Soccer Upstages Gangsterism

Centre-rear: Coach Justice

You are already familiar with these faces from our previous blog posts about the Peace Agreement signed in December 2018.

However, notice the more relaxed body language and nobody throwing gang signs.

Red cap: Coach Justice

“U a great guy jimmy… Nd ii gotta thnk u cause if it wasn’t for u then mby some of our friends would have been stabbed to but ii thnk u for opening our eyes nd showing us that there is more to life than being a gangster nd beating each other up…I thnk u for everything u have done so far nd ii hope we wil walk a long path together ūüôŹ¬†Jim.
U an inspiration for many people nd thnx for what u doing ii hope people appreciate what u doing. K.L. (Message sent by leader of one group – March 28th)

L to R: Coop, Rumano (grade 10), Jim

Our previous blog post described how Jim and Coop had retained an experienced Coach and were planning a soccer clinic for 3 boys from each of 5 groups (4 of 5 groups who signed the Peace Agreement plus a 6th group). Funding for the clinic was provided by a donation to the Khayamandi Foundation by Don, an American who recently visited Knysna and met with some gang-involved youth through Jim.

March 9th 2019 – Soccer Clinic

The soccer clinic was a success.¬†We provided transportation and all 15 boys “pitched”, as they say in South Africa. Three were in Jim’s car, and 12 in a taxi van. The 12 in the taxi had a history of violent fighting and this was the first time in a long while that many had been together under the pretence of peace. The boys were tentative at first, but that quickly changed on the soccer field. And the ride home included many laughs between new friends.

March 9th 2019 Soccer Clinic

The clinic concluded with a soccer match that included many local youth who were also on the field. Our 15 guys are standing and wearing orange bibs.

Soccer Clinic wrap-up by Coop

At the end of the clinic, each threesome was provided some basic equipment and challenged to return to their group and institute a training schedule. “Demonstrate that you are serious, and Coach Justice will commence weekly coaching visits and we will provide soccer boots (cleats)”.¬†

standing: Coach Justice

And it is happening. Justice has commenced coaching sessions with each group and soccer boots (cleats) were delivered to 2 groups last week. Some of the groups initiated soccer matches on their own. Two teams played on each of the 2 previous Sundays, and a mini-tournament involving 4 groups and Coach Justice is scheduled for today.

The Peace Agreement remains in effect, and the soccer program is helping to reinforce and maintain peace. Damaged relationships are being rekindled, and new friendships established.

Peace Agreement Group 5

Yet there remains work to be done. There are numerous youth gangs in the community and not all respond to the same approach. The 5th group to sign the December Peace Agreement is one example.

Far right: Welcome Witbooi

Welcome Witbooi (see photo) is a reformed gangster who now works with gang-involved youth and impacted communities across South Africa.

The prison system in South Africa is controlled by the notorious Number Gangs; the 26’s, 27’s, and 28’s. The highest rank in each gang is General, and the dominant gang is the 28’s. Welcome joined a street gang at age 13 and was sentenced to 23 years at age 17. He served 14 years, prior to being released 7 years ago.

Welcome is a retired 4-Star General in the 28’s, the highest rank attainable. Stars are earned by stabbing or killing a prison warder (guard), or designated inmate. While death is typically the only way out of the 28’s, there is sometimes another option for a General. That’s how Welcome got out.¬†(Click to learn how)

Group 5

Welcome was recently in Knysna to conduct a workshop and start the process of developing a Gang and Violence prevention strategy for the town. The workshop and 2 speaking engagements were sponsored by KILT; the Knysna Initiative for Learning and Teaching.

KILT kindly scheduled a few hours of Welcome’s time to be spent with Jim, such that they could tour the Location (former townships) and meet with 1 of the groups who signed the Peace Agreement. The meeting was scheduled in advance, and allowed Welcome to speak candidly with the guys.

Walking through the community with Welcome.

While some of the conversation was not in English, it was evident that Welcome’s message was well received, The impact has been positive. Welcome’s credibility as someone who knows the harsh reality of life in the 28’s, and prison, is invaluable.

Much¬†has been accomplished. Thanks to each of the groups, and the willingness of many of the guys to make more responsible choices, the boys in Janet’s study program now attend schools which are considerably safer.

