South African aid director shares church role in fighting poverty

By Emily Warren

Craig Stewart, executive director of The Warehouse, speaks at a Social Justice Symposium on the church's role in addressing poverty issues. | Photo by Victoria Stargel

Mary Anne Poe, professor of social work, introduced speaker Craig Stewart as “personally inspiring,” during a Social Justice Symposium Nov. 15.

Stewart is from Cape Town, South Africa, and is the executive director of The Warehouse, an organization that works with churches in response to poverty and injustice. Stewart introduced himself and shared some background about his wife and three children.

However, it soon became clear that Stewart was not at Union to talk about himself. Powerpoint slides with staggering numbers shocked the packed room.

Africa’s HIV infection rate is 30 percent. In Cape Town, 100,000 families are without adequate shelter. Another 80,000 children are parentless. Residents have a 1-in-30 chance of getting an education. The average amount of education received is four and a half years. The doctor-to-patient ratio is 1 to 3,000.

Stewart let those suffering tell their story through showing a video. A woman with       no job takes care of children in the slums.

A boy works all day for his family, bringing home the little money he makes, only to watch his mother spend it on alcohol. On the video, the boy talked about how difficult it is to go to school because some children do not have shoes and are too hungry to make the journey.

A girl, the only girl on her street that has not gotten pregnant, explained in the video that there are not enough textbooks for a classroom.

After the video, Stewart took the podium to speak again. At first he could not talk, noticeably moved by the video. He explained that the film was just recently made and the people shown on it are his friends.

Stewart read Ezekiel 16:49, which says, “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.” He then discussed a solution to South Africa’s problem — fixing unemployment. The people need to be employed, he said. To be qualified as an unemployment statistic the person has to have been actively seeking work within the last three weeks. The time between losing a job and getting a job on average is six and a half years.

Stewart said it is important to instill the thought  in owners of to successful businesses that it is their “gift from God to create work, not simply create worth.”

As an example, he talked about Khayelitsha Cookies Co. with the motto “Creating Opportunity One Bite at a Time.”

The company was created not only to make cookies, but to build jobs and change the lives of everyone involved with the company, Stewart said during the presentation.

Stewart said he hopes more business people will take the initiative and help create jobs to keep people out of the grip of poverty.

During a time of Q-and-A at the end of Stewart’s lecture, he said it is important that the fight for poverty begins at each person’s doorstep; however, it is also important that people build connections across continents because everyone is a part of a global village.

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