Xavier Heath – hope for the Church of the future

I was born on 22 May 1998, and I am the oldest of three. My siblings are Amelia and Oliver. My mother is Lisa who is Father Charles’s secretary and my dad is Michael.

I went to school firstly at St Edmund’s Primary, and then Bungay Middle and High Schools. I did my A levels two years ago, and then I did a foundation year in Biosciences at The University of Sussex.  In September I am starting a chemistry degree there.

I’ve been in the Scouts for 13 years altogether – first the Beavers, then Cubs, and lastly the First Bungay Sea Scouts, who mainly do water sports, canoeing and kayaking on the Waveney.  The Navy inspects them and the only real “sea” bit is when we are away at camp.

Every four years there is a Scout Jamboree, and I applied to go on that but couldn’t get in, but instead I went to Finland to do an Explorer Belt award in 2015, and then was asked to mentor Explorers going to South Africa to do their Explorer Belt there. That’s how this trip to South Africa came about – to help South African Scouts and also people living in poverty there, for example in the poor areas of Soweto and Limpopo. We were there for three weeks this summer, working, but also having fun and visiting touristy areas.

Before I went there were two years of planning and training weekends. This involved getting to know the people you were going with, and learning skills – manual labouring mostly. We were in mixed groups – boys and girls with an age range of 12-23.  There were 90 of us in all from Suffolk, Wiltshire and Herefordshire, together with 30 Leaders.

Poverty and racial tension

I am always up for going to see a new country. My impressions? These came mainly from talking with black South Africans. There are still areas and shops where they are less welcome, but it is improving year on year. What struck me was that there are different handshakes for blacks and whites. It was not acceptable in Johannesburg for us to do a “black” handshake. White South Africans don’t usually work with blacks. But I never saw any really aggressive racism.

In Johannesburg the owner of the place we stayed at was attacked whilst we were there.  One in two people there have a gun. I did hear gunshots but we were in a compound where we were safe. Quite by chance I met one of my sixth form mates (who had been in South Africa for a year), and he said there were places in Johannesburg where he would not have gone alone at night as a white male. There is tension.

In Soweto it is really poor – they live in shacks of concrete or corrugated tin, and the sewage runs through the streets. In Soweto there is a divide of rich and poor: for example, on one side of the railway tracks is a shanty town, and on the other a four star hotel – which had no windows looking out on the other side.

When we were working a typical day meant an early start at six o’clock. The breakfast was not enough to work on; we had to supplement the food ourselves as it left us hungry. Then we divided into our different groups. Each group had a project – for example, painting walls of the school, fencing the garden, replanting, building a simple toilet. We usually stopped at about 5pm, but when we were building the toilet (long drop as it is called) we really wanted to get it done for them before we left so we worked till 11pm with the headlights of all the vans on us. We were supervised by leaders we went out with, and the caretakers, and we worked with the South African Rovers (same as the Scouts and the same age as us).

At a football match

We played football matches with the children. We had brought them goodies like pens, bouncy balls. Of course if you gave something to one of them there was then a huge crowd round you wanting something too. That was quite difficult.

Apart from the breakfasts the food was better than I had thought, though simple. A lot of “pap” – maize and water, vegetables, meat on the bone.

Women preparing food

At the end of all the work we did everyone was overjoyed by what we had done for them. People could not believe how much work we had done for them, especially in Limpopo. They’re not used to people working so fast.  They work on “African time.”

Because of my time there I have had to change my perception of the rich/poor divide. It is just the way they live. How many people think like that? I definitely want to go out there again. It is one of my aims. I want to see how they are using what we did for them.

Not all work

Dragon boat racing

It wasn’t all work; we did some touristy stuff as well. We went to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. We went to Lesotho (a small land-locked country), and went pony-trekking through mountains, and we stayed at Malealea Lodge in Lesotho. Also we went to Sentebale where Prince Harry set up his foundation for children with AIDS. We also had cultural tours of Lesotho villages – how they live. We saw cave paintings at the Cradle of Humankind with the Missing Link skeleton “Little foot” in deep cave systems. There were lots of dinosaur fossils. We saw wildlife in the nature reserve – everything but lions! No snakes though we had been told about them.

We were there three and a half weeks. I wanted to stay longer.  The goodbyes were so emotional as strong and deep bonds are created fast. I want to keep helping more people.

I would have gone on anything that the Scouts organise. This was the biggest contingent – 120 altogether.  The Scouts have opened lots of doors for me, and taught me skills, and these helped with my Duke of Edinburgh award through school.

I think the trip has made me more mature. When you’re there you can’t hide away in your room like at University; you have to get on with everybody.

Thanks to the parish

I want to thank the parish for their support and help with funding from the St Edmund’s Fund.   It is important to me to be part of the parish; it is a family and I am part of it. I was a server for nine years. My faith gives me support, and something to fall back on. I’ve had a lot of guidance from my Parish “family” over the years.