Peace means the groups are no longer fighting during or after school, or carrying weapons to school. And this means walking to and from school is safer for students attending 3 high schools.

Thank you for your readership and continued support, 

Janet and Jim

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Three Steps Forward

Janet at Percy Mdala High School

Janet’s study groups are thriving, with attendance at all-time highs. After-school tutoring includes English, math, and¬†science from Monday to Thursday, and university planning sessions on Fridays.

Penny at Percy Mdala High School

Penny N, our Canadian friend, devotes 2 days a week to Janet’s study groups during her annual stay in South Africa. Penny’s role continues to expand each year and she has become a valuable resource and colleague to Janet.

Penny at Percy Mdala High School

With Janet and Penny working together, the Percy Mdala study group has expanded to include 15 learners. Noticeably absent are Ntokozo, Sibongakonke, and Khanyisa, each of whom completed high school in 2018 and commenced university 1 month ago!

Don (far right) with the guys – January 2019.

Six weeks ago our friend, Kurt (Khayamandi Foundation board member), visited Knysna from America. Accompanying Kurt was a friend and business colleague, Don S, whose donations to Khayamandi directly benefit a young man we have known since grade 11 and who completes his undergraduate university degree in 2019.

Don (rear-centre) with the guys – January 2019.

This was Don’s first trip to the African continent. While in Knysna, Jim toured Don through the former townships and introduced him to members of 2 of the 5 groups who signed the December 2018 Peace Agreement. As the boys guided Don through their community, they were able to chat.

Jim with the guys (photo by Don) – January 2019.

Now that we have peace, a void has been created. The time previously devoted to fighting needs to be filled and the boys helped convince Don that soccer could be a healthy part of the solution. Discussions were initiated with a soccer coach Jim met in November and a proposal was submitted to Don. Long story short…Don generously provided the necessary funding. The coach has been retained and 2-3 boys from each of 5 groups have been selected to attend an upcoming soccer clinic designed to launch the program.

Coop meeting students on Day 1 of the Basic Carpentry Skills program – February 1, 2019.

Our friend Coop is from America and spends 3 months each year in South Africa. Coop runs a basic carpentry skills program on 9 consecutive Fridays for boys 15-21 years of age, most of whom ceased attending school in grades 7 or 8. This year, 8 of the 15 boys are members of the groups who signed the December Peace Agreement. Coop is being assisted again this year by our Canadian friend, Don C.

Coop instructing the 2018 class.

Jim recruits the students during November-December, and Coop and Don develop the program and provide the training. Coop and Don deliver an outstanding program, and the young guys absolutely love it. Breakfast and lunch are included, which means ample quantities of fresh food personally prepared by Coop and Don!

Three¬†steps forward…Much has been accomplished, but not all is positive.

Sadly, the 17 year-old boy in the above photo was stabbed and killed on February 3, 2019. His death was not gang-related, hence the Peace Agreement was not compromised. Junior, as he was known to his many friends, is fondly remembered and will not be forgotten.

February 19, 2019

Peace prevails, but there was a hiccup. 

Earlier this week, there was an altercation between a lone boy from one group and 8 boys from another. The single boy apparently did not want to give way to 8 boys walking abreast towards him. The first time, the 8 boys parted and let him pass. Later the same day, the single boy held his ground and pushed 1 of the 8 to the side. The 8 guys beat him.

The next day, the single boy gathered some of his friends and initiated a revenge fight against the 8. One positive aspect is that neither fight involved knives.

February 19, 2019

The day after the revenge fight both groups of boys were ready to talk and wanted to restore peace. Jim drove the 4 boys responsible for the revenge fight to the hangout of the group of 8, and there we met with approximately 20 of their members.

The atmosphere was initially tense, but slowly progress was made. These photos depict the process as it unfolded, which eventually resulted in handshakes, smiles, and laughter. Peace was restored, which means safer streets, safer schools, and healthier communities.

February 19, 2019

February 19, 2019

February 19, 2019

February 19, 2019

Thank you for your readership and continued support, 

Janet and Jim

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Peace Update

January 17 2019

We still have peace. At least as of 5pm yesterday.

Almost 5 weeks have elapsed since the fifth group of boys signed the Peace Agreement. Although there has been one fight involving two groups, the culprit was quick to assume responsibility for his actions. The boy agreed to accompany Jim to the room where the other group hangs out and, once Jim laid the groundwork to ensure the boy’s safety, he entered, apologized, and touched thumbs with each guy in the room. Very impressive.

