Education & Skills Training


Mr. Njozela (Principal), Nkosekhaya Sonanzi, Mrs. Sonanzi

Despite the challenges within the SA education system, some students at township high schools do excel. Grade 12 learner from Percy Mdala High School in Knysna Nkosekhaya Sonanzi is one such example. His final results included 83% in mathematics, 83% in physical sciences, 93% in Life sciences, and 96% in Geography. He will pursue a BSc in Geomatics at the University of Stellenbosch and was awarded a R10,000 cash prize, laptop computer, and bursary.


Zamela – died suddenly July 21 2018 while playing soccer at university.

Update: Sadly, Zamela died suddenly on July 21 2018 while playing soccer at university in Cape Town.

Original Post: Another hard-working student at Percy Mdala High School is Zamela, who we met when he was in grade 9. Zamela just completed grade 12 with very respectable grades and he will now study economics at the University of the Western Cape starting in February. Zamela also just returned from his initiation into manhood.

Thank you to everyone who has donated reconditioned laptop computers! Some have travelled all the way from Canada, and others have been donated by friends in Knysna. One of the Canadian laptops was provided to Zamela last week, and he was thrilled.


Janet and Akhona

Akhona (misspelled in previous blog posts as ‘Acona’) is one of the nicest and hardest working young guys we know. He is 17 and works full time as a house painter, after leaving school in grade 8 since he was unable to read. Janet has been helping Akhona with the alphabet, reading, and basic arithmetic and he is doing very well. Akhona loves to learn and is able to learn, which makes his situation all the more confusing and unfortunate. Janet uses a combination of educational iPad apps to make Akhona’s tutoring sessions fun and interactive.




Chester FINALLY has a South African identity card!



On Friday, Jim and Chester successfully collected Chester’s ID document which was applied for mid-December. Chester and Jim have devoted many hours to this process the past 18 months, and Chester was thrilled to obtain his ID. A government-issued ID is needed to legally work in South Africa, so Chester and Jim can now start job-hunting. Chester dropped out of school in grade 9, and has limited reading skills.



One of the best training programs in Knysna is an 11 month skills training initiative at YFC. Approximately 20 youth are selected each January for classroom and academic training in carpentry, plumbing, tiling, welding, and other construction-related skills. Jim took two youth for interviews last week and both were accepted! Steven (photo) and Gavin are 21 and 23 years old respectively and both dropped out of school in grade 9. Steven was working as a parking attendant when Jim met him 9 months ago and recently started a car wash business in the township. (please ignore the wording on Steven’s shirt! lol)

Much of Gavin’s story can’t be shared on our blog, but here is a message we received from his family 2 days ago: I’m impressed about Gavin’s behaviour here at home, it’s such impressing and I can see a big change in him… You made him what we wanted him to become, thank you.😪


Mark and Thando

Mark (17) and Thando (15) are 2 of 6 street kids Jim has strived to mentor since January 2015. The boys dropped out of school in grades 8-9 and do what they can to earn money for food. They are the friendliest, most polite young guys you will ever meet. They are also filthy! A few weeks ago they started washing cars at a location in the township. This is a positive development, and Jim recently provided some needed cleaning supplies and “uniform” comprised of a red cap and sunglasses (purchased in Canada for $1.00 / R10). Time will tell…lol


Masi (left) and Robin (right)

TSiBA is a life-changing, non-profit, college for disadvantaged youth which offers 1 year programmes in entrepreneurial studies. Masi has lived at Ella & Penny’s Safehouse since we met him over 3 years ago and just completed his final year of high school in December. Robin graduated from high school one year ago. Both guys were just accepted into the Certificate of Practical Business Administration at TSiBA and commence on January 25th! Thank you very much to the Ottawa couple who is sponsoring Masi’s educational costs.



Sipho is one of many boys, now considered men, who recently returned to Knysna following initiation. We have known Sipho since he was 14 years old and in grade 8. When the schools reopened on January 13th, Sipho started grade 12.

