Approaches to Education

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Janet and Siyathemba (age 17) receiving a reconditioned laptop (1 of 6 provided by Kurt Cooper)

Siyathemba graduated (matriculated) from a township high school in December 2016 and just started university in Cape Town. We have known Siyathemba since he was in grade 9, and you will not meet a finer young man. He comes from a good family, father is employed, mother passed away 2 years ago, and his older brother is completing his final year of university (engineering). Siyathemba required assistance with his university registration fees which are not funded by government student loan programs, and we were pleased to help (R5,000).

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Kurt Cooper (volunteer from USA) – Hands & Heart (carpentry/welding program)

Many of the boys in the Hands & Heart carpentry/welding program dropped out of school in grade 9, but are literate. Too many come from homes where emotional and physical abuse is the norm.

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Santhonio – age 16

Santhonio is 16 years old, dropped out of grade 9 in 2016, and now attends Hands & Heart. The daily walk from the township to Hands & Heart is long and includes shortcuts through the bush. Like a number of the H & H students, Santhonio lacked suitable shoes. We purchase many pairs of shoes, as shoes eliminate a common barrier to education.

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Mandla (age 16 – grade 8)

Mandla dropped out of grade 8 in 2016 following 3 years of violence in his home. His mother and step-father have since divorced, and he is now staying with relatives. Mandla attained respectable marks in grade 7 and wanted to return to school, however township schools are overcrowded and many have waiting lists. In January, Mandla’s mother was told he was too old to repeat grade 8 which, according to Department of Education policy, is correct.

Jim contacted the Department who agreed to interview Mandla and assess his situation. Long story short, Mandla was allowed to return to his former high school this past Wednesday and is now repeating grade 8. He’s a very happy boy!

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Garald (Program Director – Hands & Heart)

Hands and Heart provides the prospect of a brighter future, and uplifts youth by restoring self-confidence and teaching hand-skills which can lead to employment.

While it is common for boys to smile on the outside, many cry when Jim speaks with them alone. Many feel lost, most are fatherless, and too many feel shame.

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Danville (age 17) – Hands & Heart

Ten youth who are not literate now join the 25 full-time Hands & Heart students each Friday to learn carpentry and life skills. Thank you to YFC Knysna for making this happen, and providing an option for the many youth who never learned to read and dropped out of school between grades 6 and 9. Needless to say, we have a waiting list of boys for the Friday program.

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Janet and Mihle (grade 9)

It would be easier if we only mentored responsible youth who were doing well at school. However, frustrated drop-outs, illiterate boys, and gang-involved youth undermine families, communities, and schools. Ignored long enough, some will inevitably become the criminals of tomorrow. School Principals and Department of Education officials are very supportive of programs like Hands & Heart and the Friday carpentry initiative. The next challenge is ‘scale’, and serving a larger number of youth.

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Penny and Lolo (grade 5)

Lolo is the latest boy to be sponsored by the Khayamandi Foundation of Augusta, Georgia, and he now attends a private school in Knysna similar to his older brother, Ntokozo (grade 11). Thank you Khayamandi.

Our Canadian friend Penny has been tutoring Lolo each week during her 7 week stay in Knysna and her husband, Don, volunteers each Friday at Hands & Heart. Thank you both.

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Haylen’s vision is currently 20:200 in both eyes. Corrected vision will be 20:40 in 1 eye and remain 20:200 in the other, but this will be life-changing to this likeable young guy who works hard at H and H. Haylen moved to Knysna to escape gangsterism on the Cape Flats of Cape Town.

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Haylen – age 17

Robin recently commenced his 2nd year at TSiBA College and was just voted President of the Student Representative Council for 2017! Robin has no family to assist him, and we sponsor his annual fees (R1,700), stationary supplies (R500) and incidental expenses.

