Story by Diane Gayer
Photographs by Diane Gayer and Jason Houston
August 10: The Ark of Hope arrives in Johannesburg,
site of the upcoming United Nations World Summit on Sustainable
Development (WSSD). The Ark is first exhibited at Nedcor Bank, one of
the venues for Summit meetings.
August 12: The Ark of Hope goes to Pretoria, SA to visit the
Mayor and Councilors.
People feel the Ark has a lot of South African symbols,
baobob tree. There was a lovely piece on SABC-TV of the junior
councilors (future leaders of their country, in their robes and with
medals hanging around their necks), reading from the Temenos Books--a
favorite page was ‘I wish they would not cut down trees to make
toothpicks.’ Lea Terhune
August 16: The Ark travels to five schools where children
August 19-23: The Ark is exhibited at Industrial Development
(IDC) along with a very glitzy reception and an art exhibit of South
African artists organized by Nina Venjakob.
August 22: Sally Linder, Barbara Waters, Andrea Morgante,
Elder, Diane Gayer (artists and community leaders from Vermont) and
Jason Houston (photographer from Massachusetts) arrive in Johannesburg.
We join Lea Terhune (community leader also from Vermont) who arrived
On our first night we sit around a campfire and drum under the
sky. Watching the moon rise connects us to place in a most immediate
way. The politics of South Africa slowly emerge through the music--the
recognition that whites are African too, that drumming is not
necessarily restricted to blacks, and that expectation and reality are
not the same thing.
August 23: We meet and talk with the 22 students who are to
to the Summit. These intelligent, motivated, caring students from
squatters’ camps are excited to be part of this world gathering. By the
time we reach the WSSD Side Event each student has found his or her
voice and become strong, and we have become facilitators for something
even greater. The meaning of the Earth Charter unfolds as we work
together. The students instinctively understand how and why their
specific truths fit into the larger context of the guiding principles
the Earth Charter.
August 24: The Ark of Hope is taken to Diepsloot to be walked
the community where most of these students live. We hug and celebrate
for a few minutes before we set off. The Ark is finally home on the red
dusty primal African earth.
Diepsloot is a squatters’ camp of 250,000 people. Carrying the Ark
pass hand-made commercial stalls, homes made out of corrugated metal,
people walking and talking in the dust, women doing laundry at an open
spigot in courtyards, an elementary school surrounded by a razor-wire
topped wall. After about two hours we arrive at the Wings of Life, a
project run by a nonprofit trust. There is a metal trailer for the
pre-school, two wood-frame cabins, a traditional thatched-roof hut
(built just for the Ark,) and a drilled well for water. A
twelve-classroom school is planned but not yet built due to lack of
I felt rather at home here, several times stopping to talk with
shopkeepers and people standing out in front of their homes. I had
little Ark of Hope cards to give out, which gave me an excuse to
approach people. The children liked the cards--it was fun to see their
eyes light up. The Ark is beautiful, and it definitely made a golden
We are learning about the role of beauty. On the walk from Vermont,
through Massachusetts to Connecticut, the beauty of the Ark opened
doors, opened people’s hearts—allowing them to believe in something
greater again. In the aftermath of the Sept.11 attacks Americans
struggling to trust their own instinct for peace and compassion, were
drawn to the Ark and the Earth Charter. And now in South Africa—whether
in Diepsloot or at the World Summit—the same thing is happening. The
beauty of the Ark stops people and the poetry of the Earth Charter
August 25: A friend arrives with the bakki to take the Ark to
another squatters’ camp. It is hot but unlike Diepsloot, this place has
a pattern of large trees forming a canopy over some of the metal shacks
and informal gathering spaces.
Slowly children start to appear from various alleyways and
see the Ark and run their hands over the images. Soon they are sitting
in the back of the truck drawing on squares of paper to put in their
Temenos Book for the Ark. As more children arrive and clamber into the
truck there comes a point when it is so full of children no one can
draw anymore. So I start lifting them out each time they turn in a
drawing. As I put them on the ground they run around to the other side,
climb in, make a drawing, just to get lifted out of the truck again.
This becomes a great game—a sort-of variation on hide-and-seek.
Glenys Van Halter (director of a nonprofit safehouse for victims of
and abuse, and programmes for AIDS orphans) explains that these kids
want so much to be loved, and held, and touched—they are starved for
attention. I find the warmth wonderful and cry that we can no longer
cuddle and hug small children in our country, no longer socialize with
students, no longer have a drink with a professor... I know the abuses,
rapes, and lawsuits are serious, but look at what it has done to us—
at the fear that has replaced the love.
