Georgina Guedes

Know your neighbours

2013-05-09 15:13

Georgina Guedes

The story of the three women imprisoned for ten years in Ohio that has emerged over the past week is a sickening one. The details will continue to come out, and none of them will be pretty. But at the end of it all, there is one element of hope that cuts through the horror – that people do notice, they do care and they are willing to help.

Georgina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight were all kidnapped as teenagers and spent ten years in a house in Cleveland, Ohio as the prisoner of Ariel Castro – who has been charged. When he left one day early this week, forgetting to look the upstairs door, Berry made her way downstairs and screamed for help.

Two neighbours heard the noise and came and kicked the door in, before releasing Berry to make the now-famous phone call to 911.

It turns out that this is not the first time that neighbours had been suspicious about activities at the well-concealed house. Although it’s taken ten years for these women to be freed, and they will doubtless be scarred for life, the story is a good reminder to everyone the world over look twice when something doesn’t seem right.

Community spirit and neighbourliness are concepts from a bygone era. In modern times, we tend to shuttle to and from our various commitments, spending any free time we have with close friends and family. We don’t give too much notice to the people who live closest to us.

We baulk at the notion of interfering, of getting too close, of starting something that we then can’t get away from. And a neighbour making friendly advances might be looked upon askance for breaking unspoken social taboos.

I am fortunate to live in a pleasant neighbourhood with a fairly active residents’ association that holds quarterly events that everyone in the area is welcome to attend. They work hard at engaging with us, getting to know the local police and keeping us informed of any activities in the area.

Although I initially fled in horror when I was asked to be a street captain, in recent years I’ve warmed to this community spirit and have started attending the braais and am even starting to consider getting more involved on the administrative side.

In my advanced years, I am beginning to understand the importance of the people who live around me, of the positivity of association with near neighbours to grow a sense of community and a spirit of home.

I’m sure those three women in Cleveland are very grateful for the intervention of a nosy neighbour today.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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