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Robin – 2nd year TSiBA College

Marowayne commenced his first year of study at TSiBA in January 2017 and also required our sponsorship of TSiBA fees, stationary, etc. Maryanne’s parents are both deceased, and studying at TSiBA has been life-changing for him.

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Kudzai (2nd year University of Namibia), Jim, Junior (final year of College in Johannesburg) – from the archives!

Thanks to everyone who is already helping and making it possible to positively impact the lives of deserving youth here in South Africa. 

We greatly appreciate your continued support. Janet, Jim, & Clarke 

What’s Normal?

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Langa Township tour (oldest township in Cape Town) – December 2016. L to R: Jim, Shooter (age 66 – in front of his house), Janet

Normal: the usual, average, or typical state or condition.

While the definition of normal may be the same all over the world, the usual or typical state or condition varies widely.

We mentor boys and young men who are growing up in an environment which many of our readers may not consider normal.

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Franschhoek Wine Valley – near Cape Town (visited by Janet & Jim – Xmas 2016)

When Jim tells some of the boys that, in Canada, he does not personally know anyone who has been robbed, stabbed, raped, charged with a serious crime, or been in prison, they are surprised.

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Township adjacent to scenic Franschhoek (visited by Janet & Jim – Xmas 2016)

During a discussion with a 21 year-old college student (Shane) regarding male role models and the challenge of growing up in a township, Jim mentioned that he had never seen a stab wound prior to visiting South Africa. The youth’s eyebrows raised and he responded “Jim, how can that be?”

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Township in Franschhoek, one of the most popular and scenic towns in South Africa (Visited by Janet & Jim Xmas 2016)

“If you have a good brain and the world you grow up in (chaos of poverty, bad school) demands that you shut it down, you are bound to suffer.” Why Smart People Hurt – Eric Maisel

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Imizamo Yethu township (Hout Bay). 90% of residents live in shacks. (Visited by Janet & Jim Xmas 2016)

Some people continue to ask whether what we do makes a difference. The irony is that it would be very difficult to not make a difference.

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L to R: Gaylen & Jaendré (December 2016)

So many young people are desperately seeking guidance and direction in life. Many are lost, like a rudderless boat at sea.

On a daily basis we see teenage boys come alive, and feel hopeful for the first time in a long while. They start believing in themselves again. Working with disadvantaged township youth has been our most rewarding experience in life. 

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L to R: Harris, Zane, Jim, Max (December 2016)

Jim recently took 4 teenage boys to visit their 4 teenage friends who are in custody at a juvenile correctional centre awaiting trial on very serious charges.

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L to R: Max, Zane, Olwethu, Harris

One of the 4 youth in custody for 16 months while awaiting trial told Jim “You see us laugh when you visit, but it is tough in here. It’s dangerous, with 30-35 guys per cell, and not a place the other guys want to be.” 

None of the 8 boys, including the 4 in custody, believe crime is acceptable. But many grow up in environments where fighting, bullying, drug use, being robbed, dysfunctional homes (alcoholism, violence), and barely passing (or failing) at school has a semblance of ‘normal’. Not right, but normal.

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Mosselbay Junvenile Correctional Centre

Upon exiting the correctional centre, Jim and the boys had a healthy discussion about ‘normal’. Their normal, Jim’s normal, and the normal facing their friends in custody. No one was flippant or disinterested. The mood was sombre.

If we ignore such youth, it will likely be at our peril.

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Chester (commences carpentry training February 3rd)

The Hands & Heart carpentry & welding program commences Monday, January 16th, and the 24 guys are very excited to start.

The 1 day per week carpentry program for boys who struggle to read begins Friday, February 3rd and Jim has selected the initial 10 youth.

The college and university students previously profiled on our blog all continue to do well, academically and otherwise.

Final results for all grade 12 students in South Africa were released 5 days ago. Many of the original members of our Bulele mentorship groups completed grade 12 in 2016, and all did well. Most did very well and will attend universities in Cape Town.

Schools reopen Wednesday, January 11th for the start of the 2017 academic year.