High school classes resumed on January 9th, and a few boys who ceased attending school last year due to the fighting have returned. Close monitoring of each groups’ activities inside and outside of school remains a priority, along with one-on-one meetings to develop plans for individual boys.

Janet’s favourite boy “Clarke”.

Janet’s boys who completed high school in 2018 and now commence university in February are busy preparing for their departures to Cape Town and elsewhere. One of Janet’s most dedicated students (Khanyisa) attained the top marks in his grade 12 graduating class! More on Khanyisa and the other university-bound graduates in our next blog post.

Janet and Jim

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Peace Agreement

Over a 9 day period in December, a Peace Agreement was signed by 5 youth gangs. Each group is comprised of approximately 15 boys between 15 and 20 years of age, living in 4 geographic areas or Locations (former townships). Much of Jim’s time since returning to South Africa has been devoted to establishing relationships with the members of each group, and building on those relationships to facilitate a path to peace.

The process included face-to-face meetings between a few boys from each group, such that the boys could hear firsthand that their enemies wanted peace. Three meetings were at a neutral site selected by Jim, and one was at the police station with 3 officers in attendance. Only in the presence of police did the latter group feel sufficiently safe to attend without weapons.

Gangsterism is a huge problem in South Africa. Any reference to gangs, including youth gangs, can understandably elicit a negative reaction from many individuals. While no form of aggression or criminal activity should be condoned, it is important to differentiate between gangsterism with the purpose of criminal activity (e.g. illicit drug trade), and youth gangs fighting over territorial disputes (turf), girls, or seeking revenge for having been stabbed in the past.

For the purpose of this blog post, the term youth gangs shall be used to describe the category of gang involvement which does not include criminal activity as its purpose. For obvious reasons, none of the boys personal or gang names will be mentioned in this post.

We understand if you are wondering how our stated purpose in South Africa would include gang-involved youth. Aside from benefiting the boys who are directly involved, peace between fighting gangs greatly enhances safety for school teachers, students who are not gang-involved, and the community at large.

Weapons seized from 5 students, prior to the Peace Agreement being signed.

While many fights occur away from school where the boys live, some stabbings also occur on school premises or immediately outside the school gate. Knowing that gang-involved students may bring weapons to school and that a fight could occur during or after school hours poses an ongoing distraction to students and teachers alike. Enemy gangs can also target the younger siblings of gang-involved youth, as they provide an indirect means of punishing your enemy.

Much has been written about why boys and men join gangs, and some of that research has been referenced and quoted in previous blog posts. With youth gangs, the motivation often stems from perceived necessity; namely the belief that one is safer belonging to a gang, carrying a knife or weapon, and walking to/from school with “your crew” to protect against the risk of attack from enemies.

Living conditions for some…

While it is true that some youth gang members are involved in crime against innocent individuals, such as robbing people on the street or stealing from homes and businesses, we would contend that the majority of the boys are not involved in these types of crimes. Drug use tends to be the primary reason for those who do steal, in particular crystal methampehtamine (known as “Tik” in South Africa). Most of the the 5-6 boys currently awaiting trial are facing assault charges from having stabbed a member of an enemy gang.

Two groups (3 members from each) negotiating towards peace. The boys agreed to come unarmed and were driven to the meeting site by Jim.

Shortly after a Truce was signed in April 2015 between 3 youth gangs (different gangs than the 5 who signed the December 2018 Peace Agreement), one of the leaders said to Jim: “you trusted us, so we trusted you”.

If we wait to be trusted before granting trust, the wait may be long. Particularly with at-risk youth whose trust has been violated in the past.

Former enemies, moments after agreeing to peace. The young man wearing dark glasses was stabbed in 2018 and lost his eye. He receives a prosthetic replacement in 2019.

Individuals and organisations wanting to connect with disenfranchised youth living in circumstances which include poverty, drugs, and violence have a powerful set of tools at their disposal. Open, honest, non-judgemental communication in a manner which reflects affinity and a desire to help is more likely to prove effective than lectures, punishment, or violence.

When combined with kindness, empathy, and humour, don’t be surprised if troubled young people soon feel sufficiently safe to reveal the wrongs they have committed and express a desire for change.

