Africa’s Allure


Knysna (photo by Terrah-Caleb Mello)

In a matter of weeks, we commence the return-journey to beautiful Knysna. What better time to reflect on why Africa has captured the hearts of so many, including ourselves.  

“Few go there. Africa has a reputation: poverty, disease, war. But when outsiders do go they are often surprised by Africa’s welcome, entranced rather than frightened. Visitors are welcomed and cared for in Africa.  If you go you will find most Africans friendly, gentle and infinitely polite.  Africans meet, greet and talk, look you in the eye and empathize, hold hands and embrace, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness.  All these things are as natural as music in Africa.”  Richard Dowden – Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

“It’s addictive. Get’s under your skin like chiggers (mites). You scratch and it gets worse.” Kathy Eldon – In the heart of Life

We received the following whatsapp message from a grade 11 youth who, 18 months ago, was gang-involved, stabbed at school and nearly died, and on the wrong path. This youth proved instrumental in helping Jim connect with other gang-involved youth and work towards the signing of a truce between 3 gangs in April, 2015, which remains in effect:

“Hi jim am working hard on my studies i want u 2 see de guy u give hope on is going 2 prove u right.”


Carpentry-Mentorship Initiative: Last week we commenced the search for adult mentors using social media, letter-to-the-editor of the local Knysna newspaper, and advertisements (see photo) in the weekly issue of Knysna ‘Action-Ads’.

The youth we have identified for this initiative are not ready for employment, or on-the-job training, and are best-suited to a mentorship relationship.


Thank you for your donations, as this is the time of year when we rebuild the war-chest for the challenges and opportunities awaiting us. We are anxious to return to South Africa, and will keep you posted on our progress. Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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Back to Africa

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L to R: Siyambonga (Gr 9), Sinoyolo (Gr 11)

Only 5 weeks remaining until we depart for South Africa, and we can’t wait!

During our time in Canada, Janet continued to tutor some of the boys in math, and Jim mentored from afar (using Whatsapp Chat).

With so many social-ills in South Africa, one could easily become overwhelmed. Remaining focused on our mandate helps us maintain perspective and remain passionate.

When we originally visited South Africa and Zimbabwe, many youth identified the shortage of male role models in their lives, and how this has negatively impacted them and their impoverished communities.

Mandate: Developing Male Role Models, by helping youth navigate life.

We mentor disadvantaged male youth by imparting life-skills and educational support, to better enable youth to navigate life. Our ultimate goal is a more able, better-educated, self-supporting young man who serves as a positive role model.


L to R: Kudzai, Junior (brother), & Mom

“I’ve seen what happens in varsity. I’ve seen the pressure people give and the way most people lose focus and get lost in the fun. I’ve seen people do really crazy things just to get validation from the fellow peers. The question “what is a man is often asked but not more than the question “are you a man?”. I proudly say yes and quickly remember that Jim taught my brother and I what it meant to be one. We did not see it then and most won’t see it now but what you taught us was how to be men and how to maintain strong principles. You taught us that ambition was to be cherished…” Kudzai (studying at University of Namibia)


L to R: Paul’s classmate, visiting student from Northwestern University – Boston (USA), and Paul.

The following are excerpts from a newspaper article about Paul, whom we met 3 years ago while he was studying at TSiBA Eden College. 

“You have to look back in order to know where you going” These are the words by which Paul Itumeleng Mphambani lives. Paul, 27, grew up in Soweto with his mother and five siblings. After his mother passed away, Paul knew he would have to be the future breadwinner and desperately needed to get an education.

Never in his wildest imagination did he dream that one day, he would be pursuing a Bachelor in Business Administration (BBA) degree in Cape Town. He remembers: “when I was accepted to TSiBA Eden, I knew this was an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and provide for my family.”

“TSiBA taught me resilience; the importance of self-development and, one of my most important values, discipline.”

“In Langa (township), where I live, we have started a community project to pay it forward which is a philosophy I learned at TSiBA. As TSiBA students, we are all on full, or part, tuition scholarships and while we are not required to pay back the scholarship portion monetarily, we are required to pay it forward by transferring our skills into the community to drive social change in our country. For this community initiative we teach youngsters about cycling.”