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township spaza shop (corner store)

“All the best in 2017 and thanks for your continued support.” Janet & Jim 

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The Future is Now

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L to R: Santhonio, Friend, Angel, Shilyn

Don Pinnock, author of Gang Town, argues that, for many township youth in Cape Town, the future is now. When your community and/or home environment is violent, and there is a chronic shortage of food and other essentials of life, the prospect of a future which is brighter than today may seem implausible.

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L to R: Garald (H & H Instructor), Simbulele (grade 12), Tyler (grade 8), Denver (grade 9), Khanyile (grade 12)

Skills programs such as Hands and Heart which teach carpentry and welding provide hope of a future which includes the prospect of gainful employment for many of the youth we mentor. Jim recently took 6 of the 8 youth in the preceding photos for interviews at H & H, and a 7th will attend the new carpentry mentorship program for boys who can’t read.

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Interview Day at H & H: Zukisani (matric), Urhll, O-Joe, Vano. (the latter 3 youth ceased attending school after completing grade 8 or 9)

While most of the youth Jim has taken to H & H for interviews are 16-17 years of age, and did not complete grade 9, others will complete high school (grade 12) this month or matriculated 1-2 years ago.

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Grade 9 at boys Percy Mdala High School (Principal at rear).

On November 18th, the Principal of Percy Mdala, Deputy Principal, and Jim enlightened all the grade 9 boys regarding the Hands & Heart skills program. The presentation was directed to boys who are struggling academically and who enjoy working with their hands. Most of the boys who expressed a strong interest in H & H were 17 or 18 years of age, yet still in grade 9.

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playing dominoes in the township

Wood-Working Mentorship commences February 3rd!

Thanks to the supportive team at Hands & Heart, the carpentry mentorship program we envisioned becomes a reality commencing February 3rd. Each Friday, availing of the H & H facilities and instructors, supported by the adult mentors Jim recently recruited, will teach wood-working skills to illiterate youth aged 14 to 22. This means young guys who lack the literacy skills required for H & H will now have an opportunity to acquire much-needed life and hand-skills. Thank you to the wonderful team at YFC Knysna for their many initiatives designed to uplift local youth.

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Kurt (Ben’s university sponsor) and Ben

Many of our readers are familiar with Ben who, at the age of 10 was kidnapped, along with his father, by armed rebels from their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ben and a few boys escaped from the camp and made their way to Zambia where Ben eventually found his uncle and aunt who resided there. Long story short, his Aunt brought him to South Africa where Ben attended school from grade 5 to 12, all the while never knowing the fate of his father and family in the DRC. We met Ben when he was in grade 11. In 2016 Ben completed his 3rd year of a computer science degree at UWC in Cape Town.

3 days ago, after 12 long years, Ben found his family!

“I…have many reasons to be thankful at this moment. Today is literally the best day of my life. My longtime prayer has been answered.

I’m proud, happy, excited, delightful, joyful to announce that I talked to my mom, dad and siblings today. They’re all well. I can’t put into words how I’m feeling right now.

Here’s how it happened, couple of weeks ago, my cousin in Joburg phoned me to tell me that she gave my contact details to a man. This man is an African arts and crafts dealer who travels regularly in Zimbabwe and Malawi to buy arts and crafts to sell it in South Africa. One day during a conversation with my cousin, he mentioned a young Congolese barber he knew in Harare (Zimbabwe) that he was fond of, he turned out to have the same name and surname and age as my younger brother. My cousin immediately believed there was a huge possibility it could be my brother because years back we received news that linked them to the possibility that they might be in Zimbabwe but we couldn’t get any further lead that time .

… yesterday I got a phone call from them (My parents), they were so happy to know that I’m alive and well . Reception wasn’t very good because they live in a rural area but it WAY was better than nothing. We’ve still got a lot to catch up. I’ll call them tomorrow (in Zimbabwe).”