Members of Group 1 and 2 signing the Peace Agreement. The background in the following photos serves as examples of living conditions and the environment.

Groups 1 and 2, moments after signing the Peace Agreement.

Group 3, moments after signing the Peace Agreement.

Group 3 displaying the signed Peace Agreement in the shack where they hang out.

Group 4, moments after signing the Agreement in the shack where one of the boys lives.

As soon as the 5 groups expressed interest in a Peace Agreement, the situation on the streets started to change. Even before the Agreement was signed, Jim started noticing guys walking through their former enemies’ Locations. It was strange to see, and initially concerning. But each gang started to relate similar stories: “I was able to walk to the health clinic for the first time in years”. “It’s okay Jim, we are friends now”.

Representatives of Group 5 signing the Peace Agreement in Jim’s car.

There remains much more to accomplish. Schools re-open January 9th for the first time since the Peace Agreement was signed, meaning increased contact between members of the 5 groups. Opportunities such as vocational skills-training are needed for the boys who dropped out of school or were forced to leave due to fighting or stabbing at school.  Maintaining peace now becomes the priority.

Group 5 displaying the completed Peace Agreement – 10 signatures. Update: Boy on far right – stabbed and died Feb 3, 2019 – unrelated to gangs included in Peace Agreement – RIP.

“If you want to know a person’s true character, observe how he treats those who don’t matter”. ¬†Matshona Dhliwayo

Thank you for your continued interest and support,

Janet and Jim

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Childhood Adversity

The learning curve in Africa is steep. What makes this statement significant is that newcomers to Africa often fail to spot this reality; at least in our experience. In fairness, it isn’t easy to appreciate the steepness of the learning curve. It happened to us, and then again, and then again.

If the problems in Africa are so obvious – poverty, hunger, under-resourced schools – surely the solutions are equally obvious. Provide a hungry kid with food, clothes, help with homework, a coach or mentor, and he’s bound to perform considerably better in school and life. Or so one might assume. The reality is not this formulaic, and it can deal a heavy blow to well-intentioned volunteers.

Too many failures and the volunteer is at risk of abandoning their cause. Worse still, the volunteer may become critical of those he/she is trying to help and wrongly conclude that they are “the problem”.

Home of a grade 11 boy we have known since grade 8.

“I wish someone had told me to hold my opinions and beliefs lightly, because they can get in the way of understanding”.¬†

–¬†Zita Cobb (Canadian businesswoman / social entrepreneur)

Knysna (White Location overlooking Thesen Islands & Knysna town centre)

Poverty in South Africa is the norm, in that it impacts the majority of the populace. The majority live in poverty and suffer food insecurity. The unemployment rate among young people approaches 50%.

The learning curve in Africa is steep to the extent that we do not comprehend the fallout from these statistics, and years of childhood adversity. Smiling faces, laughing children, and neatly pressed school uniforms can conceal the damaging effects of growing up in adversity.

Knysna

Some might argue that children are resilient, and will overcome childhood trauma and adversity. Findings from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) – Kaiser ACE Study conducted in California (1995-1997) demonstrate otherwise.

ACE is the acronym for Adverse Childhood Experience. Over 17,000 members of an American health insurance plan participated in the original study, followed by ongoing surveillance of the original study participants.

The study’s findings revealed how Adverse Childhood Experiences, prior to age 18, strongly related to the development of risk factors for disease and well-being throughout life.

Ace scores are calculated using 10 questions, whereby each YES answer counts as 1 point towards an ACE score total of 0 to 10. The 10 questions deal with issues such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, living with an alcoholic or drug user, whether parents were separated or divorced, whether a  household member went to prison, etc.

Link to: ACE Questionnaire

Knysna (Concordia Location)

In the following video, Dr. Robert Anda explains the cumulative risk-effect between higher ACE scores and greater health and social problems, including smoking, alcohol use, drug abuse, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, early onset of sexual activity, suicide, tendency towards domestic or sexual violence, and chronic disease.

ACE Video – Dr. Robert Anda (2:38 mins)

Individuals with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers, 7 times more likely to be alcoholic, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, 32 times more likely to have a learning or behaviour problem in school.

ACE scores of 6 and above shorten lifespans by 20 years.

