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Extreme games

"Extreme games" Continued...

Issue: "John Roberts: Bush's pick," July 30, 2005

Agathos is fighting against both childhood irresponsibility and social shoulder-shrugging promoted by British colonialism, which brought some economic upgrades but a clear psychological downgrade; at this point helping many South Africans to move beyond dependency requires patience. When a bathroom door was off its hinges, Mr. Smith observed that he "could fix it in three minutes, but what good would that do? People have to learn to fix things themselves." He was patient and at the end of the day the door was fixed.

In the end, the Zulus themselves will also have to change some suicidal customs. Today, witch doctors sometimes spread AIDS by telling a sick man to sleep with a virgin and he'll be cured. Fathers typically charge potential bridegrooms 10 or 11 cattle for their virgin daughters, a price beyond the reach of some men, who then feel justified in promiscuity. (If a father did not charge such a price, it would indicate he considers his daughter to be a slut.)

Mr. Smith speaks of the need for a culturally adept alternative that would show the value of a bride-perhaps a mortgage system where the father would let his daughter marry a bridegroom who would agree to pay money each month for a set number of years. The influence of witch doctors (who within South African multiculturalism now have the same status as medical doctors, officially) needs to be fought by a Christian surge.

Will the Loskop project contribute to that? Agathos needs to handle several problems. Since South Africa does not allow orphanages as such, children live in what is called "cluster foster care," with each child officially under the authority not of Agathos but of a caretaker (often a grandmother of one of the children) hired by Agathos and paid South Africa's minimum wage of about $100 per month. The caretakers are the critical links in conveying a Christian understanding to the children, but finding strong Christians for those roles is not easy.

Another problem is that, unlike the Zambian and Namibian orphanages profiled (Read Part I and Part 2.), the Agathos project so far is relying on South African public schools rather than starting a school of its own. The public schools still have some Christian content, but it's spotty; also, children do not start studying English until the sixth grade.

The Agathos goal is to do everything inexpensively so the Loskop home and others down the road do not require constant transfusions of cash from America. But will Agathos' unique selling propositions-living cheaply, African-style; developing self-sustaining farm homes; putting Americans and Africans in direct contact on a "one church, one village" approach-resonate with U.S. volunteers and funders?

On that question, the jury is still out.

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