This week’s blog posts are meant to be related to baseball. I want to write about a baseball hat—a specific baseball hat that represents something important.
Last week, as part of our participation in the members-only Public Relations Global Network, I participated in a house build in the Cape Town, South Africa township of Witsand. The build was organized by the Ireland-based Niall Mellon Foundation, which has dedicated itself to building and providing homes in South African townships. These townships, miles of makeshift shacks, are in desperate need of safe and solid housing. The concept behind the Foundation’s Housing Initiative is that when people have something like a real, solid house to live in, they achieve more in other areas of their lives, based upon the foundation (and hope, confidence and security) this housing gives them.
You might assume that an international group of PR executives (and for some of us, our spouses and children) might be given some light lifting—perhaps screwing in some hardware or painting trim. No way. This was hard core lifting, mixing, hauling, shoveling and mortaring, all day, in the hot sun. People worked hard. I saw my 12-year-old laboring physically in a way he has never done before; let’s face it, it was far beyond the norm for all of us. There we were, more than 50 PRGN members and guests, in our PRGN-logo’d t-shirts, hard hats and baseball caps, trying to do our best.
That day, we were not well-educated executives comfortable in our element. We were totally out of our element. We needed, and were provided, direction and instructions from the township’s laborers.
There’s not enough room here to describe this amazing experience. I had the opportunity to visit a township preschool and was invited into a resident’s shack to see how he lives. I learned a lot about why the townships are they way they are, what is being done to change this situation, and how our small part is making a difference.
At the end of the day, we packed up our materials. One of the local laborers came over to me and gestured to my hat and then to him. To me, it was a cheap cotton baseball cap that might possibly make it home and sit on a windowsill in my office, or it might have been tossed when I got back to the hotel. To him, it represented more. It was something he really wanted to have—much more than a souvenir. Something that he could wear for functional reasons, a possession that would be useful to him. I gave it to him. Today, half a world away, there is at least one laborer in Witsand building a house wearing a PRGN logo. PRGN means nothing to him, but the hat does. PRGN, though, means a little more to me today, because it gave me, my family and my colleagues the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way that we will never forget.
A video chronicle of the house build is currently in production: we’ll post it on the blog when we get it, so you can get a better feel for the Witsand house build.