|October 25, 2001 > News | Arts | Sports | Opinions | Masthead|
Former U of R student's 'Art of War'
by Michael Towle
A gang was war recently fought in Capetown, South Africa, in the neighbourhood of Falseig; an area known for its abnormally high gang activity.
The war lasted approximately two weeks, and most of the victims were youths. The South African government had to shut down the neighborhood and send in the military.
In today's world, guns are usually fought by guns. Jortosh Ministry, however, fights this battle with hope.
Todd Conant, a U or R graduate with a Bachelor of Science and Arts degree, along with Jordan D'Almeida of Regina, created Jortosh Ministry last year.
"Jortosh focuses on children," says D'Almeida. "You need to build into a generation early if you want to raise them up right. We teach godly principles and values, so children won't try killing each other when they grow up."
From August 22 to September 25, 2001, Conant, D'Almeida, and KyraLee Liston, also from Regina, were in South Africa with these objectives in mind.
Jortosh put on a children's conference during its first week in South Africa. The purpose was to train adults in churches how to work with children. Jortosh worked in schools and along side a church in Tafelsig for the remainder of their time.
"When you drive in [to Tafelsig], there's razor wires on the houses," explains D'Almeida. "It's very run down. We met a principal [of a neighborhood school] who had a gun on his desk."
There are 1.2 million kids within a two square mile area, and most of the kids cannot afford to go to school. "You can see a 3-year-old carrying a hand gun down the street," says Conant. "People live in fear, and after 10 o'clock [p.m.] the gunfire starts."
Jortosh Ministry serves a double purpose in South Africa: to preach the Gospel of Jesus, and to provide opportunities of a better life.
This was Jortosh's second trip to South Africa, out of a five-year committment. Currently they are trying to purchase a 'safe house' for the neighborhood kids and a free daycare.
In South Africa, the employment rate is very low. In Tafelsig, most people make money by setting up a drug house, or join a gang. "Gangs burn down any business that tries to enter there territory," says Conant.
"Kids need education," says Conant. "Most of the kids in school are illiterate, and have trouble understanding what's going on around them. A lot of the children in Tafelsig are in school, only to deal drugs or recruit others for their gang."
Jortosh Ministry hopes to help the Tafelsig neighborhood, but they need resources.
"We need money for resources, to help the building fund and the education fund," says Conant, Jortosh is planning on sending youth back to school with this money.
"Principals and organizations have nothing to work with. Basketballs, text- books, computers: they are all needed."
Jortosh plans to take four computers to the local church that they work with. Also, in the same church, they plan to set up a hair-dressing shop, where hairdressing will be taught and provided. Jortosh also hopes to bring some black people to Canada for a year, "to show them alternative opportunities," says D'Almeida.
In order to provide for these acivities, Jortosh is seeking sponsorship from businesses and starting to market products. "We market shirts, puppets, CDs, crafts, and do fundraisers," says D'Almeida. "We are trying to create some source of revenue."
After they take the material resources to South Africa, the human resources are next to follow. Jortosh plans on taking doctors, health care workers, computer technicians, and other professionals to help put the material resources to use, and to train other people.
"We are trying to build a bridge [from Canada to South Africa], to take the excess of Canada to the lacking communities of South Africa," says D'Almeida.
The need is great: school supplies, children's clothing, hygenic supplies, computer supplies, finances, and basic necessities. Offering something other than what the gangs are offering is essential to convince the youth that there is a better life for them.
Although white people do not go into neighborhoods such as Tafelsig, Jortosh is respected for not looking down on the people. "We always seem to get these chances to pray in drug houses, while no one's there," says D'Almeida, "and they always seem to close down. We even get to pray with the gangsters."
"The daycares are where all the children of gangsters are," says Conant. "We get to pray for them and show them kindness. "We want to build into kids, and give them hope that they are God's children," says Conant. "A lot of people have nothing to look forward to in life. We give them Jesus to live for."
In terms of hearing about God, "Kids get fluff," says Conant, "but they need important stuff they can use in life. We treat them like they're important.
"Teenagers are very guarded of themselves, because they've been hurt so much. But when we show we care for them, they open up and start to allow change in their lives. They need healing.
"In a situation where circumstances say 'danger,' people want something more in hope and truth. They can accept a [relationship with God] easier than someone who is 'self sufficient' can.
"Kids see a lot of dead religion." concludes Conant. "When they hear about a living God, that can be close to them, they want it. They want something that can make a difference."
Although it is a risk to work in the Tafelsig neighborhood, D'Almeida sees it as a good place to start. "If you can start with the worst community, and make a lasting difference, even in just one life, they can continue to help others."
"Some people don't see this as a legitimate job," explains Conant about some of the challenges for him in this line of work. "But it revolves around changed lives. To see a kid find value in his life, to see communities transformed from death traps to places of hope, and to see God work miraculously, makes my life worth it."
D'Almeida reflects on the impact this experience has had on his life, saying, "It's made me realize I can't live my life like I had before, but I have to make a difference no matter how small it may be."
According to statistics, in Tafelsig, most males will have been shot before they reach the age of 20, and most females will have been raped. Conant and D'Almeida know the pain of losing friends to gang warfare. By the time they returned for their second stint in South Africa, nine out of ten of their gang member friends had been murdered. The other was in jail.
Fighting this battle is something Jortosh feels a part of, but their weapons are different. They hope to build lives,instead of destroying them. This is their 'Art of War.'