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Siya (grade 6) and Annie

Our good friends from the U.K., Annie & Dick, have been generous supporters of our initiatives the past 2 years. Most recently, Annie took the big leap and became a volunteer! Annie joins Janet each Monday and tutors Siya in grade 6 English. Thank you Annie!

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L to R: Siyambonga (grade 9) and Mxolisi (grade 9)

Our first month in South Africa is particularly busy for Janet, as November is the final month of the school year. Not only are the grade 8-11 boys writing final exams for each subject in November, but the grade 12 youth write their national matric exams. The school year in South Africa commences in January and ends the first week of December. While this is a stressful period for the boys, Janet thrives on it!

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L to R: Brendan (14) and Monti (13) – both in grade 7

Knysna Hope (NGO) has organized a 3 night camp for youth aged 12-15 this January at the Outward Bound camp facilities near Knysna. Funding from the Khayamandi Foundation means disadvantaged youth may attend for free.

We have been busy promoting the camp to many of the boys we know. Brendan and Mongi are impressive young guys and both are excited about attending the camp. The boys and their friends love to rap, and they create their own beats and write the lyrics. They participate in rap competitions and are keen to record their music. Jim knows some high school guys who have a small recording studio in the township and a visit is planned for next week.

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Onke

Congratulations Onke! We met Onke when he was in grade 9 and joined our original Bulele mentorship group. He just completed grade 12 and attained the highest academic results at his high school!! Two years ago a Canadian friend visited us, met Onke, and was immediately impressed. To reward Onke’s hard work at school, and support him as he commences his university education, this couple from Ottawa (Canada) purchased a new laptop computer for Onke! Thank you for your kindness.

Onke has applied to many of the top universities in South Africa and intends to study accounting, with a minor in economics. Watch this young man…he will go far.

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Thank you to all our followers for your continued support. We have been extremely busy, even more so than previous years. Time is of the essence to coach the graduating grade 12 youth on a suitable path for 2017, as well as grade 9 youth who previously dropped out of school or do not plan to return in 2017. It is also the time of year when we make sure youth who are commencing college, university, or trade skills training have an appropriate pair of shoes and basic clothing. Many do, but many don’t. The depth of poverty experienced daily by so many of the 200 young men we now mentor still, occasionally, blindsides us. Just when we think there is little left to surprise us, it happens.

Janet & Jim 

Iizidima Homepage

Township Environment

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Knysna township

There are few days when we are not reminded that there is plenty to be thankful for in life. Given what we do in South Africa, we would need to be blind, in a physical and emotional sense, to not experience this sentiment. The living conditions and depth of poverty experienced by so many Africans, while in close proximity to areas of affluence and abundance, is jarring. Imagine visiting another planet each day,

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Shacks which will be demolished to allow for construction of government-provided homes

Similar to most of our supporters, we grew up in proper homes, a safe neighbourhood, raised by educated, employed parents, who provided us the material necessities of life. We attended good schools. Our friends and families lived similar lives.

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Temporary government-supplied, single-room wooden homes for former shack-dwellers awaiting construction of government-provided concrete-block houses (subject to a means-test).

We can’t recall a day as a child or adult when we lacked food, electricity, a dry, warm place of safety, or worried whether there would be food to eat.

Like anywhere, the environment in which one grows up is a critical factor. While there are many positive aspects of the township environment, such as a wonderful sense of community, and a vibrancy, there are also negatives. The impact of poverty, crime, drugs, alcoholism, poor nutrition, and under-resourced schools, take their toll.

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photo by Emzini tours

Jim recalls the disbelief of an 18 year-old when discussing how Jim had never experienced a day when he had to wonder whether there would be sufficient food. There was similar surprise at a mentorship group when Jim conveyed that, prior to coming to South Africa, he had never seen a stab wound. The boys wondered aloud how this could be possible?

