Childhood Adversity

The learning curve in Africa is steep. What makes this statement significant is that newcomers to Africa often fail to spot this reality; at least in our experience. In fairness, it isn’t easy to appreciate the steepness of the learning curve. It happened to us, and then again, and then again.

If the problems in Africa are so obvious – poverty, hunger, under-resourced schools – surely the solutions are equally obvious. Provide a hungry kid with food, clothes, help with homework, a coach or mentor, and he’s bound to perform considerably better in school and life. Or so one might assume. The reality is not this formulaic, and it can deal a heavy blow to well-intentioned volunteers.

Too many failures and the volunteer is at risk of abandoning their cause. Worse still, the volunteer may become critical of those he/she is trying to help and wrongly conclude that they are “the problem”.

Home of a grade 11 boy we have known since grade 8.

“I wish someone had told me to hold my opinions and beliefs lightly, because they can get in the way of understanding”. 

– Zita Cobb (Canadian businesswoman / social entrepreneur)

Knysna (White Location overlooking Thesen Islands & Knysna town centre)

Poverty in South Africa is the norm, in that it impacts the majority of the populace. The majority live in poverty and suffer food insecurity. The unemployment rate among young people approaches 50%.

The learning curve in Africa is steep to the extent that we do not comprehend the fallout from these statistics, and years of childhood adversity. Smiling faces, laughing children, and neatly pressed school uniforms can conceal the damaging effects of growing up in adversity.

Knysna

Some might argue that children are resilient, and will overcome childhood trauma and adversity. Findings from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) – Kaiser ACE Study conducted in California (1995-1997) demonstrate otherwise.

ACE is the acronym for Adverse Childhood Experience. Over 17,000 members of an American health insurance plan participated in the original study, followed by ongoing surveillance of the original study participants.

The study’s findings revealed how Adverse Childhood Experiences, prior to age 18, strongly related to the development of risk factors for disease and well-being throughout life.

Ace scores are calculated using 10 questions, whereby each YES answer counts as 1 point towards an ACE score total of 0 to 10. The 10 questions deal with issues such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, living with an alcoholic or drug user, whether parents were separated or divorced, whether a  household member went to prison, etc.

Link to: ACE Questionnaire

Knysna (Concordia Location)

In the following video, Dr. Robert Anda explains the cumulative risk-effect between higher ACE scores and greater health and social problems, including smoking, alcohol use, drug abuse, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, early onset of sexual activity, suicide, tendency towards domestic or sexual violence, and chronic disease.

ACE Video – Dr. Robert Anda (2:38 mins)

Individuals with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers, 7 times more likely to be alcoholic, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, 32 times more likely to have a learning or behaviour problem in school.

ACE scores of 6 and above shorten lifespans by 20 years.

Knysna (Concordia Location)- Jim providing a soccer ball

“…youth who have experienced trauma are at significant risk for impairments across various cognitive functions, including IQ, memory, attention and language/verbal ability; poorer academic performance and school-related behaviours such as discipline, dropout and attendance; and higher rates of behavioural problems and internalizing symptoms.” –Maynard et al 2017 (Effects of trauma-informed approaches in schools)

“…toxic stress can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. A highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating in school: fighting, talking back, acting up,…” – Paul Tough (Helping Children Succeed)

Read the full book (pdf): Helping Children Succeed (Paul Tough)

Ace scores of 4 are common among the boys we know. Among many of the youth Jim mentors, ACE’s of 6-8 are not unusual.

There are 4 boys in the preceding photo, ranging in age from 15-16. One completed grade 8 before dropping out mid grade 9. Two dropped out mid grade 8, another stopped school in grade 7 (unable to read), and one recently returned to repeat grade 8.

The four boys have ACE scores between 6 and 9; one 6, two 8’s, and a 9.  All are struggling, and one is now in prison awaiting trial on serious charges.

