Poverty, Education, & Health


Many people still live in shacks, otherwise known as ‘informal settlements’, while they await a government provided concrete block home. Assuming an individual or family earns below the income threshold and are a citizen of South Africa, they will qualify for a free, government-provided RDP house.

The population of Knysna is approximately 68,000. According to a recent report, there are 9,600 people on the waiting list for an RDP home. The acting municipal manager confirmed that one family has been waiting since August 2004.

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Left: Ryno Right: Acona

Ryno and Acona both dropped out of school in 2014 while in grade 8. Ryno is 15 years old and Acona is 16. Ryno is unable to read. While investigating options for Acona to return to school last week, Acona revealed to Jim that he was unable to read. This was the first time Acona admitted this to anyone and, when Jim & Acona shared this news with Acona’s mother, she indicated that she had no idea her son could not read. You may recall that in 2014 we removed another youth from school at the age of 19 (Chester) when it was determined that he was also unable to read.

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Acona – just after clothes shopping (thanks to his American sponsor)

Jim took Acona and Ryno for literacy testing last Friday and both are reading at a grade 1 level. The boys will now attend an adult literacy program each Friday from 8am to 3pm and Janet is preparing a CV for Acona, such that he and Jim can search for employment.

If you reside in the Knysna area and have a temporary or permanent job opportunity at your home or business, Acona has a wonderful attitude, work ethic and is extremely punctual and reliable.


Janet and Somila (grade 9)

Meet Janet’s latest English student, Somila, a grade 9 learner at Percy Mdala High School.


The cost of food and electricity in South Africa is similar to North America or Europe. Statistics South Africa reports the following:

Extreme poverty is defined as a household of 5 living on under R11 ($1.00 USD) a day. 20% of South Africans live in extreme poverty.

Just over 40% of the population lives in moderate poverty, defined as a family of 5 living on R22 a day ($2.00 USD). So…60% live in moderate to extreme poverty and many live in sub-standard housing, the vast majority of whom are black.


Thank you to Chris Walter and Larry Wurn for their donations of reading glasses. These are just 2 of the ladies who Janet recently assisted with much-needed eyeglasses. Note the broken piece of mirror in Janet’s right hand.


Your Donations…


Your donations recently enabled us to take 2 youth to private doctors for much-needed medical attention. One youth, age 18, was seen by a family physician regarding an issue which had been distracting him at school and causing serious anxiety for over a year.

The second youth tearfully revealed to Jim that he lost hearing in 1 ear around age 6 and, while he told his parents when he was 11, he was only attended to by a nurse. No one knew that the boy was still deaf in one ear (and only has 90% hearing in the good ear).

Jim booked an appointment with an ENT specialist 2 days later (imagine seeing an ENT in 2 days without a referral !) and the boy was examined, hearing tested, and he is scheduled for an MRI tomorrow morning which will be paid by the public health system. The boy finally told his parents about his hearing loss and Jim subsequently met with Mom & Dad to answer their questions. The youth now understands the need to protect the hearing in his right ear and be assessed once per annum.


Wanga (age 20)

Wanga recently graduated from Percy Mdala High School near the top of his class and was accepted at the University of the Western Cape to study Computer Science, the same university where Ben just commenced his 2nd year in computer science! Last week we put Wanga in touch with Ben and they have become good friends. There is no father in Wanga’s life, and his mother passed away in 2013. Jim met Wanga in early 2014 while assisting Wanga in his role as President of Rotaract (youth Rotary) at his high school.

Until next week…Janet & Jim.

Back to School


Thulani selecting a book bag for grade 8.

The long summer school holidays which commenced early December are almost over. Government schools reopen on Wednesday and college and university classes commence over the next 2 weeks.


Daniel Mangiza

Daniel and Pride returned to Zimbabwe a few days before classes resumed at their respective boarding schools on January 14th. Thanks to the donation of a minimally used tablet from a Canadian couple, Daniel is now able to access the internet while at school.


Janet, Pride, Sandy


On Pride’s final night in Knysna, we joined our good friend Sandy for dinner at a popular local eatery. Sandy is the Director of TSiBA Eden College which provides an entrepreneurial bridging and skills development program for disadvantaged youth. This is where Jim originally volunteered when we started visiting South Africa.



Many of you may remember reading about Ace over the past 2-3 years and how he lived in a shack without electricity and had been on his own since age 15. After completing high school in 2013, Ace took a gap year and worked at a restaurant and volunteered his time to tutor primary school children in math. He was recently accepted at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and will now start studying to become a high school teacher. Getting to this point was not easy for Ace, however it may never have happened without the financial support provided by a number of our Canadian donors. Thank you!