Knysna (Concordia Location)- Jim providing a soccer ball

“…youth who have experienced trauma are at significant risk for impairments across various cognitive functions, including IQ, memory, attention and language/verbal ability; poorer academic performance and school-related behaviours such as discipline, dropout and attendance; and higher rates of behavioural problems and internalizing symptoms.” –Maynard et al 2017 (Effects of trauma-informed approaches in schools)

‚Äú‚Ķtoxic stress can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. A highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating in school: fighting, talking back, acting up,‚Ķ‚Ä̬†– Paul Tough (Helping Children Succeed)

Read the full book (pdf): Helping Children Succeed (Paul Tough)

Ace scores of 4 are common among the boys we know. Among many of the youth Jim mentors, ACE’s of 6-8 are not unusual.

There are 4 boys in the preceding photo, ranging in age from 15-16. One completed grade 8 before dropping out mid grade 9. Two dropped out mid grade 8, another stopped school in grade 7 (unable to read), and one recently returned to repeat grade 8.

The four boys have ACE scores between 6 and 9; one 6, two 8’s, and a 9. ¬†All are struggling, and one is now in prison awaiting trial on serious charges.

Children with toxic stress live much of their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. With their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can‚Äôt focus on learning. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. Some kids do all three. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work and over-achievement. They don‚Äôt regard these coping methods as problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they use them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.” ¬†–¬†Jane Ellen Stevens

“What all this means, says¬†Anda (Dr. Robert¬†Anda) is that we need to prevent adverse childhood experiences and, at the same time, change our systems ‚Äď educational, criminal justice, healthcare, mental health, public health, workplace ‚Äď so that we don‚Äôt further traumatize someone who‚Äôs already traumatized. You can‚Äôt do one or the other and hope to make any progress.” –¬†Jane Ellen Stevens¬†Click for more: Aces Too High

What to do:

 1.  insulate infants and children from chronic stress and adverse environments.

Schools and institutions which advocate zero tolerance, corporal punishment, shaming, or lack of compassion serve to further traumatize.

Some schools in North America and elsewhere are enlightening teachers on the ACE study, with the goal of becoming “trauma-informed schools”.

2. Make sure youth growing up in adversity have caring, responsible, adults in their life.

Such individuals serve as a buffer from further adversity.

Now it’s time for us to pack our bags and prepare for the long trip back to South Africa. We look forward to sending our next update from the southern tip of the¬†African continent, 13,240¬†kilometres from our home in Canada.

Thank you for continuing to follow our blog and support our initiatives.  

Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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Reflections

Jason and JayJay – Knysna Sports School cycling program

It’s no secret that Africa has challenges. One might even say ‘problems’. Despite that, there is much to love about Africa.

Former President Barrack Obama said¬†“…Madiba (Nelson Mandela) teaches us that some principles really are universal, and the most important one is the principle that we are bound together by a common humanity, and that each individual has inherent dignity and worth.”

Obama was referring to the African principle Ubuntu. 

One of Janet’s study groups – grades 9-11 Concordia High School

In 2008, Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained Ubuntu as follows:

“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu ‚Äď the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality ‚Äď Ubuntu ‚Äď you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

Basic Carpentry Skills Training – 2018

Imagine a world where everyone, including world leaders, understood and applied the philosophy of Ubuntu. In other words, recognition that we are all in this together and one finger cannot lift a pebble (Malawi proverb).

Despite 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela remained faithful to the spirit of Ubuntu:¬†‚ÄúWhat counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.‚ÄĚ – Nelson Mandela

Rheenendal community – near Knysna

Soon we will be returning to South Africa. We’re anxious to return, as there is plenty to accomplish in Africa.

The poverty, under-performing education system, and political uncertainty have the potential to be overwhelming, but more so from a macro perspective. At the micro level, where we operate, the risk of overwhelm is more manageable.

On a daily basis in South Africa, we are reminded of the following truth:

“My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.”¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Janet & Jim – South Africa

Thank you for your continued support, 

Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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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, ‚Äúimplying little change in inequality over time and perhaps even a worsening of the situation,‚ÄĚ the World Bank reported. ‚ÄúCurrent levels of inequality are likely to persist in the future.‚ÄĚ

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 ‚Äúenduring legacy of apartheid,‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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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