Children with toxic stress live much of their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. With their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can’t focus on learning. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. Some kids do all three. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work and over-achievement. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they use them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.”  – Jane Ellen Stevens

“What all this means, says Anda (Dr. Robert Anda) is that we need to prevent adverse childhood experiences and, at the same time, change our systems – educational, criminal justice, healthcare, mental health, public health, workplace – so that we don’t further traumatize someone who’s already traumatized. You can’t do one or the other and hope to make any progress.” – Jane Ellen Stevens Click for more: Aces Too High

What to do:

 1.  insulate infants and children from chronic stress and adverse environments.

Schools and institutions which advocate zero tolerance, corporal punishment, shaming, or lack of compassion serve to further traumatize.

Some schools in North America and elsewhere are enlightening teachers on the ACE study, with the goal of becoming “trauma-informed schools”.

2. Make sure youth growing up in adversity have caring, responsible, adults in their life.

Such individuals serve as a buffer from further adversity.

Now it’s time for us to pack our bags and prepare for the long trip back to South Africa. We look forward to sending our next update from the southern tip of the African continent, 13,240 kilometres from our home in Canada.

Thank you for continuing to follow our blog and support our initiatives.  

Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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Reflections

Jason and JayJay – Knysna Sports School cycling program

It’s no secret that Africa has challenges. One might even say ‘problems’. Despite that, there is much to love about Africa.

Former President Barrack Obama said “…Madiba (Nelson Mandela) teaches us that some principles really are universal, and the most important one is the principle that we are bound together by a common humanity, and that each individual has inherent dignity and worth.”

Obama was referring to the African principle Ubuntu. 

One of Janet’s study groups – grades 9-11 Concordia High School

In 2008, Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained Ubuntu as follows:

“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

Basic Carpentry Skills Training – 2018

Imagine a world where everyone, including world leaders, understood and applied the philosophy of Ubuntu. In other words, recognition that we are all in this together and one finger cannot lift a pebble (Malawi proverb).

Despite 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela remained faithful to the spirit of Ubuntu: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” – Nelson Mandela

Rheenendal community – near Knysna

Soon we will be returning to South Africa. We’re anxious to return, as there is plenty to accomplish in Africa.

The poverty, under-performing education system, and political uncertainty have the potential to be overwhelming, but more so from a macro perspective. At the micro level, where we operate, the risk of overwhelm is more manageable.

On a daily basis in South Africa, we are reminded of the following truth:

“My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.”                      – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Janet & Jim – South Africa

Thank you for your continued support, 

Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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Defying The Odds

Janet and Jim – Robberg Trail – South Africa

Once again, the time is approaching when we take a break from South Africa and return home to Canada. Thank you to everyone who provide words of encouragement, monetary support, and laptop computer donations. It takes a team, and we appreciate that so many people have remained faithful.

We experience mixed emotions in the lead-up to our departure, but recognize that the time we spend with friends and family in Canada is critical to remaining passionate about our initiatives in South Africa. Our resolve has not diminished, and we don’t want that to change.

White Location (Knysna township)

To acknowledge the obvious…rising above poverty is tough. To say it is difficult is an understatement. Escaping generational poverty, particularly in a country steeped in a history of oppression and racism, remains elusive for all but a few. The majority of South Africans live in poverty and, if you are black or Coloured, your likelihood of being poor is considerably greater.

When we speak of poverty, we don’t simply mean the refrigerator is old. We mean the refrigerator is sometimes empty. And by empty, we mean empty. A few years ago a rather bright teenage boy, Kudzai, opened his empty refrigerator and jokingly said “this is where we store the lightbulb.

Because of your individual donations and support from the Khayamandi Foundation and Moondance Foundation, this promising young man now attends university. And he is one to watch.

Spaza shop (corner store), White Location

World Bank Study on South Africa – Geoffrey York, April 5, 2018:

“Nearly a quarter of a century after apartheid ended, South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world by any measure, and race is still one of the biggest determinants of income and wealth, a new World Bank study has found.