August 26: We workshop with the 22 students at the Wings of
preschool trailer and listen to their stories.
Merryn starts: "It’s time for action;" Gugu (Yvonne) follows
need education;" Salamina talks of living conditions, trash, lack of
water, and access to proper toilets; and Julia (Lebogang) worries about
streetkids and access to work with pay.
Lucky challenges the Summit with implementation; Fanletti (Choizee)
nothing has improved since the last Summit, there must be hope for this
one; Themba injects there should be no tolerance of the industrial
practices that are destroying our world.
The stories continue. Jerita brings up the suffering of parents
education who despite no money for school fees, uniforms, or food,
hope for their children’s education; Cynthia (Jabile) brings up the
for access to tertiary education; Josias talks of unemployment, no
access to jobs, prostitution for food, and bad housing; Merryn ties
of access to education to drugs and poverty; and Busi moves on to the
hows and whys of living with HIV and AIDS.
Salamina talks of police corruption, and youth who must speak out
against crime and rape; Gugu replies that youth need skills and
connections to stand up; Moses changes the topic back to AIDS, adding
that men are raping and abusing their children, this is killing the
There is more to say. Alec speaks to the needs for youth to change
things are, to have micro-enterprises, to raise their voices together
and get focus; Josias adds that youth need support from their parents
and leaders; Lucky has ideas about school programmes and community
gardens; Josias pipes in that learning to grow tomatoes or vegetables
a lot more sustainable than being given a tomato; Lucky returns to
Merryn’s earlier point about action, offering examples of youth
programmes that exhibit other talents in a community.
Curiously, all-on-their-own, the stories change direction from
to hope. We close by defining the themes these stories fall under:
Rights, Education, Poverty, Environment, Action, and Hope. We compare
the list to the Earth Charter Principles.
August 27: We are joined by Nina Meyerhof to finalize the
It becomes clear we have become one solid powerful family. Merryn has
tie-dyed t-shirts for everyone to wear and Jerita has created a song
us to sing. Gwen Hallsmith connects with us the next day.
August 28: The United Nations WSSD Side Event is held in a
with capacity for several thousand. The delegates arrive and the seats
fill. We—the students and us—walk in carrying the Ark of Hope, keeping
the beat of Earth's heart, step-step-pause, step-step-pause. We
in a semi-circle around the Ark, and as the students begin to tell
stories, the room hushes: "My mother was beaten. We call the police,
file a complaint, but each time they lose the file…. I go to school and
I study, but when I finish there will be no job.... My five year old
sister was raped...There is no food in my house and we are hungry. My
mother works a job but she does not get enough money." We hold up
placards with the Earth
Charter principles. Then paper dolls of the world’s people, animals,
trees are rolled open and words of hope are spoken: LOVE, RESPECT,
OPPORTUNITY…. Jerita leads us in the final song: "SPIRIT help us to
build a better world, SPIRIT help us to build the happy family..."
"I didn’t get a chance to speak to you after our joint event in
and I just wanted to tell you how moved I was by the power of what you
and the children created there. It was a magnificent testament to the
courage of children and a great start to the event as a whole—as one
African government delegate said to me afterwards, "we know all these
things happen, but when you hear them direct from the children
themselves, it really goes to your heart." John Hillary (Save the
After the presentation, Nitin Desai, Secretary-General of the
and his wife, Adooti, invite the youth to meet with them in a private
garden. She describes how villagers in India create a strong community
through self-help. Adooti urges the youth not to wait for government to
help them—but to go ahead and develop a plan of what they want and take
the steps to get there.
August 29: The Ark of Hope is invited to the Soka Gakkai
tent at Ubunto Village. In the setting winter sun we have a quiet
celebration at the Sacred Place.
September 6: Looking back as we prepare to leave South Africa
I think of
how we started our first night with drumming under the full moon,
through the streets of Diepsloot accompanied by a troupe of streetkids
with their drums, and now in closing we are singing and dancing—truly
this place, this land, this people are full of spirit.
September 8: We finally read the papers and catch up on the
news of the
Summit. There is reason to be cynical. All the energy and water
resources, the social capacity, and political will that are harnessed
pull together such a global event—go to waste when results are not
achieved. That the USA can veto action or withhold support for
sustainable development in the rest of the world denies the true
generosity and understanding of its own citizens. Still grassroots
efforts continue to move Earth Charter adoption forward at many levels.
September 21: The Ark returns to USA.
I want to thank Dr. Steven Rockefeller, member of the Earth Charter
Commission, and the Earth Charter folks for their endless passion and
dedication, and Sally Linder for her depth of vision and connection to
For more images of the Ark of Hope in South Africa visit