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 – 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 – Ubuntu – 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: “What 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.” – 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

Previous Blog Posts               To Donate

Arrived Safely

img_1109

Kweila

We arrived safely in South Africa and devoted our first week to settling-in, adjusting to the 6 hour time change, and reconnecting with friends & contacts. Clarke, our dog, also arrived without incident and is doing great.

Janet presented Kweila (see photo) with one of five reconditioned laptops we will be placing with grade 12 high school students and first year college/university students. Kweila commences grade 12 in January, and was just thrilled with his first computer! Thank you to Mona & Paul of Ottawa, Canada for your helpful donation.

Tomorrow we resume our regular schedule in the township and get to work. We both have a full week ahead and are anxious to get started!

img_0436

Excerpt from Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Sebastian Junger)

“It’s common knowledge in the Peace Corps that as stressful as life in a developing country can be, returning to a modern country can be far harder. One study found that one in four Peace Corps volunteers reported experiencing significant depression after their return home…”

“What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender.”

“Whatever the technological advances of modern society – and they’re nearly miraculous – the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be brutalizing to the human spirit.”

“Our fundamental desire, as human beings, is to be close to others…”

Thank you for your continued interest & support.  Janet & Jim 

Africa & Sissies

IMG_1995

The Khayamandi Team + local guys

Africa is not for sissies, and there certainly were no sissies when the Khayamandi Foundation recently returned to Knysna. The group of 14 from America worked alongside local tradespeople and youth, including 12 of the boys and young men we mentor, to complete a 4 bedroom addition to one of Ella’s & Penny’s safe houses for young children. It is always a jam-packed week when the “Americans” are in town (lol), with plenty of positive and lasting impact.

Knysna-20160118-00508

Everyone worked extremely hard under the hot African sun. This was the first real job for most of our 12 boys, but they quickly demonstrated their willingness to follow instructions and remain focused. The 12 guys included Ben, who just completed the 2nd year of a Computer Science degree and whose education is sponsored by Khayamandi, 3 former gang-involved boys who took the day off school to help, young guys who were waiting to start college the following week, and others who dropped out of high school 2-3 years ago. It was a life-altering experience for all the boys.

IMG_1977

Rhino and Olwethu

Rhino is 16, stopped going to school in grade 7, and cannot read. We met him in 2014 when he walked onto the Khayamandi site and worked the full week with no expectation of financial compensation. He returned for the 2016 Khayamandi week which led to a permanent job with the project’s general contractor and Rhino is now learning the skills of carpentry. Olwethu is in grade 10 and decided he also wants to become a carpenter.

Knysna-20160122-00552

Jennifer, Akhona, Chris, Kyle (red shirt)

Kyle developed a strong friendship with Akhona when the Khayamandi team visited in 2014 and Kyle (U.S. army medic) was treating a large cut on Akhona’s foot. This time Kyle’s wife accompanied him to Knysna such that she could meet the 17 year-old boy Kyle had grown fond of. Tears were shed, and Jennifer and Kyle continue to be very supportive of Akhona who now works for a new painting contractor.

IMG_1955

Athi – worked all week with Khayamandi

Jim was introduced to Athi in December and Athi’s extra effort at the Khayamandi work site earned him the largest cash bonus of all the youth. Athi has been stalled in life since completing high school and we introduced him to a 1 year trade skills program called Hands and Hearts. Upon completing his week with Khayamandi, Athi applied to the skills program and was accepted. He loves the program and is now hopeful about his future.

IMG-20160118-00511

Masibulele – worked all week with Khayamandi

IMG_1994

The painting crew

One of the boys we met in March 2015 was recently accepted to TSiBA College and wrote the following: “Hey, what a great 1st academic week 😊 ,Thanks 4 getting me into this place, I can feel it will certainly work wonders 4 me & my future, 🙏🏿 thanks again😀”

Knysna-20160121-00530

Andrew – worked 2 days with Khayamandi

Jim was recently introduced to Andrew who is 19 and ceased attending school in grade 9. Last week they identified possible sites for Andrew to start a car wash business catering to taxi vans in the township and, on Monday, he and Jim will acquire the supplies Andrew needs to start earning an income.

IMG_1993

Masibulele & Mandla – both worked the full week with Khayamandi

Masibulele completed grade 12 in November and commenced a 1 year business certificate at TSiBA College on January 25th. Mandla just started a 1 year certificate in social work (with sponsorship from Khayamandi) at a Cape Town College. Having lived 12 of his initial 18 years in an orphanage, it has always been Mandla’s dream to study social work and help disadvantaged youth.