Inequalities are being passed down from generation to generation, “implying little change in inequality over time and perhaps even a worsening of the situation,” the World Bank reported. “Current levels of inequality are likely to persist in the future.”

Poverty and inequality have both increased in South Africa in recent years, the report said. Poverty rates still follow the old geographic and spatial patterns that were created during the era of white-minority rule, a result of the “enduring legacy of apartheid,” the study found.

At the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa was measured as the most unequal country in the world, although some Latin American countries such as Brazil were at nearly the same level. Since then, the Latin American countries have become less unequal, but South Africa’s level of inequality has barely changed.”

White Location (Knysna township)

Only 8% of grade 8 students attending under-resourced, township high schools in South Africa will attend university. Needless to say, fewer than 8% will complete their university studies.

Only 50% of grade 8 students will make it to grade 12. Only 40% will graduate (matriculate) from high school. In many respects, the 40% misrepresents the gravity of the situation. Reason being that a student can matriculate in South Africa despite their highest mark being only 40 percent. Furthermore, of the 7 subjects taken in grade 12, two only require a minimum mark of 30%.

Knysna – view from the townships

So…how does one defy the odds and escape poverty in South Africa? Based on our observations, by completing a university degree, 3 year vocational program, or equivalent. In other words, through significant formal education. Seems obvious, and relatively straightforward.

Straightforward until we factor in the stress of growing up in chronic poverty, and its documented negative impact on cognitive development. Factor in the days with little to no food, or substandard nutrition, dysfunctional or violent home environments, overcrowded classrooms with up to 50-60 students, and the challenge of living in communities impacted by crime, drugs, and gangs.

For most, the barriers verge on insurmountable. But some do make it, and that’s what is important. We have profiled many such youth in previous blogs, including Thomas, Ben, Aphiwe, Ntokozo, Kudzai, Wanga, Paul, Siyathemba, Daniel, Onke, Ace, Zamela, Junior, Masonde, Axo, Sibabalwe, and more.

Janet and Mandla

One young man who has defied the odds in many ways is Siphamandla (aka Mandla). We met Mandla in grade 10, soon after he turned 18 years of age. Along with each of his siblings, Child Welfare removed Mandla from his alcoholic parents and placed him in the care of an orphanage at 6 years of age. Mandla remained at the orphanage until the age of 18 when he was required to leave.

The home environment Mandla returned to at 18 was as crazy and impoverished as ever. Little had changed. Within months of meeting Mandla, our friends Penny and Ella came to his rescue while we were in Canada. Ella grew up in a similarly dysfunctional home and knew Mandla would never be able to complete high school if he remained with his parents.

Ella and Penny invited Mandla, and his friend Masi, to move into their Safehouse. The boys jumped at the opportunity. Three years later, despite considerable expense (funded by Ella, Penny, Canadian couple Laura & Steve, and other donations), Mandla completed high school. It wasn’t a perfectly smooth journey! Lol. However, to the surprise of some, Mandla defied the odds and graduated high school.

L to R: Masi and Mandla – working with Khayamandi Foundation

Mandla always wanted to be a social worker. It’s a common job aspiration among township youth; they want to help their communities. That being said, few qualify academically for admission into such a degree program.

Mandla was no exception. Despite graduating high school, his marks were poor. He qualified for a 1 year social work auxiliary program, however such programs are only available at private colleges. Private college means no government funding available. The R50,000 ($5,000 CDN) amount Mandla required would exceed the annual household income of most township residents. Cost prohibitive.

Yet Mandla was determined. He had already applied to a private college and been accepted. The deadline to pay a required deposit was quickly approaching. Somehow, Mandla sourced the deposit from a municipality education fund.

Now Mandla needed the big money. It so happened that the Khayamandi Foundation had a mission team in Knysna at the time, and Mandla was working with them for a few days. Long story short, after many discussions and undying determination by Mandla, the Khayamandi Foundation agreed to sponsor Mandla.

