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An expression of "ubuntu" at JCHE

Posted: April 26, 2011

Nelson Mandela says:   “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”   

Passover is our celebration of moving from slavery to freedom.  Each year, we tell the story so we may remember and learn.  As we come to the end of the holiday, I realize that I learned about liberation from an unexpected quarter.

Last week I got an email reminder that the annual food and clothing drive would take place at JCHE and the staff was all invited to participate. Foolishly, I had assumed this was meant for the staff to bring in items to assist our tenants whom, after all, are considered “extremely low income” by all government standards.

Naturally, I went down the hall with 2 shopping bags of food.  There I found a group of tenants helping to sort and many other tenants streaming through with their donations.  This drive wasn’t for our tenants—rather it was from our tenants—they were donating items for those who are homeless and staying in shelters.   I watched with some awe as people came through to give of the little they have, because they recognize that others have even less.  They did it with an open heart and generous spirit.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes an African notion called “Ubuntu”.  "It speaks of the very essence of being human. It is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.' We say, 'A person is a person through other persons.' It is not, 'I think therefore I am.' It says rather: 'I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.'" A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.

I do not know how many of our residents have heard of ubuntu, but they surely demonstrate it.


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