Humankind’s boundless curiosity is the force that drives discovery, creativity and innovation and constantly reshapes our experiences of the world. Yet, when it comes to people we don’t know, most of us have some reins on our curiosity. We may worry about appearing nosy, ignorant or judgmental, or just don’t know if it is acceptable to ask the questions we have.
That’s why A StrangerKind hosts ASK events, to connect with those different to ourselves, meet people we otherwise would not have had the opportunity to and be encouraged to be curious rather than presumptuous about others.
“It is about bringing diverse people together for conversations and having permission to ask these ‘Strangers’ questions about their lives,” says founder, Madi van Schalkwyk. “We so often find something interesting and meaningful to us personally through unconventional conversations with strangers. That might be because the person is really different from us, but it can equally be because we discover we share things in common.”
ASK in-person events are held in random public spaces, free to the public and open to anyone. You can experience it on 21 March at ASK’s Human Rights Day event on the top floor mezzanine, Workshop 17 @ Watershed, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town from 11:00 – 15:00. Some of the ‘Strangers’ you can meet there include Kgotso, a young cancer survivor who looked death in the face and saw his purpose; Fanie, a hearing-impaired radio host with a cochlear implant explaining the concept of disability; Carmen who chose voluntary sterilisation and has no regrets; Pastor Craven who mediates gang conflicts; and Martina, who is an HIV+ recovering drug addict changing lives in Hanover Park.
Arriving at the event, you reserve a topic that sparks your curiosity from a list of available titles and timeslots. During the one-on-one conversations, the ‘Strangers’ briefly share their stories, experiences or lifestyles relating to the topic, and for the remainder of 45 minutes, you get to ask them anything about it. While the in-person events are mainly taking place in Cape Town and Johannesburg, ASK events are also held online involving an ever-growing national network of 80+ trained volunteers.
Van Schalkwyk continues, “Hearing the narratives and perspectives of others enriches us. What questions do we really want to ask when talking to someone with Cerebral Palsy, a Single Mom, an Artist, Male Rape Survivor, Couchsurfer, Gay, Zulu, or a Teacher if we are given a space that allows for context and personal exchange? Even more potent is what we can learn. We believe there is great value in the ways these engagements move us towards social cohesion. Many of our ‘Strangers’ started out as attendees at our events and became inspired to share their narratives after realizing that they too had stories that held value and interest for others.”
A StrangerKind also offers bespoke sessions and workshops for companies and organisations who aim to foster diversity and inclusion. “Many organisations and groups are looking to progress with strategies that deliver enhanced social cohesion amongst their members or employees,” says van Schalkwyk. “They want structure for this, but they also want it to be a comfortable, affirming experience for everyone.”