We are David, and Goliath comes out in the morning and the evening. He comes in gunfire and violence in the home and tik on the street corner. He is taunting us, look at you, you’re so small. We look down at our stones, our little weapons, our tools. Our stones are paint and therapy and cuddles and porridge and consistent boundaries. They do look small. We place them into our hands and throw, again and again. And before we know it, Goliath lies dead. The God of holy fury and tender mercy fights for his children, made in His image with own gentle hands. Watch Him fight. Look, there is one child learning to write his name, and there’s another believing the therapist when she’s told she’s important. And there is another, painting trees on the water. The narrow path is opening up, I can see it in front of us. It looks beautiful and the sky looks like the Father’s heart. God is here.
Keeba jumped out of the car to pick up one of our pupils. Keeba is a teacher at Skatties and she loves those kids fiercely as her own. This particular pupil lives in a tiny shack at the back of her Aunt’s house. It is a dark, dilapidated place where adults wander in and out without knocking, using drugs and occasionally screaming at each other over money. It haunts me sometimes, when I am not there, because it is filled with children and I cannot say they are safe.
As she passed through the yard, an uncle caught Keeba’s eye. Why do you always come here for this child? He asked, spitting out his words. This child will just end up like her mother.
This child is four. She is bright and beautiful. I love to spend time with her.She is learning to write her letters – steadily, slowly – and she loves to be cuddled. When you pick her up her eyes sparkle. Keeba felt a pang of anger rise in her stomach. The uncle looked at her. This child is dead, he said.
I am applying for Lily to attend school next year. I’m also looking for schools for two of our preschool kids, who graduate this year. For our Manenberg kids the doors swing shut – they aren’t academic enough for one school, their parents aren’t ‘engaged’ enough for another – even though we will pay the money and get the kids there. I apply for Lily and the doors swing open. Come, come, look around. Ask questions, anything. Attend our open day, look here’s some coffee, make yourself comfortable. I look at Lily, milky peach skinned and the world opening up for her. I look at our other two students and see the path getting narrow. A narrow path leading to noisy, crammed classrooms and confusing, frightening homes, and gunfire on the street, and tik available on the street corner, and who could expect a child to succeed under these circumstances? They are sponges, we know this, that’s why we shower our own babies in love and language and praise. They are sponges, and these kids are destined to soak up hell, and become a part of it.
We see Charlottesville and recoil inside. It feels like an evil so alien to us, but I don’t think it is. The fires they carried in their hands are still alive and roaring around us, separating our educational systems and communities. The chants of you will not replace us stillecho around our city. And we can put out the fires, and silence the chanting, we can, if we want.
My husband is making a film this week about our church and interviewed Keeba. Can you tell me a bit about the kids’ situation at home? She wasasked. It was herfirst question. She paused, and couldn’t answer. She wept, and we put the camera away.
This is the fight on our hands.
And we will immerse these little sponges in love. We are a little army of mothers, and we are linkingarms to pray and we are weepingand we areticklingunder arms and we are makingsomething out of colourful card again, day after day. We arelayingdown boundaries until our voices grow hoarse, please sit at the table until everyone’s done, sit at the table until everyone’s done.
Our hands grow raw in the fight, yes. Just this week a child told her mother we beat her at school. On the same day one child pushed another child into the monkey bars and bruised her face. The child who was bruised was Lily, my child, who forgot about it much quicker than I did. Some of it’s normal kid stuff, and some of it isn’t. Manenberg has been at civil war for about a month. There is endless shooting and bodies disappearing into the ground as the media falls silent. A one-year-old was shot in the arm this week. A one-year-old. I look at my baby boy, all giggles in the day and resting his warm cheek on me in the night, and I pray.
This is what the children see. This is the fight on our hands.
One of our kids has been acting out for a while. Her daddy’s been picked up by the police and she’s struggling. She can’t listen, she can’t sit, she twists and turns through her therapy session. But I remember a couple of months ago, I set out the paints. She picked up the green and drew a big line, and another big line. It’s a gun, she said, and she held up to the class. No, love, we said, draw something else. She paused. And then she picked up the brush and began to paint, drawing a line and circle in a very dark shade of green. She dipped her brush in the water, and painted the same in paler green, and again paler still. She painted reflections underneath. It looked like a forest trees in shades of green, growing above the water. It was beautiful.
This is the fight on our hands.
And as we use our stones every day, we begin to see His plan unfurl. These children grow into beautiful stones themselves, the foundations of Manenberg, and one day us mothers will throw them back out into the darkest corners of this community and they will conquer their own giants. One day they will birth their own movements of beauty and freedom. And that is when we will know, when the children run out in their hundreds, that the fight on our hands is won.