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#MoreThanSoup

by Barbara Clarke


In training, we say that everyone has a story, and that there's always a story behind the story. Our stories are important. The story we believe and tell about ourselves - as individuals, families, groups, communities, and even as organisations. Equally important, are the stories others believe and tell about us.


When, in her TED talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, talks of the danger of a single story, she alerts us to the ways we may miss important aspects of another's story. I was struck again, last week, by the partial story some people hold and tell of Mercy Aids, in general, and specifically when it comes to the support for community kitchens.


Food has always been one part of who we are, which is why, when lockdown came and sharpened everyones focus on South Africa's hunger crisis, we quickly mobilised to distribute food. We stopped business as usual and responded to the hunger. We did so by partnering with community members in Fisantekraal, Du Noon, Ravensmead, and Uitsig who were doing what they could do feed hungry neighbours. We began with those we knew, and followed their lead to find others. We became known as 'the soupkitchen people.' The label worked, sort of for a time, but like many labels it left a lot unsaid, and that created a misunderstanding of our story. Then, but more so now. We always knew we were more than what this label conveys, even at its broadest, and most generous understanding. In times of crisis, and 2020 into 2021 were such times, you choose where to put your energy. For us that meant not correcting every less than accurate grasp of our story.


Now, I think it is time to challenge the single stories people have of us.


A scroll through our facebook page shows that Mercy Aids, as an organisation, predates covid-19 by about 15 years, that our activities have been much broader than distributing food, and that we have worked in different communities with a wide variety of collaborators.


We have always had a developmental vision. We have grown in our understanding of what that could and should mean, partly thanks to our covid-19 experience, and the opportunities for collaboration that brought, not least with the women and men who embody #morethansoup as they create networks of care and belonging through feeding their hungry neighbours. Theirs are most definitely not single stories. And partly because of our interaction with UWC's Occupational Therapy Department's Community Development staff and students.


This year, as we mark and celebrate two anniversaries, we will share some stories from the past, some current developments, and some future dreams. We invite you to get to know our story more fully.

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