Taking Down Fence

One of the joys of being at Camphill Farm has been experiencing the value of meaningful work. I'm on a team of about 10 farm workers here. Some in the group are older and some are younger. Some are black and some are white. Some in the group have developmental disabilities and others don't. Some speak Afrikaans or Xhosa or English or German as their first lanuage. Point is, there are quite a few differences between us in our little farm team, but what we share in common is that at the beginning of the day there is work to be done and we are the ones tasked to do it. We don't have the same skills, nor the same level of fitness, nor the same attention span. What unites us is the the fact that we have stuff to do and it's up to us to do that stuff.

But this 'stuff to do' is not meaningless. Its not hard labor for its own sake. It's not busy work. Now there are some days when that is very difficult to see. In the past week we have been taking down fence and clearing invasive trees. It's hot outside and the barbs are sharp and the trees are heavy when you pull them through the brush. Some in the group work quickly, others work slowly. Some can use the pliers at the fence posts while others wind wire. At times there are arguments among the members of the group. Sometimes people just keep their grievances to themselves. Sometimes the team is working efficiently and everyone has a task that suits them. Other times it's not rosy and things aren't running smoothly. And yet we are united by the fact that things must get done. The fences and the trees are coming down to make space for pasture for the growing dairy herd. This work is meaningful but not glamorous, just as the people doing this work are full of life but not especially flashy. I have been struck by the pride and energy that the residents of Camphill put into their farm work. This is especially apparent in doing an arduous task like taking down fence.

It's no secret that in the past societies have generally done a pretty poor job of caring for or about people with developmental disabilities. Part of this injustice is the view that such people could not do meaningful work because they lacked something physically, cognitively, or emotionally to be a full-fledged contributor. Such people were understood primarily in terms of what they could not do rather than what they could. As I say, it's no secret that this has a been a view that has dominated lots of our thinking and continues to do so.

Problem with viewing people in that way is that there is plenty of work to be done around us and plenty of people who can contribute to that work whether they happen to have a disability or not. Camphill Farm has adopted the outlook that what is most meaningful is that each person contribute with his or her own gifts and skills to the work that must be done for our lives together. Like many things, in theory that sounds great, but in practice it's a lot harder. It is a human tendency to find reasons why things can't be done rather than ways of possibility. So often we want to put up fences where there just don't need to be any.

Taking down fences is something of a strange activity to be doing South Africa. If you've been here you know what I'm talking about. Barbed or razor wire surround just about everything. Bars cover the outside of doors and windows. Security systems are installed in even modest homes. Theft is incredibly common. At least in my experience so far, rare is the South African who can't tell you of the time they were robbed. Crime is a huge challenge here. Fences and walls and all manner of high tech devices are designed to keep people out (or in as the case may be). So it is has been all the more poignant to be taking down fence these past few days amongst a South African community that is also striving to break down barriers placed in front of those with developmental disabilities.






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