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Jim’s friends: all of whom dropped out of school and can’t read

At the age of 6, one of the boys in the above photo witnessed his father stabbed and killed metres away from their home. The boy smokes ganja (marijuana) each afternoon and evening to suppress the nightmares, and enable him to sleep. None of the 4 boys can read, and all dropped out of school between grades 5-8.

Another boy Jim knows (not in photo) was present when his father tried to hang himself. The boy was 13 years-old and he collapsed at the sight, fell into a coma, and was hospitalized for 8 months. The rope around his father’s neck broke, and he survived. The boy is now 18 years-old, can’t read, and dropped out of grade 10 in January of this year.

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Primary school-children lining up for the bus home

Excerpt from April 2016 Knysna-Plett Herald newspaper article regarding our initiatives:  Developing Male Role Models

“Onke Sibindi (17) from Percy Mdala said, “I no longer take them as my mentors but my parents, since my interaction with them I have stopped taking things for granted. I am more focused on my future and investing in it. They keep motivating us.”

The Grade 12 learner and top achiever continued, “The literary festival was fantastic, I loved the politics.” He said he always wanted to work in the public sector, but through different interactions during the mentorship programme he is now enlightened and wishes to grow in the private sector.

Ntokozo Rwaphuluza, a Grade 10 learner from Oakhill, said, “I met the Jamers two years ago when I was doing my Grade 8 at Percy Mdala, and they introduced me to their friend who is now funding my education at Oakhill.” The 16-year-old said he has learnt so much about life skills and how to deal with problems. “More than anything I have learnt how to strive to be better,” said Rwaphuluza.

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Ongeziwe (far right) and friends

Last week Jim accompanied another boy to the township medical clinic for an HIV test. This was the youth’s first visit to the clinic, so a medical file had to opened. One of the questions asked of the 17 year-old was “do you have a mother or father?”

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sign outside entrance to medical clinic

The good news is that the boy was negative for HIV. This was his first HIV test and 100 days had elapsed since his risk of exposure to HIV (it can take up to 90 days for the HIV virus to become detectable). Each of the 3 other boys Jim accompanied for HIV-screening this year also tested negative.

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Your donations: One of our largest expenditures is shoes. In particular, school-schools. At a cost of approximately 300 Rand ($30.00 CDN / $25.00 USD), this type of shoe is a mandatory part of of the school uniform. Shoes take a beating with some kids having long walks to school, gravel roads, kicking a soccer ball while at school, etc. With many households surviving on R1,500 – R2,500 per month, and having to choose between buying food and electricity or shoes, there may be no money for school-shoes.

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Thomas and Nolu – April 2016

Congratulations to Thomas on his recent graduation from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) with a 4 year diploma in financial management! Thomas is now augmenting his diploma with 1 year B. Tech. at NMMU and will seek employment in 2017. His special friend, Nolu, is completing her final year of a forestry degree at NMMU. Their education has been generously supported by a Canadian couple. Thank you!

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March 2016

Excerpt from “Writing My Wrongs”, by Shaka Senghor:

“Many well-meaning people come to Detroit with a missionary mentality,” he said. “Then they realize just how tough our problems are. If you want to make a real impact, you have to go out among the people in the communities and not buy into the romanticized view of Detroit based on midtown and downtown.”

Thank you, Shaka. We followed your advice, and your words have served us well. Our lives have been changed forever.

Thank you for your continued support, and helping us bring hope and opportunity into the lives of disadvantaged youth. The next blog post will be from Canada!  Janet & Jim

Young Life Lost

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Knysna (viewed from The Heads)

Knysna is a stunningly beautiful place, and most of our blog posts include plenty of smiling youth and positive stories. Sadly, this post is different, yet we believe it provides valuable perspective on our initiatives in South Africa.

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Knysna looking west

Yesterday, one of the youth Jim knows was stabbed and killed. Yibanathi was only 16 years old, and the youth who stabbed him was 18 years old, so will be prosecuted as an adult. One young life ended, another likely lost to prison, and 2 families impacted forever.