Center: Siphamandla (Mandla)

Mandla is now a certified Social Work Auxiliary, employed full time with a youth-development NGO that played a crucial role in his life during the years he resided at the orphanage.

Two weeks ago he was offered a position with Child Welfare, a child protection organization in Knysna. After much consideration, Mandla chose to remain with his current employer. Mandla loves what he does, is implementing new school-based programs, and believes he is making a difference in the community.

Mandla’s parents and his disabled sister have also benefited from Mandla’s education and employment. Multiple lives have been positively impacted.

Mandla defied the odds, but it required the emotional and financial support of many. Thank you to everyone who participated.

South Africa

If you have visited Africa, or call Africa home, possibly these words from author Dana Atkinson will resonate: 

“I dragged myself onto the plane. As it took off, I stared down at Africa, watching her get farther and farther away from me. I told myself…that I had to take what I learned from the land, the animals, and the people and be a better person because of it. I had to make my life have meaning.” – Domestic Departures: A Midlife Crisis Safari, by Dana Atkinson

Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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Don’t Abandon Me

Grade 8 and 11 boys (L to R): Athi, Siyambonga, Jim, Simamkele

While it may be instinctive to react negatively when a boy misbehaves, and feel inclined to abandon him, negative conduct can serve a mentor well. Instead of focusing on the inappropriate behaviour, focus on the reason behind the behaviour.

What is happening in the youth’s life which is motivating the destructive acts, making them seem pro-survival?

“Discouraged children show their conflict and despair in obvious ways, or they disguise their real feelings with acts of pseudo-courage.”   ” …such as attention-seeking or running with gangs.” – Reclaiming Youth At Risk : Our Hope for the Future (Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg)

Bryan – age 17 – home for his family is a steel shipping container with no electricity or running water. Jim helped Bryan return to grade 9 in January 2018 after dropping out 1 year ago to due circumstances at home.

Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, by Eric Jensen:

“Children who have had greater exposure to abuse, neglect, danger, loss, or other poverty-related experiences are more reactive to stressors. Each stressor builds on and exacerbates other stressors and slowly changes the student.” “Behavior that comes off as apathetic or rude may actually indicate feelings of hopelessness or despair.”

L to R: Jason (14-grade 6), Jay Jay (15 – grade 7), Chaylon (14 – grade 8), Rayno (14 -grade 8). Only 40% of grade 8 students in township schools complete high school.

The Price of Inequality – Joseph Stiglitz: “…the poor know that their prospects of emerging poverty, let alone making it to the top, are minuscule.”

“NIDS- national income study: “…if your parents are among the poorest earners, the chances that you will be income-poor is about 95%.” (Murray Leibbrandt, Director)

Leedunn – Age 17, dropped out of grade 9 in 2016 due to circumstances at home. Jim helped Leedunn return to grade 9 in January 2018.

Professor Ben Turok (The Confronting Inequality Conference): “We also know from historical experience that extreme inequality of the kind of levels we see in South Africa is not good for development and growth…”

Oxfam: “Left unchecked, growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart. It increases crime and insecurity, and undermines the fight to end poverty.”

L to R: Wanga and Siyathemba

Wanga and Siyathemba represent the future of Africa. We met Siyathemba when he was in grade 8 and joined one of our mentorship groups, and Wanga when he was in grade 12.

You won’t meet better people than these 2 young men; hard working, reliable, and honest. Siyathemba just commenced his 2nd year of a B. Comm degree, and Wanga is completing the final year of a computer science degree.Your individual donations, and support from the Moondance Foundation, are helping Wanga and Siyathemba continue their studies.

Janet’s connections at Cell C (internet provider) helped both guys secure employment during the December-January university break.

Janet and Ace (Andile)

After commencing university in 2016, Ace’s mother passed away and he needed to return home to care for his younger brother, Asanda. Asanda is in grade 10 now and doing well again, allowing Ace to resume his studies. Thanks to generous sponsorship from the Khayamandi Foundation, Ace recently enrolled in a 1 year program in Cape Town to upgrade his high school marks and qualify for admission to an education degree. Ace aspires to be a high school teacher.

