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ONS returns from South Africa with new goals

on September 27, 2011

When Kevin Muccular visited South Africa early this September, he saw a group of local children playing, making up their own games because they could not afford toys. They smiled and chased each other around, impervious to their economic situation.

“We [talked to] their parents, who said the children haven’t eaten in days but still found a way to laugh,” Muccular said. “I just thought that is was remarkable … they were full of energy, full of personality.”

Muccular, a neighborhood change agent with Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety, was part of ONS Director DeVone Boggan’s six-person team that traveled to Cape Town as representatives to the World Health Organization’s Fifth Milestones Global Campaign for Violence Prevention Meeting. Boggan was chosen as part of the delegation for the California Wellness Foundation.

Although attendees represented more than 60 delegations from government, research and humanitarian programs at the 350-person conference, Boggan said ONS was one of the few groups that shared insight on gun violence during the two-day forum.

The team also spent four days traveling around Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“We got a chance to learn more about the history and the impact of apartheid,” Boggan said. “We visited townships where the black Africans live, or struggle to live … For me, that was the most exciting part of the trip.”

In 2010, Boggan promised three youth fellows that he would take them on an international trip. He was able to fulfill that promise, bringing them as part of his team.

“It’s a reward for their courage and commitment to create peace in their neighborhood,” Boggan said.

The three senior fellows represented North, South and Central Richmond. None had ever traveled outside of the United States before.

“I watched the transformation take place with the three young men, I watched their minds shift,” Muccular said. “It turned them into givers.”

Sam Vaughn, another neighborhood change agent who took part in the trip, said the fellows also learned “that forgiveness is possible” after touring Robben Island, where former President Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27 years in prison.

“The tour guide was an ex-political prisoner who now lives on the island voluntarily with some of the same guards whose job it was to beat him, starve him, and break his will and spirits,” Vaughn wrote in an email. “Yet he was able to forgive them and live in close proximity. I think that was one of the biggest and most honorable things we heard the entire trip.”

Although he grew up in Richmond, Muccular obtained a football scholarship to Florida A&M University. Muccular said the opportunity to leave Richmond for college, even though it was within the country, changed his life. He hopes that he can work with ONS to give more Richmond youth the opportunity to travel.

“The most important piece is that the kids get that opportunity,” he said. “To live their lives having seen how other people have to struggle.”

Boggan has already been invited to Munich for another WHO conference. He said plans to raise funding to bring a new group of fellows along.

Additionally, Muccular is preparing to bring his family to Soweto to give shoes, toys and food to rural villagers.

“Often times, Africa is depicted as a poor in spirit,” he said. “[But] we received the warmest welcome from so many South Africans. They would yell out ‘Welcome home,’ as we drove down the street. It was difficult to leave, that’s how much I felt at home in South Africa.”

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