Daniel (attending a Scout camp)

Daniel lives in Zimbabwe and is so excited to be starting his first year at university this week!

Upon graduating high school (O-levels), Daniel completed 2 years of A-Levels (pre-requisite for university) in December 2015. His final term mark was 14 out of a possible 15. Very impressive. Daniel is one of the most on-purpose young men we know and remains an active leader in the Scouting movement in Zimbabwe.


It won’t be long before Janet will resume her weekday routine of preparing sandwiches for the boys she and Jim tutor/mentor!

Young boys play soccer on a dusty field in Thokoza township east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Thusday, May 28, 2015. The image of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup has been shattered by allegations that its bid over a decade ago was involved in bribes of more than $10 million to secure FIFA votes _ possibly with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Geoffrey Canada (Author, Educator, and Founder of Harlem Children’s Zone) was asked: “What you really think is the way to dig kids out of poverty?”

“I’ll tell you straight. They need all the things you and I give to our own children. What poor kids need is a lot. But you can sum it up by saying that what they need is a decent childhood.” G.C.

From a 21 year-old Jim mentors:

“…and i appreciate that sir. for being there for me you like my father now. And this is how i’m gonna descipline my kids too when they do same mistake as me ..this is a learning curve for me too.”

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Knysna children

Jack Shonkoff  (Harvard University – Center On The Developing Child)
“If you haven’t in your early years been growing up in an environment…that has buffered you from excessive stress activation, then if, …you’re not showing grit and motivation, it may not be a matter of you just not sucking it up enough. A lot if it has to do with problems of focusing attention, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. And you may not have developed those capabilities because of what happened to you early on in your life.


Ben (3rd year Computer Science Degree – University of Western Cape)

Youth Update: Most of the boys and young men continue to do well, but a few are struggling. Ben, Wanga, Aphiwe, Kudzai, Paul, Onke, Siyathemba, Thomas, Mandla, Luyolo, Robin, Vogen, and others (no particular order) are making us particularly proud.

Your donations allow us to support the education of each of these deserving young men. All are studying at the college or university level, or graduating high-school this December and are university-bound.

Thank you for your financial contributions which make these and other success-stories possible.



Boys Who Can’t Read

Eugene is 17 and dropped out of school because he never learned to read. His situation is too common, and is more complex than a few sentences can explain. When Jim departed South Africa in May, Eugene was essentially homeless. Saying good bye to him was very difficult. Regrettably, we know too many ‘Eugenes’.

Teenage boys who are functionally illiterate need a skill which makes them employable, and they need the life skills necessary to retain employment. None are ready for employment, even if a job opportunity existed. Their life skills are as lacking as their literacy/numeracy skills.

Mentorship Program – Carpentry/Life Skills

Next week we commence the search for retired men whose hobbies include carpentry or woodworking. Using print and social media, we are seeking men each willing to mentor 1 youth for a 3 hour period, 1-2 times per week. Suitable mentors must also be interested in imparting life skills. While the mentorship relationship will be structured around 3 hour sessions designed to teach basic carpentry and use of hand-tools, much of the mentor’s role will be that of social worker.

We have been engaged in discussions with a well-established Knysna NGO about partnering with us on this initiative and, in the least, providing facilities where the carpentry training would be delivered. While we anticipate it may be a challenge to identify suitable mentors, we need a solution to restore hope for youth like Eugene. We will keep you updated on our progress.

Thank you for your continued support.  Janet & Jim

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Poverty is Complicated


Ottawa River (Canada)

We are back in Canada and enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, while preparing for our next adventure in South Africa.


Knysna township May 1 – 2016

Poverty is complex. But does this diminish the social value of the more advantaged continuing to strive to better understand the less advantaged?

Statistics South Africa (2009) reports that 61% of children live below the poverty line, with 36% of children living in homes where no adults are employed. (While there are monthly child grants, grants for the elderly, disabled, etc, there is no welfare system for individuals on the basis of having ‘little to no income’ in South Africa.)