Some of the boys we mentor who didn’t complete high school, working with the Khayamandi Foundation for 1 week in January: (L to R) Akhona, Ruwaan, Ruwaan, Reagro, Franklin.

Statistics South Africa 2012 – only 38% of South African fathers live with their children.

Fatherless children are at greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, poor academic performance, school drop out, teen pregnancy, and criminality.

Working with the Khayamandi Foundation team (January 22 to 26, 2018).

Don Pinnock – South African criminologist and author: 

“One of the biggest indicators for male delinquency is absent fathers.” “…in the absence of role models, how do young men assert their masculinity?”

“They carry feelings of shame and anger which they generally hide with bravado and, often, violence.” “They are drawn to others like themselves…”. “These kids often turn to violence and aggression…because these are a reliable method for reasserting their existence.” “I hurt others therefore I am”.

Olwethu – age 19, completed grade 8. Currently enrolled in a 9 session carpentry skills program.

Growing up in the Care of strangers – Waln K Brown, John R Seita:
“That is why I started running with a gang. The streets let us escape from problems at school and at home. Home was just a place to eat, sleep, and catch heck.”

Siyabonga (age 14) – returning to school tomorrow, thanks to the determination of friends Tracy, Kurt, Ross, and Lauren.

Epigenetics (by Don Pinnock) – It’s new science that is raising profound issues.

“What was not formerly realised is that, in the assembly of a foetus, the cell membrane mediates information between the DNA’s templates and the environment within which the pregnant mother exists. New life is built on a combination of ancient genetic wisdom and epigenetic responses to what’s happening moment by moment. Nature is nurture.”

Concordia township (Knysna) – 2018

“This means that a mother’s stress, poor nourishment or use of harmful chemicals can alter the way a baby’s brain forms, sending signals to it to adapt to a hazardous environment. It means more dopamine and aggression, less control by the prefrontal cortex, more physical, less reflection. In teenage years this translates into more aggression, higher drug use, lower inhibitions.” – Don Pinnock

Cooling off in Knysna township with a water-filled pylon cone!

“The assumption that youth-at-risk are incapable of learning and/or do not care about anything is a fallacy. They long for adults…willing to make the effort to understand them…” – Janis Kay Dobizl

Thank you for your ongoing support.  Janet & Jim 

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This is Africa

Jim & Tyler – 2017 carpentry skills program graduate

Hello from South Africa. Our return trip was uneventful and we’ve been busy in the township the past 6 weeks. The initial period is particularly enjoyable as we reconnect with the many youth we have come to know.

As we drive along the main road in the township, the boys are quick to wave or call out our names. Driving requires frequent stops in order to say hello and catch up with many of the guys. Plenty of smiles and African handshakes!

Janet and Prayer (grade 12)

Since the South African school year is January to December, Janet was in high demand upon her return to help the high school boys prepare for final exams. This is also the time when applications to attend college, university, or vocational training must be finalized for 2018.

Siyambonga – age 16, grade 10 (with dog Sheba). Siyabonga regularly attends Janet’s tutoring groups

Many of the boys are doing well, including each of the young guys who attend college and university. Thomas and Paul both graduated from business degree programs in 2017, Aphiwe completed Mechanical Engineering technology in 2017, Ben and Wanga graduate with computer science degrees in 2018, Kudzai will graduate with a BA Hons in 2019, and Siyathemba and Onke are on track to complete business/economics degrees in 2020.

Class of 2017 – Hands & Heart Carpentry Skills

Youth enrolled in the one year, Hands & Heart carpentry/welding skills program graduated November 30th, and some have already secured employment or further training. Many of these young men did not complete grade 8 or 9, but now have the prospect of a job and income. Jim deals with dozens of boys who cease attending high school between grades 7 and 9 due to weak literacy/numeracy skills and dysfunctional home environments. Not surprisingly, many are struggling to find their path in life.

