A Helping Hand from Desmond Tutu--Again

Nearly a decade and a half ago, I had an idea for a book; I wanted to explore success and how to acquire it. My concept was to amass information that others could use to become successful by asking the experts-those already successful. I went about compiling a list of what I considered successful people from diverse professions. As I recall, I sent out two hundred inquiries and received back a couple dozen letters. One of my respondents was the great religious and anti-apartheid leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

I was thrilled at both Tutu's willingness to participate in my project and his quick response. I followed up with a thank-you letter and enclosed a recent article that I had written for my newspaper column. That article was about finding hope in the midst of despair. I also sent to him a half dozen daffodil bulbs, because I had used that flower as a metaphor for hope in my essay. He wrote back thanking me and telling me that he would have them planted outside his office in Cape Town. And there, the story ended around the Christmas of 1992.

Years came and went. Apartheid finally ended in South Africa, and those oppressed for so long started to turn their nation into a multiracial and cultural country where all find freedom today.

In less dramatic ways, my life continued. My children grew up, went off to school, and started there own lives. Recently, when Michelle, my youngest daughter, finished her masters in psychology, she announced one day that she wasn't ready to pursue her doctorate and that she wanted to go to Africa as a volunteer to work with kids. Michelle is the type that likes to allow things to ferment inside her head until they are ready for the light of the world. She made inquiries via email to places all over Africa and asked me for help. Even though I wanted Michelle to live near home and visit weekly for Sunday dinner, which is our usual practice, I told her to write to Archbishop Tutu, tell him how he had helped her father year ago, and ask whether he could help her today. Just like the previous request, within a couple days, Tutu emailed her several ideas. He hadn't changed at all with this prompt and useful information. It is just like Yogi Berra said, "It's déjà vu all over again."

Michelle's selection process didn't last long. After watching Oprah's TV special on God's Golden Acre, Michelle applied for a year as a volunteer. God's Golden Acre is located several miles west of Durban, South Africa. After months of planning, loads of shots, and tearful goodbyes, Michelle is finally on station at God's Golden Acre.

Since she would be away for a year from her family, I decided that my wife and I would visit her in South Africa during my Christmas break from teaching. By that time, she will be able to guide us around South Africa. In addition to seeing Michelle, I will be able to see what post-apartheid Africa is like. I will also be able to do some research and take photos for magazine articles that I plan to write.

In addition, having been in college during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, I want to visit South Africa and to see firsthand the country and its people that intrigued us from across the ocean. I want to visit Robben Island, which is the personification of the civil rights movement in South Africa. Robben Island means to South Africans what Selma, Little Rock, and Montgomery mean to Americans-places of terrible abuse but ultimate victory in spite of the power of a morally corrupt state.

I would also like to interview people who were involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Courts where the new South African government dealt with the abuses of apartheid without becoming like the white abusers. From this side of the ocean, these Truth and Reconciliation Courts are as remarkable as the victory over apartheid. I want to research the process and interview those involved.

Above all, I would like to shake the hand of Desmond Tutu.

Photo courtesy of Global Aids Alliance


The first letter from Desmond Tutu