South Africa 2010-24

Some might argue: If poor people behaved more like middle class people, they wouldn’t be poor.

“…if I made you poor tomorrow, you’d probably start behaving in many of the same ways we associate with poor people.” Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir)

“Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.” (John Scalzi)

“All the data shows it isn’t about poor people, it’s about people who happen to be in poverty.  …it is not the person, it’s the context they’re inhabiting.”  “…people make bad decisions because they are poor.”  Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir)


overlooking Knysna lagoon from the township

“In August, Science published a landmark study concluding that poverty, itself, hurts our ability to make decisions about school, finances, and life, imposing a mental burden similar to losing 13 IQ points.”   (Your Brain on Poverty: Why Poor People Seem to Make Bad Decisions – Derek Thompson)


Sharldon (on bike) & Max (grade 9 – age 16)

Sharldon is 13 and dropped out of school last year. He was being bullied about the deformity to his right hand (see photo), and never learned to read. He approached Jim in the township asking if Jim would enrol him in the cycling program at Knysna Sports School. Jim visited the non-profit sports program and arranged for Sharldon to start.

BUT…while driving Sharldon to the cycling program his first day, he said something which made Jim wonder if he knew how to ride a bike. Nope, he had never ridden a bike! Next challenge…teach him. Jim drove Sharldon directly to Max’s house, since he knew Max had a bike. Max had just returned from school and immediately agreed to teach Sheldon to ride on the soccer field across the road. Within 20 minutes, Sharldon was riding on his own and able to attend the cycling program.

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the beauty of Cape Town – Clarke awaiting his flight to Canada

An unedited whatsapp message received a few days ago from a 16 year-old youth we’ve tutored and mentored the past 3 years:

“And yah lots of people in need are here in our country and its us black people.. We need mentors and role models and people to talk to all the time we need to talk and that’s u guys…We weren’t as privileged as other people in our growing we had and still have to work hard for a good life and working hard ain’t easy that’s why people like u are special they help us overcome challenges help us heal and realise other things we never realised in our growing. There’s a lot I could say about what u doing for us.”



Jim met Athi in December (2015) and was impressed, but confused. Athi graduated high school 3 years previous, but was now 21 years old and doing little in life. Jim saw plenty of potential, but initially Athi was skeptical and avoided him. That soon changed, and Athi and Jim became good friends.

Sorting out the problems in Athi’s life was not easy, and continues, but there has been considerable progress. Lack of food, issues at home, and many losses in life.

Athi commenced the Hands & Heart skills-training program in late January 2016 and maintains contact with Jim in Canada. Like the many other youths whose education-related expenses are paid from your donations, your contributions sponsor Athi’s monthly tuition fees and make certain he has food to eat while he is “learning to fish.” Thank you.


Roel Goris (to Janet’s left) – Bulele Group

During our final week in South Africa, the Bulele mentorship group invited a special guest. Roel Goris was the South African Ambassador to Thailand from 1992-1996, and during this period organized and accompanied President Nelson Mandela on a two week Southeast Asia tour.


Roel and Prayer (grade 11)

Roel shared many interesting stories and experiences regarding the period preceding and following democracy, and the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. He also explained the role of a diplomat and purpose of having embassies in foreign countries.


Buntu (grade 10 – driver’s seat) and Kweila (grade 11)

Roel’s sports car was a BIG HIT with the guys, and our meeting ended with a “photo shoot” which included many laughs!


left: Jaendré (age 15) right: Chester (21)

Chester and Jaendré live in a small town 45 minutes west of Knysna. Like so many of the youth in the township where they reside, their home situations are not healthy. Many youth turn to drugs as an escape, and a few months ago Jaendré and Chester decided they wanted to stop smoking weed/ganja. It was a struggle, so Jim took them to the Knysna Drug & Alcohol Centre. In late April, Jim and the boys met with a social worker to commence the process of having both boys accepted into a 9 week residential drug rehab program. The social worker has visited the boys twice since we departed, but says the evaluation process still requires 2 more visits and additional paperwork.


