Imizamo Yethu

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You could visit Capetown and believe it is a prosperous city; the streets are clean, the new Victoria and Alfred Waterside offers multiple retail and leisure opportunities and tourist guides go to great lengths to point out the affluent beach apartments and hotels. You could think the democracy which followed Apartheid in 1994 had solved the city’s racial divides – but you only need scratch the surface to see inequality and poverty still exists. Massively. It’s evident in the city where you are advised not to go out alone at night. To walk the streets during the day is to be jostled and asked for money for sick relatives and dying children. On the Cape flats there are miles of shanty towns stretching as far as you can see and opportunities to visit these – in the company of a tour guide – which sounds like an anomaly – but this is cultural tourism at its rawest – there’s no fun or pleasure involved – its dirty and difficult. For hundreds of thousands of people, the hope for a better future after Apartheid remains hope rather than actuality. You have to hold onto hope because when you have so little, there’s not much else. The hope in Imizamo Yethu (meaning “our combined effort” in Xhosa) is with the children along with the school, library and church but when your ‘home’ has no toilet or running water life is tough. While politicians wrangle (and have ‘homes’ with amenities) it’s charitable organizations like the Niall Mellon Foundation in Ireland who are making a difference by building houses with sanitation and electricity. But nowhere near enough to go round. Then there’s the tourist trade. It’s uncomfortable to experience social inequity on a scale like this and not least because you know you are only visiting before returning to a better living place. The difference you can make feels minimal and Imizamo Yetho represents only a tiny proportion of the human struggle for survival. In these finance stressed times, the value of conferences is often questioned but they offer a unique exposure to the human consequences of international politics. At Lincoln, strategic emphasis on internationalization will hopefully further opportunities to promote the sharing of cultural difference and social justice, in both their positive and negative forms. Conferences are bridges in the process of internationalizing the higher education experience. They offer potential opportunities to bring back stories of the stark realities of difference and remind us we are all human. We all want the same things – to be warm and dry, to have food and water and to raise our children in the hope they will have a better life. Conferences are not a luxury; they’re a reminder that higher education in the UK is still a highly prized commodity and that in many parts of the world, turning on the tap is still a privilege and not a right.

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