Battling Poverty


Jim posted this blog entry from Canada:

Of the numerous books I have read since returning to Canada in May for our sabbatical (lol), there are two I highly recommend.

The first is I Am Because You Are authored by American Jacob Lief who, 15 years ago at the age of 21, established the Ubuntu Education Fund in a township in South Africa. I LOVED Jacob’s book, and didn’t want it to end.

Some people ask us why we spend so much time in South Africa or “don’t you want to travel to other countries?” Read Jacob’s book and I believe you will understand what it is that has captured our hearts and keeps us returning to South Africa. This book provides important insight into the legacy of apartheid from the perspective of the majority of blacks and Coloureds who still reside in South Africa’s townships.

Jacob was once asked “Billions of dollars are being invested in Africa each year, and it’s no secret that the results are not amazing. With all this aid money why aren’t more leaders being produced, why aren’t more kids in these impoverished areas getting into top universities?”

Jacob responded: “Maybe it’s because we’re giving them a cup of soup, a windup computer, and a shipping container for a school.”

As wonderful as it is when large NGO’s distribute malaria nets, provide school shoes, or run soup kitchens, these individual actions will never alleviate poverty. We agree with Jacob that the solution lies in a more holistic approach which includes an ongoing relationship with each child.

This is why we sometimes take a boy to the doctor, the hospital, purchase school shoes or clothes, tutor them after school, make sure they have sufficient food, and continue to mentor them year after year. Short term interventions are unlikely to change a lifetime of poverty.

Jacob’s book reminded me of so many of our experiences working in a disadvantaged community. You will gain a valuable understanding of South Africa upon reading this book.

You may wish to start with an article Jacob Lief wrote for the Huffington Post:

Ending Poverty: The Next Big Idea is To Stay Small


What follows is an excerpt from an email Jim sent to a number of our friends and colleagues in South Africa last week. We thought you may be interested:

“An important component of our mentorship groups is the focus on character. Youth are exposed to 6 core values; Integrity, Accountability, Self-Regulation, Positive Anger Expression, Cause-Effect Goal Setting, and Respect for Girls.

To demonstrate the importance of these 6 core values, I’d like to have guest speakers attend some of our meeting and share how adherence to some of the core values contributed to their success and happiness in life.

I’m hoping you can help me identify some positive male role models who I may contact to determine their level of interest. Our meeting format is casual, and the guest speaker would join us around a table and just chat. Just speak from the heart (in English) about their personal journey in life, as it relates to some of the 6 core values.

I am seeking black and Coloured males, but predominantly black. Please remember that many of the boys lack a positive male role model, and the majority have no father in their life. My goal is to expose the young men to positive male role models from their own race and community, as much as possible.

Doctors, engineers, athletes, musicians, and business people would be great. Equally great would be any black or coloured male who meets the criteria of being a positive male role model. This person might be a parking attendant, a gardener, a painter, a fireman, or a chef. What they do for a living is less important than their character. So long as they demonstrate compassion for their fellow man and are a positive male role model.”


The second book is How Children Succeed by Canadian author Paul Tough. I encourage you to treat yourself to this intelligent, evidence-based work. I read this book for the first time 1 year ago, but wanted to read it again.

The author explores considerable data regarding the impact of chronic stress associated with poverty. Previous research tended to explain cognitive deficits in disadvantaged children as being more the result of poor nutrition, or poor parenting, or not being read to as a child. Paul Tough presents convincing data regarding the physiological, and psychological, impact stemming from the stress of living in poverty.

Township youth worry about insufficient food, no money for school clothes, lack of soap, what happens if their mother loses her job, no money for electricity for cooking or lights to study by, and so on.

One of many encouraging findings in this book, based on the work of Angela Duckworth, is that “…character is at least as important as intellect”. I frequently use this video in our youth mentorship groups. Watch the TED Talk to learn more:

The Key To Success? Grit

Thank you for your continued support, 

Jim & Janet

images Click here…






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