Chris – 3rd from left (hat, sunglasses, and dark blue shirt)

When the Khayamandi team of volunteers visited Knysna from America in January 2016, one couple quickly realized this was how they wanted to spend their lives. During their second visit to Knysna, Chris and Rebecca decided they would sell their business in the USA and move their young family to South Africa. Sound far-fetched? Not for this family. The business has sold, the house is for sale, and fundraising to sponsor their mission and October 2016 arrival in South Africa is going well. To better understand their motivation, I have Chris’s permission to share his recent email:

On Apr 30, 2016, at 11:45 PM, Chris wrote:   Dear Jim, Your life challenges mine to live differently. When reading your email posts I am constantly reminded of a scene from the movie Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. In the movie Ben Affleck’s character joined the British Air Force in an effort to get into the air faster to fight the enemy. In the scene Ben Affleck was being briefed by the Royal Air Force officer and Ben Affleck interrupted the officer and said, “sir, can we please skip all this unnecessary stuff and get me up in the air so I can start killing the enemy.” The officer replied, “are all you Yankees this anxious to die?” Ben Affleck responds, “I’m not anxious to die sir…I’m anxious to matter.” You may have never seen that movie, but the final quote is the point…I’m anxious to matter, Jim, and you my friend encourage me to do so. I am in awe of you and your wife’s servant hearts.  Sincerely, Chris

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Literary Festival


Knysna is a scenic retirement and tourist town on the south coast of South Africa which hosts many annual events, one of which is the Knysna Literary Festival.


March 2016

On Friday we took 9 grade 10-12 boys to the Literary Festival event “Fate of The Nation”, in which 4 South African authors and journalists explored the major issues impacting the country. Political, social, and economic factors were debated over a 90 minute period, culminating in questions from the 200 member audience. Thank you to our friend, Ken, who volunteered his time to help with transportation.


Being interviewed by a journalist

The media were intrigued by our group of 9 boys from 3 local high schools and immediately requested photographs and interviews. As the only youth members of the audience, and the only blacks, the boys grabbed the attention of the journalists.


Literary Festival – Siyathemba, Kweila, Prayer

“Boys Being Boys” outside the 5-star Pezula Hotel, site of the Knysna Literary Festival.

We selected the 9 boys based on their academic focus and potential. One of the boys, Onke, has the highest grade 12 marks at his school. Thank you for your donations which sponsored the boys’ tickets (R100 each -$9.00 CDN).



Ktokozo survived the 400km, 20 day Oakhill Odyssey which is a mandatory experience for all grade 10 students at the private school he attends.


Ntokozo & Mom (Thoko)

Ntokozo’s mom was waiting at his school when he and his group returned on Thursday morning. Ntokozo and his mom are very close. African boys LOVE their mothers.



The Hands & Heart construction-skills program helps fill a huge need for practical training to enhance the employability of youth. Vogen is 17 years old and a terrific kid. He was unlikely to complete high school, so stopped attending grade 10 in January once accepted into Hands and Heart. Vogen loves the program and now knows he is “good with his hands”. Your donations sponsor Vogen’s tuition of R100 ($9.00 CDN) per month and provide toiletries and basic clothing. Like many, his home situation is challenging.



Robin is thriving at TSiBA college and loving the practical program in business administration. He was 1 of 3 students selected to attend an event at the literary festival in recognition of the leadership skills he demonstrated during his first term at TSiBA. Thank you for enabling the sponsorship of Robin’s R180 per month tuition & residence fees.


Stephen & Ella

Stephen is one of the 15 children Ella & Penny care for. He recently became quite ill and the doctors suspected meningitis. Despite a negative spinal tap, he was treated for 5 days with intravenous antibiotics and is now home and doing better. We wish him well.

L to R: Masande, Azo, Mziyanda

Thank you for your continued support – Janet & Jim       Contact Us / Donate

Accomplishments & Challenges


L to R: Akhona & Rhino

We feel very fortunate to do what we do. The number of boys and young men whose lives we get to impact on a daily basis reminds us how lucky we are. While it is still over 2 months away, leaving South Africa is going to be very difficult for us.

