Yesterday I came across an article which described the origins of Equal Education, an organisation which advocated for quality and equality in the South African educational system. The organisation began in 2008 with a vision to repair the broken windows in a high school in Khayelitsha. The idea was simple: In the winter the Cape gets cold, wet and windy and surely being able to close the windows would make the learning environment both more pleasant and more productive. Today Equal Education is beginning to have an impact on the schooling experience of children around the country. Thousands of people have participated in their marches and other awareness raising activities. And all this began with a simple idea – fixing windows in a poor school.
Clearly this idea caught the imagination of many in the community. Doubtless this was a combination of dynamic leadership, answering a real need, and a willingness to take the first step, and the second, and the third. It isn’t just about the idea, it is also about the implementation. Nonetheless, I would be surprised if those who showed up to fix the windows in that school realised that they were helping to get the ball rolling for an organisation which may well go on to be a significant agent of change in South Africa.
I know that I am often overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problems in our country. My daily commute takes me from the southern suburbs of Cape Town to the beauty of Stellenbosch, right past the abject poverty of Langa, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha. It is impossible to ignore the terrible tensions we face with such disparity of wealth. Even as I craft these sentences I find a slow paralysis creeping into my thoughts. The problem is totally beyond my capacity to solve.
But the origins of Equal Education give me hope. Perhaps there is a simple idea; some small project that I can begin. That project may not grow as Equal Education has done, it may well be more along the lines of the starfish principle (From the parable of the person standing on the beach covered in stranded starfish, throwing back one at a time. It makes no real difference to the whole population, but it makes the world of difference for the starfish is thrown back into the sea). Something much more modest. But if we all search for the simple idea and try to put that into action maybe, just maybe things can change.
So… what is your simple idea?