The Bridgeman Development Center in Zola, Soweto, South Africa
South Africa is often referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”. A rainbow is commonly seen as a symbol of Hope. Hope for the future as told in the story of Noah. It also becomes a lesson in faith, and the eternal promise that God will always be there. South Africa is a new democracy with a new constitution. There is hope for the future of the country.
There are approximately 6 ½ million, or one in every 5 adults infected with the AIDS virus. They are all real people with real thoughts and ideas. Without the “sickness” they could have become artists, poets, teachers or great leaders. They inhabit houses made of mud and tin, sometimes without running water or proper sanitation. The tiny shacks persist and the people do, too. There is despair but there is also hope. In the middle of one such township is a building made of brick. The building stands surrounded by a wall topped with chards of sharp glass. It is a constant reminder of the apartheid years. It is hard to say if the glass is to keep people “in or out”. An attempt has been made to grow flowers in the very dry dusty dirt. This remarkable place is called the Bridgeman Center. It stands as a symbol of hope and faith for the children who come to this place.
Dr. F. Bridgeman was one of a few missionaries who worked in Johannesburg during the early days of the Twentieth Century. His legacy is one of social concern and caring for the whole person. Dr. Bridgeman died at an early age in 1925 after helping to establish centers for both young men and women. He helped to create a School of Social Studies for the first black social workers, also beginning a clinic to give medical care to migrant mine workers and others in need. His widow worked hard to establish the Bridgeman Memorial Hospital in 1928.
By the time the UCCSA was born in 1967 the apartheid government had closed all black centers in white areas. It seemed only fitting to name the Community Center in Zola after Dr. Bridgeman, an early pioneer in social activity. Thus the Center became the Bridgeman Development Center.
The center opened its doors in 1974 under the direction of its founder Rev. Bernard Spong. The students who flocked to the Center are from a community riddled with poverty, violence, discrimination and despair. Despite all these challenges that are left from the system of apartheid, the Center maintains its tradition of education and empowerment of its young, and soon to become leaders. Today its biggest challenge is financial resources.
The Program Coordinator is Malusi B. Makalima. Malusi works tirelessly sometimes without a salary. When you meet him, his passion for the programs becomes evident. You are captured by his energy and devotion to the Center.