November 6, 2012
By Simon Chambers
Hamburg is a village (or town depending on who you ask) of about 1500 people in one of the most beautiful settings I’ve ever seen. Every building I’ve been in has had gorgeous views of either the Keiskamma River, the ocean, or the rolling hills the village is set in. The people are friendly- just about every person who’s driven or walked past me has waved a greeting; something I’m not at all used to living in Toronto, where it’s very easy to be just another anonymous person going to and from work every day.
But Hamburg is a community with huge problems as well. The unemployment rate sits at 78%- nearly twice the national average of 40%. Between 30-40% of the adults in Hamburg are HIV+. People have little sense of esteem or hope for the future. Substance abuse is a popular pastime.
The organization I’m here visiting- Keiskamma Trust (named for the river which meanders through the valley next to the village)- has been working to improve conditions here for 8 years. The Trust, which began as a co-op which allowed women to create works of art (embroidery, sewing, felting, ceramics, beading, etc) for sale, has expanded to address a variety of needs in Hamburg and 46 other villages on the Eastern Cape.
Yesterday I had a driving tour of the village, and then walked up and down and back and forth through the various Trust programs close to where I’m staying with various staff members. Each time, I heard more about a particular aspect of their work: health care, children’s programs, community development programs, the art program, psycho-social support. And with each conversation, my respect for the work of Keiskamma Trust grew as it became clear how passionate all their staff are for the work.
These disparate programs have grown together into an integrated, wholistic program which is now working with the South African government, the local school and health systems, and many of the local people to know the local problems and address them.
If you ever get the chance to visit Hamburg, I highly recommend you do so. And if you want to really get to know the place, you really need to visit with staff from Keiskamma Trust, who know every person who lives here, and are working alongside them to improve conditions for everyone in this beautiful place!