interconnected world, and it is why we we hope to better understand our shared story. We believe that if we can better understand our own story, we might start telling it together, and we might start living like we shared our humanity. We have been invited back to Soweto because we, as a group of global friends, want to tell a better story. Ultimately, we want the day to come when our human story is a story of hope, of peace, and of justice, celebrating a theme of Simunye.
The Simunye Team is composed of Michael Bakan and Drew Descourouez.
Michael Bakan is a first-year student at Georgetown University, where he plans to study International Business and Marketing. Over the past two summers, he has traveled to Soweto, South Africa on an immersion trip through his former high school, Bellarmine College Preparatory. During these trips, Michael developed a passion for using graphic design and other forms of artwork to share the stories of his friends in Soweto, as they strive to create a better South Africa in a post-apartheid, post-Mandela world. He is excited to return to Soweto to strengthen the bonds of kinship with his South African friends and to share the voices of those who are not often heard but will play an integral role in our future.
Drew Descourouez is a first-year student at Santa Clara University. Drew traveled to Soweto, South Africa in 2014, on Bellarmine College Preparatory Immersion trip. He has since traveled to nine other countries around the world and developed a deep desire to connect cultures through storytelling and personal relationships. Drew is also passionate about youth empowerment and hopes to learn more from his friends in Soweto about how young people can take responsibility for a shared future in a globalized world.
Learn more about The Simunye Project at ignatiansolidarity.net/the-simunye-project