IMG-20160201-WA002

Hands & Heart -Class of 2016

Hands & Heart is an 11 month trade skills program operated by YFC Knysna which provides hands-on training in plumbing, tiling, carpentry, and welding, along with business and life skills. We believe this is one of the best programs in Knysna! Three of the boys we mentor joined the class of 2016 on January 25th and they all love it! Vogen is 17, Athi is 21, and Gavin is 23. This represents a new and promising start in life for all 3 guys.

IMG_3335

Ntokozo & Kurt Cooper of Khayamandi

Ntokozo continues to do well (grade 10) at the private school he attends, thanks to sponsorship from Khayamandi. While he was unable to work at the safe house project due to school, Ntokozo joined the Khayamandi team for dinner on their final night. Ntokozo is Captain of his school chess team and recently completed peer counselling training.

IMG-20151102-00431

posted at township medical clinic

Life in the townships is difficult and our friends who are involved in social-betterment projects are fond of saying that Africa is not for sissies.

Since our previous blog post, one more boy Jim knew was stabbed and killed, and another almost died from stab wounds. Jim met the 17 year-old who was killed just 2 weeks prior to his death. He dropped out of school in grade 10 and was scheduled to work with the Khayamandi team as the next step in his new start in life.

IMG-20160123-WA000

Buntu’s incision

Buntu is 17 and in grade 10. He is a good student, responsible guy, and joined our Bulele mentorship group in December. Buntu was stabbed mid-January during daylight hours less than 1 kilometre from his home. He required emergency surgery.

IMG_1918

Buntu (far right, striped shirt)

Buntu (far right in striped shirt) is now doing much better, and returned to school this past week. However, growing up in the township is not easy.

IMG_1967

Students waiting for school gate to be unlocked.

“Schools Reflect Society they do not change it. The danger to our society is maintaining the myth that the miseducation of millions for over half a century merely results in personal tragedies.”  Dr. Martin Haberman.

Education & Skills Training

IMG-20160112-WA000

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.

IMG_1947

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.

IMG_3317

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.

IMG_3322

Akhona

IMG_1951

Chester FINALLY has a South African identity card!

IMG_1953

Chester

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.

Knysna-20160113-00498

Steven

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.😪

IMG_1939

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

IMG_2679

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.

Knysna-20160112-00497

Sipho

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.

IMG_2008

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%.

IMG_2514

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.

DSCN8851

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.

DrMartinHaberman

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.”

Knysna-20151227-00492

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.”

IMG-20150424-WA000

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.

thomas-edison

“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.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from South Africa! December 25th is forecast to be sunny with a high of 23C here in Knysna.

DSCN8847

Knysna township

December is the month when many Xhosa boys return to the rural areas to be initiated into manhood. The boys are now starting to return to their homes in Knysna and for a period of 3-6 months are required to wear a jacket, buttoned shirt, hat, whenever they are in public.

Version 2

Simbulele (19 years old)

Simbulele is 19 years old and returned to his family’s village to commence the initiation tradition on November 27th. He completed his initiation on December 19th and is required to dress “like a man” for the next 3-6 months, including after he returns to school in a couple weeks to start grade 12.

DSCN8851

Knysna township

Thank you for following our blog and supporting our initiatives with disadvantaged youth in 2015. We have some new initiatives which commence when the schools re-open January 13th and look forward to telling you about these projects and a number of other developments in our next blog post.

In the meantime, we trust you are enjoying the holiday season with family and friends. All the best in 2016!

Janet & Jim

Road to freedom

Among the South African youth we know, few complain to us about their social or economic situations. When they do, their comments tend to be consistent with the following examples.

22 year-old college student spending the night at our home 2 years ago: “you see my people laughing, and dancing, but on the inside we are hurting. What we want are jobs”.

Plett Siba's photos_2012 02 25_0937_edited-1

youth in Kwanokuthula township (20 minutes from Knysna)

A few days ago, a 15 year-old we have known for 3 years conveyed the following to Jim on whatsapp:

“I wonder why people are so cruel…They say we (blacks) have been given freedom, that we are now free from the suffering, from the apartheid, but we are not, and we were never free, our people are still being treated like trash, the ones in power are still taking advantage of them, and the weak are powerless to fight back, as they are in need….I wish I had all the power to fight for our people and give them the freedom they were promised.

And the name “kaffer” (sic) that was used to discriminate blacks during the apartheid era is still being used….because I think the cruel, the powerful make the things they make because of they feel like they have everything they need and they don’t need other people, or because of they have never felt the pain us blacks felt back then and the pain we feel now.”

Plett Siba's photos_2012 02 25_0915

teen boy in Kwanokuthula township

The current population of South Africa is: Black 80%, White 8.5%, Coloured 8.5%, Indian or Asian 2.5%, Other 0.5

Cape Town Food Safari…watch this 2 minute video and try to convince us you can’t wait to experience beautiful South Africa!

Cape Town Food Safari video