Angel & Jim

Angel discontinued school in 2016, prior to completing grade 9. Shortly thereafter, Jim introduced him to the Hands & Heart carpentry skills program which he completed in November 2017. Angel starts a 1 year paid internship at Hope HQ in January 2018. Successfully completing Hands and Heart was a huge accomplishment for Angel, and we are proud of him. While working at Hope HQ, he will learn the skills associated with the craft of producing a brand of hand-carved birds which enjoy a worldwide following.

Danwille – age 19

Jim met Danwille (pronounced dan-ville) in early 2016 while he was in grade 9 and struggling at school and home. Danwille commenced the Hands and Heart carpentry program in January 2017, graduated 2 weeks ago, and commenced full-time employment with a reputable construction firm last week. Jim met the company owner a few years ago and recently contacted him regarding an opportunity for this hard-working young man.

Government-sponsored school lunch program (primary school in Knysna township)

Mandla is 23 years old and grew up in an orphanage from age 6 to 18. He has been featured on our blog numerous times since we met when he was in grade 10. He graduated with a Social Work auxiliary certificate in 2017, sponsored by the Khayamandi Foundation (USA), and commences full-time employment in January His employer, an NGO focused on youth development, had this to say:

“He definitely deserves it. He has proven himself being a dedicated and responsible young man that refused to let his circumstances stand in his way. We are blessed to have him on the team. He will be appointed as Family Reconstruction Worker… His main duties will be to liaise with the child, parents, schools and the welfare sector.”

Playing dominoes in Hornlee (Knysna) – Jade, Naldo, Wachied, Urhll, and the guys.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” Oprah Winfrey

Simbulele

We met Simbulele when he was 15 and in grade 9. He is now 21 years of age, graduated high school in 2016, and completed 8 months of skills training in 2017.

We’ve faced many challenges together, however Simbulele is doing well and has come a long way. He is currently working in a local restaurant and starts a permanent job in January as an Early Childhood Development Registration Assistant with the Knysna Education Trust (KET). KET is a local NGO which enjoys an excellent reputation, and this is a terrific opportunity for Simbulele. Thank you to Bev & Tony of Ottawa, Canada for believing in this fine young man.   (Knysna Education Trust website)

December 8 2017 – windy, dusty day in the township

Many of the profiled youth come from extremely dysfunctional home environments. Some of the boys live with an alcoholic parent(s) who is verbally and/or physically abusive. For others, both parents are deceased.

Money spent on alcohol or drugs means food is often lacking. When faced with the choice between buying bread or soap, bread commonly wins out. It is not uncommon for boys to lack soap or toothpaste. Imagine yourself at the age of 14, for example, struggling to survive in circumstances beyond your control.

Inadequate nutrition, poor hygiene, and cramped living conditions result in high rates of tuberculosis. Three of the boys mentioned in this post were diagnosed with TB since we returned to SA, one of whom after Jim recognized his symptoms and recommended he be tested.

December 2017 – Knysna township

This is Africa. When tourists visit scenic Cape Town or Knysna and claim that South Africa is not real Africa, we beg to differ. Visit the Cape Flats (townships) surrounding Cape Town and see how the majority of the population lives.

Please don’t be fooled by the orderly rows of government-provided concrete block houses in most townships. It’s the living conditions within these homes, and the many shacks, which reflects reality.  

Almost one third of South Africa’s children are under the age of 15. 

Leighton – age 14

“78% of our Grade 4 students can’t read. Not in English, not in their home language, not in any language. Of the 50 countries that participated in the test, we came dead last.” (The South African Child Gauge 2017)

Each day we are reminded of the impact one person can have in the life of a teenage boy or young man. Too many youth lack someone in their life to provide guidance, encouragement, and hope. 

If not for your individual donations, educational funding from the Khayamandi Foundation (Augusta, Georgia – U.S.A), and financial support from The Moondance Foundation (Wales – U.K.), much of what we accomplish would not be possible.  

