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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