Aphiwe (at his restaurant job) & Kudzai

Aphiwe and Kudzai both graduated from high school in December and departed Knysna yesterday for the 14 hour bus trip to Johannesburg to register for college.



The majority of black youth we deal with are from the Xhosa tribe, hence they are amaXhosa. In the Xhosa culture, initiation into manhood typically occurs when boys are approximately 18 to 20 years of age. After ritual circumcision, the initiates (abakwetha) live in isolation for up to several weeks, often in the mountains. (source: Wikipedia). When the initiates return home, they must dress like a man (see photos) for 3-6 months. Since December is a common time for boys to “go to the bush”, many have recently returned home and can be seen walking on the streets of Knysna.



Jim has been working with 3 boys (Melvin, Acona, Yanga) who dropped out of grade 9 last year, and it is hoped that all 3 will be permitted to return to school this week. In each case, the boy along with a parent or Jim must meet with the Principal and argue their case.

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Bronwell (Acona)

Janet remains busy tutoring high school math and English, and recently worked with a university student who is studying Forestry! Some youth return to the rural areas to visit family during the summer holidays, but many remain in Knynsa and want to adhere to their tutoring schedule. Janet’s newest student is Thiso.



Thank you for continuing to follow our blog and all the best from South Africa. Janet & Jim

Youth Giving Back


Thiso’s home

The housing conditions for some families remain unacceptable. People living in temporary wooden structures or shacks often suffer from leaking walls and roofs, which can mean wet clothing, bedding, and disrupted sleep each time it rains. One example is the structure where Thiso (16) lives with his single Mom.


Thiso’s bed

When it rains, water penetrates the walls of Thiso’s room and his bed must be moved.   IMG_1957 Daniel and Pride (visiting from Zimbabwe) and Simbulele recently volunteered to undertake the task of water proofing the exterior walls of Thiso’s room. Yesterday we embarked on this project using a house-wrap product which is waterproof and windproof.


L to R: Daniel, Pride, Thiso, Simbulele, Jim

Teamwork! The guys worked hard in the hot African sun.


Our photographer, Janet (with Pride) !


Simbulele (on roof), Thiso, Jim

Assessing the roof…



Leak-testing the roof (we forgot to provide advance warning) !


Jim & Thiso

Repairing holes in the metal roof.


Jim, Thiso, Elizabeth

The finished product being inspected by Thiso’s mother, Elizabeth, when she returned home from work.

TODAY…Pride, Daniel, and Thiso will help Simbulele windproof 2 interior walls of the wooden structure where he stays.




Siyathemba turns 16 on January 10th and commences grade 11 later this month. He is one of the original members of our Bulele mentorship group which was established in January 2014 and has never missed a meeting.

Sadly, Siyathemba’s mother collapsed suddenly and passed away at their home a few days ago. We had the pleasure to meet Daphne on a few occasions and she was a lovely person.


L to R: Onke, Ntokozo, Siyathemba

Equally sad is that Siyathemba was one of only 3 youth we know who lived in a stable home with a mother and father. When we established the Bulele group, Siyathemba’s father asked to meet with Jim and he dropped by the shoe repair business where he has worked for many years. Over the 5+ years we have been coming to South Africa, we have only met 3 fathers.

Along with the emotional loss, the passing of Siyathemba’s mother also means the loss of 1 of 2 critical household incomes.


Jim, Pride, Janet, Daniel

Enjoying some of the sights in and around Knysna with Pride, Daniel, and Phillip.



Pride and Daniel commence the long return trip to Zimbabwe on Wednesday, before returning to school January 13th. This was Pride’s first time to see salt water and he seized the opportunity to touch the Indian Ocean.


L to R: Daniel (19), Pride (18), Jim, Phillip (Daniel’s older brother)

Daniel may be the hardest working youth we know. He is mature for his 19 years, highly responsible, and impressively focused and determined. The study schedule at his boarding school involves a full day of academics and mandatory sports, followed by a 6-9 pm study period. Daniel established a study group which meets from 9-11 pm or midnight. After a few hours sleep, he awakes around 3:30am for more study before the official school schedule commences at 5:30am.

Daniel attains top marks, and was recently selected by his peers, teachers, and Headmaster for the prestigious role of Prefect.

Daniel’s father died when he was 6 years old and his older brother, Phillip, was in grade 7. When not at boarding school in Zimbabwe, Daniel lives with his mother.


Daniel and Pride exploring new technology!

When Daniel completes the 2nd and final year of A Level studies in December, 2015, his goal is to pursue an IT Degree and, upon graduation, establish an IT-related business in Zimbabwe to help advance technology and economic development for his fellow Zimbabweans. The challenge, as always, is funding the cost of higher education.