Friday, 20 January 2012


When I tell people I am finishing my MA in geography, I usually get a response that goes something like: "oh, that's great! I bet you know all your state capitals!" Or maybe: "So what can you do with that? Teach?" (for other geographers, please read Ken Jennings' Maphead if you feel that you're the only one).

Yes, teaching is a possibility. But there is a lot more to the discipline and a lot more to the world of possibilities than staying in the US and following what people expect. Firstly, I would like to encourage all readers who are still in school - university or otherwise - to consider creatively what you can do with your degree, and perhaps more importantly, whether your degree is the most important part of your education. For me, the answer to the second consideration is definitely negative. I now know quite a bit about geography, but more than that, I've had the opportunity to read a lot of literature that has made me think, and reconsider how I think and how I approach the world. I've also had the opportunity to travel for significant periods of time and conduct research with people far away from home sweet America (thank you particularly to University of Miami, Adrienne Arsht, and National Geographic for sending me to where I am now).

So I find myself in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the start of something new. The only time I ever blogged in my life was during my five-month stay in Australia in 2008, and then I only submitted to the exercise of posting my innermost thoughts (you wish!) to the world wide web because it was a requirement for a travel scholarship I received. Now I am involved in something a bit bigger. 

If any of you live in or have visited Johannesburg you may have noticed the social separations here. It's a remnant of historical facts that South Africa remains divided - now economically more than racially, although race certainly still plays a large role. Last year I met some guys about my age who were planning to start an organization, and I sat with them as we developed ideas about how to go about bridging the gaps that exist between Johannesburg's communities. Part of the equation was finding ways for immigrants to give back to the South African community. Xenophobia remains pervasive here although no large-scale events have occurred since the massive riots of May 2008. The other part is to build something bigger - an organization conducting community development through collaborative activities that are initiated by and involve people from all different sectors and walks of life, and to do this in a smart way - using research and pulling experience from academia to inform skills training, job provision, and community programming activities.

Since Johannesburg is home to people from every part of Africa (and much of the rest of the world), it is an ideal place to start something that will hopefully spread across international borders. We are looking to invest in socially responsible businesses that bring people from various ethnicities, social backgrounds, and walks of life together in ways that have not been tried before - to use the opportunities of a free market and good business environment to reward creativity and entrepreneurship that fulfils needs and generates benefits to the whole community in which activities take place, first in South Africa and then elsewhere.

So here we go. This blog is henceforth both an agent from which to disseminate news about our organization - tentatively called Global Venture Community Development Association (GVCDA, pending official registration as an NGO) - and a forum for me to field my stories and thoughts about geography and the possibilities it brings to conduct interesting research, to advise socially responsible businesses on market openings, and generally to help people fulfil their desires and needs in creative ways. I won't make any promises here, but it is likely that I will post in the future about my past work in South Sudan, events in the Horn of Africa, and mostly about life in Johannesburg and the stories of refugees here. I can say that if you live in the US it is unlikely that you have heard as many crazy stories as I have - stories that make you wonder about humanity and about the will to survive. 

I hope to inspire you to join me and support those who need your help in any way you can. If you find yourself with some free time, please read up on South Africa if you haven't already. Look up the May 2008 xenophobic riots, current news on the South African economy and South African politics, and also political news for the rest of Africa. If you're interested, I recommend Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom, Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country, and The Power of One (someone remind me who the author is) as easy-to-read stories about the rainbow nation (get off facebook and put your nose in a real book - it's better for you). For readers from the US or elsewhere, feel free to ask about travel advice in South Africa and I can connect you with good people and good places to stay, in Joburg, Capetown, PE, Durban, or elsewhere. It is an absolutely spectacular country, a pleasant place to visit, and perhaps the most fascinating social environment (or multiplicity of environments) I have ever encountered - highly recommended. Also, if you want to be involved in service projects, mission trips, or anything of that sort, I can tell you that there is great need here and I would like you to consider coming to take part in what the people of Joburg are doing.

All of my best to all of my readers (very few at this point - thank you for reading, and I do promise more interesting posts in the future; consider this an introduction/author's note). At least a few future posts will also delve a bit more into geographic research, if that is the reason you're visiting.


1 comment:

  1. Bryce Courtenay! An excellent book!
    Nice post Dan, keep em' coming! and when can we expect you back at the U?