“Happy are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true”. I heard this quote the other day and I really think it is so true. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Barack Obama, the list can go on. I would also like to add to the list many of the people whom I have encountered while being here in South Africa. Here are some snapshots:

Father Cas: this man is an American, Roman Catholic priest who lived in the Eastern Cape of South Africa during the very highest point of the apartheid. Father Cas had the integrity and audacity to let people of all colors and races join together for his church youth group, and was subsequently exiled from South Africa. Eventually he was allowed to return, however not long after, he was spontaneously arrested (for no strong reason), and brought to Zambia, where he was brutally abused and beaten. Father Cas has also spent time chaplaining for the ANC and has lived to see Apartheid come to an end. He has the such a kind and gentle soul, it is healing to just be in his presence.

Jenny McChonachie: Jenny’s husband, Chris was an orthopedic surgeon who basically founded Bedford Orthopedic Hospital. He built the hospital from the ground up and turned it into a place where today, millions receive care. Jenny has founded the Itipini project where she provides free health services for the Itipini community, a squatter community built on a trash heap. She tends to the poorest of poor in a gracious and loving manner. She lives with the nitty, gritty, dirty, and exasperating…and she has devoted her life towards it. In my mind, she is the definition of beauty.

Philip Zide: I know I’m not supposed to play favorites as a therapist, but I truly love this patient. Philip was in a car accident 5 months ago which resulted in a C6-C7 incomplete spinal injury. Philip struggles daily with painful spasms in his legs. He tells me that he has pain, but he still lets me stretch him and he works so unbelievably hard to gain function. This week he has started walking with a walking frame. Philip also has a beautiful wife and 14 month old daughter, living about 20km away from the hospital, they visit him when they can. Philip always is laughing, smiling and joking…a strong feat for a guy who has it so tough.

Mizwandile: another patient who has ankylosing spondylitis, a disease that pathologically fuses the bones in your body. Mizwandile cannot move anything in his body except for his right arm. He spends his days lying in a bed, staring at the ceiling. My job is to range his stiff-as-a-board limbs…he cries when I do that…but afterwards he will laugh and sing to me. Another beautiful soul.

Harry and Sue Jergesen: these guys are my neighbors and fellow volunteers. Harry is an orthopedic surgeon from San Francisco and his wife is a former RN who now works hard to make interpersonal connections and empower people (especially women) at places like Bedford Hospital. These two are in their 60s and are an incredibly strong team. Their gentle respect for each other along with their crazy sense of humor livens up and encourages the community here. Throughout the year, they also work internationally with other organizations to provide their skills and services. Truly a testament to using their abilities to better their surroundings. Currently, Harry is taking Anti-Retroviral Medications because he accidently pricked himself while suturing a HIV positive patient (this is not a joking matter, you really can’t be too careful). The drugs are making him feel downright lousy, but are also providing him with a sense of empathy towards what countless people here are dealing with. Harry and Sue are my family away from home.

Eugene: my neighbor and fellow physiotherapist. Eugene lived through the genocide in Rwanda and put his life at risk to volunteer with the American Red Cross during. Eugene saw much bloodshed and loss during this time. Eugene an extremely happy, sensitive and caring individual. The world desperately needs more people like him.

My list could go on. I could write books. Every day I meet someone new, who has a different story to tell. I am humbled to know them and I am blessed and grateful to be in their presence. Perhaps we have stories in the USA as well, but here everything is so real and forefront. Apartheid ended only a short 16 years ago, HIV and AIDS is present in at least 40% of the population, and people in this part of the world, in the “homeland” of South Africa (homeland=place where blacks were sent to toil during apartheid rule), are struggling to figure out how their story fits into the puzzle of a developing society. These people are the dreamers and these people daily toil to pay the price to make their dreams come true.