Summer has arrived

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Zamela (grade 11 and among the top 3 students in his grade at Percy Mdala High)

It is finally feeling like summer the past few days, rather than spring, and today is another sunny and HOT day. Students completed their exams last week and the December to mid-January summer school break commences one week from now. Jim took 2 groups of youth summer job-hunting last week and Zamela was hired on-the-spot at a gas station and car wash. There are no automatic car washes or self-serve gas stations in Knysna and yesterday Zamela and his colleagues hand-washed 30 vehicles! We identified 3 more promising summer job opportunities at 2 local restaurants and expect to learn more later this week. The boys were very scared to enter a business at first, but after some coaching and a positive experience at the first few places, it soon became fun for them.

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Mxolisi (pronounced Ko-lee-see) and Jim

Mxolisi just completed grade 7 and started attending one of Janet’s tutoring groups 1 year ago. The sneakers he is wearing are his only shoes. They are too small, and the lack of shoe laces has nothing to do with ‘style. Mxolisi’s school shoes became unwearable in August and he has been wearing these sneakers (called takkies in South Africa) to school ever since. Janet took Mxolisi shopping last Tuesday and he now has new school shoes. His father is in a wheel chair and does not work, and his mother sells candies to people in the township to earn money. Mxolisi was very excited and appreciative of his new shoes, as was his father who sent us a very nice message of gratitude.

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Tomorrow’s Fathers

The 2nd meeting of the first “Tomorrow’s Fathers” group for youth growing up with absent fathers was a success and the boys really enjoyed the short video clips profiling other fatherless youth, and absent fathers. One 18 year-old boy told his life story of growing up without a father, his mother leaving him at age 13, turning to a life of guns, crime, drug-dealing, and eventually ending up in juvenile detention, before finally turning his life around. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke and despite the fact that many of the boys and another youth leader have known this boy for a number of years, none were aware of his background and the story he shared. All the boys agreed that this young man is now a positive role model and we commended him for his accomplishment.

When schools re-open mid-January, Jim will be starting a 3-4 week program for fatherless grade 9 and 10 boys at one of the township high schools. The group will meet once-a week for 3-4 weeks with eight boys who have been identified by their teachers. Every 3-4 weeks, a new group of 8 boys will be selected by the grade 9 and 10 teachers.

Thank you to each of you who support our ongoing efforts here in South Africa. Some of you sponsor specific youth, and some donate funds to use at our discretion. Both forms of support are important and very appreciated. There is so much more we could share with you from the past 7 days, however the point is that deserving youth are being helped and their lives are changing for the better.

Busy Week!

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Janet and Mxolisi (grade 7)

IMG_1405We had a BUSY BUSY week! Very productive and lots of fun, but a full schedule. In addition to our existing tutoring and group and individual mentorship initiatives, Jim launched a 2nd Bulele mentorship group for grade 8 boys at Concordia High School in the township. Twelve deserving boys were selected by their teachers from approximately 125 grade 8 boys. We also started the 1st “Tomorrow’s Fathers” group in the coloured township for 7 boys growing up with an absent father. Both groups will meet once-weekly. In total, 23 new boys were added to our group or one-on-one programs this past week.

We also did our best to support the efforts of the 14 person team visiting Knysna from the Khayamandi Foundation (USA), and helped them meet some particularly deserving youth in the township. You can read more about Khayamandi in an earlier post from today.

Pouring rain here right now, but the past week was sunny with very pleasant temperatures in the low to mid 20’s. Still cool nights and warm days as we await the arrival of summer in December.

Khayamandi Foundation in Knysna

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Ben (attends University of the Western Cape), Roger (Khayamandi), Nate (Foundation videographer)

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Outside Aphiwe’s home: Kevin (Foundation Treasurer), Kurt (Team Leader), Aphiwe’s Brother (grade 7), Aphiwe (grade 12).

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Rino (age 15) and Kurt (Khayamandi)

Following a highly productive week in the township, a team of 14 very dedicated individuals from the Khayamandi Foundation of Augusta, Georgia, departed yesterday for their return trip to America. Working alongside township youth, the team undertook a number of construction projects including a sunday school, footbridge for local residents, renovation of a safe house, and much needed repairs to staircases and other items. We initially met members of the Khayamandi Foundation 2 years ago in Knysna and their generous support sponsors the education of 2 of the youth we mentor. Ntokozo (age 14) attends Oakhill private high school in Knysna and Ben (age 20) studies computer science at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town.

Chester

IMG_1425 IMG-20141121-00062Many of our supporters are BIG fans of Chester, and I am THRILLED to report that he is doing very well. These photos were taken when I visited Chester for the first time earlier this week. Just prior to returning to Canada in April, I moved Chester to a town 30 minutes from Knysna so he could live with his Grandmother and Aunt. He is so happy with this move and just loves the community where he now stays. Chester looks so much healthier, happier, and he has even grown taller. He says there is always food at home and his grandmother is kind to him. I immediately took Chester shopping for clothes and suitable-sized shoes, and we purchased a warm coat, 2 pairs of pants, 3 short-sleeve shirts, 1 long-sleeve shirt, black sneakers, and toiletry items. Week after next we plan to go job-hunting and Chester is very excited about the prospect of embarking on this next phase of his life, and the prospect of being able to support himself and help his grandmother. Chester turned 20 years old this month, but is unable to read or write. While driving in the car, Chester said “Jim, had I stayed in Knysna, I might be dead now”. Thank you to our supporters in Canada who have never lost faith in Chester.

Janet & Kweila

Knysna-20141115-00065 Knysna-20141115-00066This past week Janet took Kweila (age 14 – grade 9) and his puppy, Bruno (female) to Knysna Animal Welfare for her first set of vaccinations. Kweila is a member of our original Bulele mentorship group at Percy Mdala High School in the township and Bruno is his first dog! Kweila is crazy about Bruno and animal welfare provided them with a free collar and leash. Kweila did not realize that Bruno required vaccinations to protect against disease, but he is keen to do whatever is necessary to maintain Bruno’s health.

Back in the Township

IMG_1909 IMG_1924One week has elapsed since we visited the township for the first time and ‘returned to work’. It was a good week, despite the harsh reminder of the poverty which so many people endure. Not only the material aspects of poverty, such as poor housing, food shortages, no money for electricity, but the equally insidious impact of striving to become educated, find employment, or keep food on the table in an environment where crime, peer pressure, and drugs serve as constant distractions.

The youth, and the few mothers and fathers we have been privileged to meet, are some of the nicest, kindest people we have ever known. Having been away from South Africa for 7 months, we are reminded of what some first-time township visitors must experience. In the least, it is very humbling. But it is also disturbing to know that some of the fine young men who have become our friends live in shacks that North Americans or Europeans would not deem suitable as a garden shed to store their lawnmower. Yet so commonly the young man exits his RDP home or shack immaculately groomed for school, providing the impression that all is fine in life.

The Bulele mentorship group meetings resumed last Thursday at Percy Mdala High School (see photos), Janet’s tutoring schedule is fully booked, and we are gradually reconnecting with the youth we know, as well as teachers and school Principals. The school year ends in early December, so grade 9 and 12 youth who intend to enrol at technical colleges and universities, respectively, often need assistance with the application and funding process. November is exam month for all high school grades, hence Janet’s busy tutoring load.

We intend to establish a 2nd Bulele group for grade 8-9 boys, and the first ‘Tomorrow’s Fathers’ group for boys with absent fathers was organized yesterday and will target a group of 13 to 18 year-old coloured youth in Hornlee township.

Thank you for your continued support.

Cooler and wet the past couple days, but sun and a forecast high of 28C for today.