HOW GADGETS LEAVE RURAL CHILDREN VIRTUAL ORPHANS
Lets play a game of dot-to-dot. Maybe I spend to much time in a preschool but dot-to-dot is the best example I can think of. Everyone who is reading this right now is using some kind of digital gadget. That is your first dot in this game, your gadget. The last dot in this game of dot-to-dots, are the children I work with in rural South Africa. Now lets connect them, the “gadget-dot,” to the children in rural South Africa. Let me say at the outset, I’m not playing this game of dot-to-dots to promote guilt or hand-ringing despair. Instead, I’m trying to counter the idea that if everyone just worked hard enough, they would prosper. I’m trying to promote the idea that we need to think harder about how the world we currently inhabit operates. I’m attempting to bring awareness as to how our lifestyle comforts, may unknowingly, and adversely, affect the lives of children in rural South Africa.
Most of the children I work with have no parents at home. Either their parents have died, or their parents are working in other locations. Either way, the children are being raised by older siblings, grandmothers, aunts, or sadly on their own. In any case, they are being raised as though they are a burden, a nuisance, or unwanted. What has created these horrific circumstances? In a word poverty. But lets delve deeper and explore other dots.
Let me make a single example that demonstrates how gadgets for us, affect the lives of children in the developing world. Lets take a common gadget that we all have become accustom to using on a daily basis, the smartphone. I have one, I’m using it right now. The basic materials that go into my smartphone are mostly plastic and glass, but also several types of precious metals and silica. South Africa’s economy is largely based on the mining of these exact types of basic raw materials.
Mines require an extensive work force and who works in these mines? The fathers of rural children. Men who have received an education in handling a shovel and a pick. They live in onsite hostiles provided to them by multi-national mine companies. They work under long-term contracts that require them to live away from their family homes. They risk their lives working underground for about $800 per month. They must split their income between their own needs and that of their families back home. Most men who work under these conditions return home once a year to see their children, visiting as if a stranger. In some cases, they bring unwanted gifts with them, such as HIV. As a result, the children do not have the presence of their father, nor do they have their mother, who is likely to be working as a domestic worker in a distant suburb. If the mother becomes infected with HIV, she may orphan her children after a period of illness.
The raw materials that leave South Africa to produce gadgets, smartphones and all sorts of technology, may go to places like China, where smartphones are manufactured with cheap labor, again, causing pain and suffering for families there. Those phones are then shipped around the world, thanks to carefully crafted trade agreements. They are sold to us relatively cheaply, or even given away for free, under contract to network providers. At any rate, profits go to the corporate heads and stock holders, not to those down the supply chain.
This is an example of the hidden cost of inexpensive technology to the developing world. It’s a heart-breaking emotional cost to children. I see it everyday. I see it in the eyes of children who never see their dad. I see it in the hurt that children demonstrate in poems I read. I see it in the angry rebellion of teenagers. I see it in the hopeless voices I hear when I ask about their dreams. I see it in the drug addicted youth who beg in our streets. Cycles of poverty that result in crime, girls exchanging sex for food. It’s all part of a complex system that makes the rich richer, supplies the masses with gadgets, and leaves thousands of children without their mom and dad.
While we live in our own isolated worlds, concerned for our own individual security and safety, we forget the greater impact we have on the world, both socially, economically and environmentally. This completes our game of dot-to-dots. From dot one; Cheap gadget acquired through global shipping channels, trade agreements, cheap Chinese labor, and cheaper raw materials from South Africa, to our final dot, one lonely and lost child growing up without parents. If you would like to assist us in mentoring children in rural South Africa, we are a registered 501c3 in the USA called Road Works. www.roadworks58.org Road Works supports a registered non-profit in South Africa called Zonke Izizwe Association NPO #102-774. I’m currently seeking 50 people who would be willing to donate $36 per month. All donations go to support the staff and programs of Zonke Izizwe Association in KwaMhlanga, South Africa. We run a preschool for 70 children that provides both education and a healthy breakfast and lunch, five days a week. We offer afterschool literacy programs for grade one and two. We also mentor youth in life skills through the arts and spiritual development.