Thank you very much for your ongoing support.

We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas!   Janet & Jim 

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Africa Bound

Ottawa River – Ottawa, Canada.

Our time to reconnect with friends and family in Canada, and be reminded of what makes our home country special, is winding down. 

It’s time to pack our bags and soon return to South Africa; another country we consider special, albeit for different reasons. We’re ready to return, eager to resume our mentorship initiatives, and looking forward to seeing our many good friends.

Janet – repairing and upgrading donated laptop computers for senior high school youth

Living in a country with considerable poverty and income inequality creates many challenges, for both the rich and poor. There are only a few countries with higher gini coefficients than South Africa.

According to August 2017 data from Stats SA, 55% of South Africans live in poverty, with the highest incidence amongst children aged 0–17. South Africa is a country of first-world urban areas and suburbs, adjacent to third-world residential settlements.

Sadly, we know too many children, youth, and adults who wage a daily battle with poverty and food insecurity.

“Uncle gym without u i could of not go to the soccer camp and i really appreciate it.” Gamat – age 17 – 1st row in black jersey.

The primary reason we continue to return to South Africa is the prospect of making a difference. There is also what the French call Mal D’Afrique; an expression describing the feeling experienced by so many who have travelled to Africa.

There are numerous ways to impact disadvantaged individuals residing in the townships and racially segregated settlements established during apartheid. While there is plenty for the well-intentioned to learn, and the risk of toxic-charity, worthy opportunities abound.

15 year-old youth Jim mentors. Completed grade 6 before ceasing school.

Dr. Mamphele Ramphele, anti-apartheid activist and former partner of Steve Biko (anti-apartheid activist killed in 1977 by 5 members of the SA security forces) has this to say:

“South Africans…are deeply wounded by the legacy of racism, sexism, and engineered inequality over the three centuries which the last 20 years of ANC rule failed to reform.”

The humiliation of being told in more ways than one that one is inferior is deeply wounding and infuriating. But the lack of self-respect engendered leads to inward directed anger – domestic violence, community vigilantism, public violence, and other self-sabotaging behaviour…”.

Mxolisi (grade 10) – one of the boys Janet tutors with a donated/refurbished laptop

We are returning to a town of 77,000 residents which experienced devastating fires on June 7th. The official tally is 1,533 homes impacted, of which 973 were completely destroyed. Only 76.7% were fully insured and 14.1% had no insurance.

Of the 134 impacted businesses, 58.5% had no content insurance and 41.9% no property insurance. It is estimated that 2500 jobs were lost.

Scientific calculators Janet brings from Canada for math students.

We continue to be humbled by what we experience in South Africa. The prevalence of teenage boys and young men seeking emotional support and guidance in their lives is heartbreaking. Unicef reports 64% of children in South Africa grow up without a father in the home. In our experience, this figure is understated.

While the problem is huge, some solutions are not complex. So many youth are hungry for validation, a person in whom they may confide, and a better understanding of the education, training, and employment opportunities available. They need a mentor.

Sometimes the boys require financial help. It might be for school or university fees, education-related shoes or clothing, transportation fees, toiletry items, or food.

Ottawa River – Canada

We greatly appreciate each of our supporters. Thank you for helping, and contributing to what we do. 

Janet & Jim

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Mentorship

Junior (Panashe) – completing his final year of F.E.T. College.

While the benefits of mentorship may seem obvious, few youth mentorship programs have been subjected to controlled studies regarding their effectiveness. Surprisingly, some seemingly well-designed programs have even demonstrated negative outcomes. Mentorship is a somewhat nebulous term and, while the purpose of mentorship is clear, evidence-based guidelines on how to mentor effectively are less available.

“If it feels at times like you are at the end of your rope in reaching out to them, remember you are the rope – the very lifeline they desperately need and deserve to experience success in their lives (Breaux, 2003).”                                                                    Educating Latino Boys. An Asset-Based Approach – David Campos.

