This year, life changed for all of us. At SCCT, the Covid-19 pandemic had a wide and deep impact on our services and clients.
Whilst we transitioned our programmes online, our assistance to migrant and refugee populations in South Africa adjusted and adapted to their changed realities. We witnessed clients who – having survived precariously prior to the pandemic – fell into desperate need as jobs disappeared during the national lockdown. But we also witnessed an innovation and resilience – clients (from as far as Brasil) joined our remote English courses whilst others stood in solidarity to assist others in their communities.
One beautiful phenomenon that emerged amidst the hardship of 2020 was an unexpected generosity for those worst impacted by the pandemic. If ever you have been far from home, you will know that the generosity of strangers is a very special and powerful commodity. In ancient Greek culture, xenia (which translates as ‘guest-friendship’) was a sacred rule of hospitality – in which rituals of generosity and courtesy were provided by hosts to strangers who were far from their homes. Xenia sets out reciprocal actions that apply to both host and guest, and is a theme which threads through important texts – such as the Qu’ran and the Bible – and is crystallized in our own cultures – like our sense of Ubuntu.
How xenia plays out in the modern world, especially in the context of migration in South Africa, is vital to our work at SCCT – and vital to migrants and refugees far from their homes.
Through our various client-facing programmes, we were deeply aware of an extreme hardship facing our clients under lockdown. Between April and August 2020, for example, our Welfare Programme had provided direct aid to approximately 5,045 people (their target for this period is usually 364 people). This hardship reflected the wider struggles facing South Africa: during the pandemic our unemployment rate rose to just over 30%.
You would think that in this context of dwindling incomes, unsteady jobs and uncertain futures, ‘xenia’ would be at its lowest. But we witnessed an organic, bountiful generosity from all corners of society. Take our crowd-funding campaign that raised R197,000 for welfare assistance to those who are refugees or migrants facing serious hardship under lockdown. Or take Artists4Equity – an online artists’ auction – which raised R17,000 for the same fund, through the generosity of its organisers and participating artists. Or Joel’s Table, who approached us to inform us of his pop-up restaurant evening, which raised R2,000 for SCCT’s fund.
These donations all stand for something: they stand for hospitality and generosity – a form of ‘xenia’ – even in the face of crisis and pandemic. If anything, this pandemic has been a humbling reminder of the fragility of what we have. Perhaps it is this reminder that sparks such deep generosity.
This year saw some key successes at SCCT including the Advocacy Programme’s success in the High Court resulting in the Social Relief of Distress Grant being extended to certain asylum seekers and special permit holders. Our programmes harnessed modern technology to provide remote services in innovative ways: UNITE completed all curriculum modules using Zoom and WhatsApp, whilst English School used a newly designed WhatsApp curriculum! UpLearn created and launched a new professional development curriculum and, behind the scenes, teams like Facilities and Communications worked hard to make sure all these programmes ran smoothly and were represented to the outside world.
Enjoy reading, and we hope wherever you are, you are a provider or recipient of ‘xenia’ – which is generous and magic, even in the smallest of doses!