Each year some boys experience complications from the traditional circumcision procedure, with as many as 20-40 dying in South Africa during each of the July and December initiation periods. All the boys we know returned from the bush, however one contacted Jim upon his return and was taken to a doctor for treatment of a 3cm wound and infection. He is now doing much better and is expected to heal within 2-3 weeks.

Thank you to everyone who made financial donations in 2015 and early 2016 and enable us to do what we do.

We spend a disproportionate amount of your donations this time of year with some of the boys needing help with school fees/tuition, school shoes, clothing, or school supplies to start the new school year. Wages are so low for unskilled workers in SA that even when a mother or father is employed, it remains a struggle to earn sufficient money for food, electricity, and clothing.


In some respects, government-provided RDP houses in the township overstate the living conditions and struggle of many families. On the outside, all looks okay, but on the inside, the reality is often very different.

Buzzfeed votes South Africa the Most Beautiful Country in the world!  Click on this link:   South Africa Most Beautiful Country


Big Questions

Grade 12 students completed their final exams in November 2015 and, on January 6th, will learn whether they will graduate (matriculate) from high school.

South African learners take 7 subjects in grade 12. The minimum academic requirements to earn a high school certificate are: 3 subjects including Home/Native language with a minimum grade of 40%, 2 subjects including English or Home language with a minimum grade of 30%, and a 6th subject with a minimum grade of 20%.


Phumlani & Siyabulela

Not surprisingly, these minimum requirements will not qualify a student for entry into college or university. However, the learner will have graduated/matriculated from high school. The 2014 matriculation rate for South Africa was 75.8%. However, only 55% of students who commenced primary school in 2003 (class of 2014) made it to grade 12, for a “real” matriculation rate of only 41.7%. (January 6th update: The matric pass rate for 2015 declined to 70.7%)

This raises the next question we are sometimes asked…

Are we making a difference? Put another way, are your donations making a difference? Along with “How could we do more?” and “Are we doing the right things?”…these are the big questions.


Knysna (township)

Dr. Martin Haberman has devoted over 46 years to teaching urban youth and researching better ways to improve teaching for children living in poverty. His latest book (2005) is entitled Star Teachers of Children in Poverty.


Dr. Martin Haberman

We subscribe to many of Dr. Haberman’s views and trust that they speak to the big questions regarding our initiatives in South Africa. Dr. Haberman writes:

“Many of These kids have no chance but that offered by school and mentors.”

“For children in poverty, success in school is a matter of life and death, and they need mature people who have a great deal of knowledge about their subject matter, but who can also relate to them.”


View towards Knysna (from Indian Ocean)

Dr. Haberman’s findings regarding Star Teachers of children in poverty:

“They tend to be non-judgemental”. “They are not easily shocked”.                             “They don’t really expect schools to change much.”

“They think their primary impact on their students is that they’ve made them more humane or less frustrated, or raised their self-esteem”.

“Stars focus on the effort the learners demonstrate, quitters focus on how far the kid will go in life.” “To stars, school is life and death. Kids must have it, as it is their only hope of a better life and they have no other source of life skills and guidance.”


Some of the guys…

Complicating matters is that much of what we do, in particular Jim, can not be captured in photographs or shared on our blog. Many of the ways we make a difference entail matters which are personal in nature, and respecting the boys’ privacy is key to maintaining their trust.

An interesting pattern is developing. When someone questions whether we are making a difference, or whether the “problem” is simply too big to impact, there is one thing which shifts mindsets in a big way:

Take the person into the township and enable them to meet and question some of the youth whom we tutor or mentor. 

The shift in mindset following first-hand contact with the boys or their families is dramatic. Doubters become financial supporters, and comments like “now I understand why you do what you do” are typical.


“The difference between carbon and diamonds is that diamonds stayed on the job longer” – Thomas Edison

Rest assured, “we” are making a difference. Not in everything we do, but certainly in much of what we do. Your moral support, donations, and feedback on our blog posts makes you an integral part of the “we” which is changing lives. Thank you.