The nature of what we do works, but the needs are enormous. The degree of poverty and daily struggle for survival faced by most township residents is much greater than many residents of Knysna realize.

The fact that you are reading this blog post means you are more aware than most, and already contributing in the form of moral and/or financial support. Thank you.


Ben (painting at Ella’s/Penny’s Safehouse)

Guys like Ben make our job easy. Despite being kidnapped by armed rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at age 10, and still not knowing the whereabouts or status of his parents, Ben is doing well in his 3rd/final year of a computer science degree at University of the Western Cape. Ben’s education expenses are sponsored by Karen & Mike from Canada and the Khayamandi Foundation.


Janet, Thembinkosi, Sinoyolo

To further support the members of her Concordia High School physics study group, Janet downloaded 180 instructional videos onto 2 donated laptops. The computers are kept at 2 of the boys homes which most consistently have electricity, but are available for all of the boys to use.


L to R: Masande, Azo, Mzi

The majority of the boys in our tutoring and mentorship groups are doing well and we continue to add new members. Most of the previously gang-involved youth have ceased such activities and the more academic guys have re-focused their efforts on school and we selected 4 to attend Janet’s study groups.


Jaendré (15 years old)

15 year-old Jaendré dropped out of school in grade 6 , but is able to read. Jim met Jaendré 5 weeks ago and has arranged for him to be assessed by the Department of Education, such that we can determine how to proceed in his best interest. Jaendré was living in the streets and begging for food, but is now staying with his grand parents.

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Akhona & Jaendré

Drug use is a common problem here, and the above photo captures Akhona (age 17) explaining his personal experience with marijuana and the addictive nature of this drug. Akhona told 15 year-old Jaendré about the difficult withdrawal symptoms he experienced, which are common among boys who have been smoking 2-4 times per day for an extended period. More concerning is that regular users sometimes progress to smoking TIK (crystal meth).


L to R: Lolo (Ntokozo’s brother-grade 4) & Ntokozo

Each year the grade 10 students at the private school attended by Ntokozo are required to participate in the Oakhill School Odyssey. Students hike-bike-canoe 400km over a 20 day period. Ntokozo’s group departed this past Friday and return March 17th.


Ntokozo’s group leaving Knysna

From a 16 year-old boy facing serious criminal charges who Jim has been mentoring the past 4 weeks:

“Thanks for believing in me Jim, you made me see a vision bigger then a picture,crazy i just needed someone to show me the picture again.”

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Your donations enabled us to help many youth prepare for the start of the 2016 high school year, enrol in Hands & Heart Skills Training, and commence or return to college  and university. Thank you!

Yesterday Jim purchased school shoes for a grade 10 boy whose home situation is not good. The boy was wearing one size 5 shoe and one size 7. His correct shoe size is 7.

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Janet with the little ones

Each Wednesday morning, Janet, Penny, & Sue visit a different preschool (crèche) to teach township children about responsible pet ownership using videos on iPads and laptops. Yes, that’s correct, Janet working with young children!!!!

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Sue & Liyakhanya (grade 3)

Sue and husband, Ian, reside in the U.K. and spend 3 months each year in South Africa. They have been our neighbours the past 2 years and Sue now tutors Liya in English, as well as participating in the responsible pet ownership program. Thanks Sue!


Hands & Heart 2016

The #1 item on Jim’s wish list is a trade skills program for illiterate boys, modelled after YFC’s highly successful Hands & Heart initiative. Three of the youth we mentor are currently enrolled in Hands & Heart 2016, which is a 1 year program providing practical training in carpentry, tiling, plumbing, & welding, however the young men must be literate.

Jim’s wish is a carpentry program for boys aged 15 to 21 which is suitable for youth who are unable to read. Jim mentors many boys who dropped out of school between grades 6 and 9 because they never learned to read. When the teasing from classmates becomes too much to tolerate, the boys drop out of school.


This week Jim started planting the seed with potential individuals and organizations for a carpentry program geared to illiterate, yet determined, young men. One possibility is retired men whose hobby is wood-working, but who also have a passion to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth. We’ll keep you posted on our progress!

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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.