Siyathemba – completing 1st year business degree at University of Western Cape (UWC)

One youth mentorship program for which scientific evidence does exist is B.A.M. (Becoming a Man).

B.A.M. is a mentorship program for at-risk high school boys in some of Chicago’s most dangerous inner-city neighbourhoods. We learned about B.A.M. almost 3 years ago.

Structured like a randomized clinical trial, a University of Chicago Crime Lab study found a 44% reduction in violent crime arrests among B.A.M participants, as well as a significant improvement in school attendance.

L to R: Urhll, Haylen, Max

B.A.M. founder Anthony Ramirez-Di Vittorio: 

“…the most important thing is you have to start with the men who lead the program. We’re looking for men who have a hybrid set of skills that is hard to find. Because we know it’s not the message.”

“The kids have heard ‘Stay in school and stay away from drugs 1,001 times.’ It’s the messenger. The clouds part and the sunshine comes through when the right messenger is there.”

“…at BAM, we’re not talking at the youth.”

Kudzai – completing 2nd year at University of Namibia with financial support from the Khayamandi Foundation, Cooper family, and Iizidima.

“I want to be remembered for making a difference that rippled through generations. The real question and my secret is what difference that will be.” – Kudzai

Ben – completing final year of Computer Science degree at UWC – sponsored by the Khayamandi Foundation.

Reclaiming Youth At Risk: Our Hope for the Future – Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg

“Positive, trusting relationships are the bulwark of success in work with challenging children and youth. This is not a “touchy-feely” truism but is based on a half-century of hard data from research…”

“The most difficult youth are those who create trouble rather than friendships. Successful youth workers have long recognized the…potential of turning crisis into opportunity.”

“Obedience can be demanded from a weaker individual, but one can never compel respect. In most children’s programs, it doesn’t take long to see that adults expect to be treated with more respect than they demonstrate.”

Daniel – completing 2nd year Business degree at University of Zimbabwe with support from family & Iizidima.

“Horace Mann, the leading American educator in the nineteenth century, told teachers they needed to respond to the most difficult pupils like physicians who find challenge in solving difficult cases.”

Paul (left) completes Bachelor of Business Administration degree from TSiBA University in December 2017 with support from a Canadian couple and Iizidima.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

“…best thing is to have disadvantaged kids spend as much time as possible in ‘environments’ where they feel relatedness, competence, and autonomy.”

“The problem is that when disadvantaged children run into trouble in school, either academically or behaviorally, most schools respond by imposing more control on them, not less.”

“Autonomy is not what one is inclined to use to manage the truly unruly kid in the class.”

Wanga – completing 2nd year computer science degree at University of Western Cape, Cape Town with support from family & Iizidima.

“The more they fall behind, the worse they feel about themselves and about school. That…tends to feed into behavioral problems, which lead to stigmatization and punishment…” – Paul Tough

“Fast-forward a few years, to the moment when those students arrive in middle or high school, and these executive-function challenges are now typically perceived to be problems of attitude or motivation.” – Paul Tough

Onke – completing 1st year Business degree at University of Cape Town.

Paul Tough:

“One of the chief insights that recent neurobiological research has provided, however, is that young people, especially those who have experienced significant adversity, are often guided by emotional and psychological and hormonal forces that are far from rational.”

“This doesn’t mean that teachers should excuse or ignore bad behavior. But it does explain why harsh punishments so often prove ineffective in motivating troubled young people to succeed.”

Talking back and acting up in class are, at least in part, symptoms of a child’s inability to control impulses, de-escalate confrontations, and manage anger…”

Thomas – graduated 2016 with B. Tech degree from Nelson Mandela University and currently completing a 1 year internship. A Canadian couple were very supportive of Thomas while he completed his education and sought employment.

Thank you for enabling us to mentor and provide academic support to many deserving youth. The young men whose photos appear in this blog post are all doing well and serve as positive male role models. We have known each of them for a number of years, in some instances since they were in grade 8, and we continue to be proud of their accomplishments.

Janet & Jim

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