Update (August 19, 2015): Charges against the 18 year-old youth who stabbed Yibanathi were dropped by police due to insufficient evidence.

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Yibanathi (April 2015)

Yibanati (ee-ban-ah-tee) was one of the boys Jim worked with at the high school where    3 youth gangs signed a truce in late April. The truce remains in effect between these 3 groups of boys. Yibanathi may not have been completely innocent in life, but he was a  good son, a likeable kid, artistic, and introspective.

Over the past few weeks, gang issues flared up at the second high school we frequent. There have been fights and stabbings, including 3 boys from one of the gangs being charged with the stabbing murder of a 22 year-old male outside of school. Allegedly, the incident pertained to a dispute over a cell phone. The boys, aged 16, 17, and 18, who we do not know, have been charged with murder.

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Yibanati – standing, 5th from left with hand over face.

The vast majority of youth we have met over the past 5 years are responsible guys who never get in trouble at school, and certainly not the law, and remain focused on their education and a brighter future. Accordingly, some might argue that the path one follows in life is a choice, and it was Yibanathi who made some bad choices.

When you know the boy personally, it is difficult to be so pragmatic. Jim knew his mother, visited their modest wood home (a shack) on a few occasions, and maintained contact with Yibanathi’s mom since returning to Canada.

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Yibanathi and his family lived in poverty. His mother is unemployed. There was no father in his life. Growing up in a township environment can easily pull one in the wrong direction, and inappropriate actions may bring trouble. Remaining safe can be a challenge. Safety and protection is one of the main reasons boys band together.

Starting Monday, the Safe Schools Project will provide 4 safety officers to patrol the school’s perimeter fence. As is common in South Africa, both high schools are surrounded by a high chain link fence topped with razor wire.

As one of our “in-the-know” friends in Knysna frequently comments, life in the township is difficult.

 

Africa Makes Us Smile

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Having fun in Knysna township

We’re back in Canada and enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. Canada is a wonderful country and we are so fortunate to have been born in this safe and  economically/politically stable country.

However, we miss Africa because Africa makes us smile!

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It is difficult to travel 10 minutes in South Africa without seeing something that makes us smile or laugh! Crazy things happen in Africa. Kids dance on top of guardrails, people sway to music while waiting for a traffic light (a.k.a. robot) to change, piglets scurry across the road in the township, and people commonly find a reason to laugh.

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Onke (grade 11)

Onke is among the top 2-3 students in his grade 11 class, studies hard, is articulate, clever, and will inevitably do well in life. He remains an active member of our original Bulele mentorship group and plans to study economics and work as a government economist. Janet presented Onke with a reconditioned laptop donated by friends of ours in Ottawa and delivered to South Africa a few weeks ago by a visiting Canadian friend.

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prior to entering the prison

Have you seen the American television show Beyond Scared Straight?  At-risk youth, most of whom are already in trouble with the law, visit an adult prison where guards and inmates provide a no-nonsense taste of prison life. They get frisked, lectured, screamed at, locked up, and intimidated by inmates and guards alike.

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The boys being indoctrinated by the guards on arrival at the prison entrance. “You are now on our turf and will do things our way”. (Notice that no one is smiling)

Just prior to returning to Canada Jim took 21 of the 45 gang youth to visit the Knysna Correctional Centre. These are the same youth who signed a Truce and agreed to stop fighting 4 weeks ago (the Truce remains in effect).

The American television show has nothing on the performance the inmates and guards delivered on each of our 2 visits! They were very tough, and all of the boys were scared. Within minutes, the inmates and guards eradicated any signs of bravado from the boys.

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This photo captures Janet saying good bye to some of the boys on her final day of tutoring high school math. Leaving is always difficult and, while we keep in touch with many of the youth using WhatsApp instant messaging, it is never easy to depart or be     so far away.

Jim & Janet return to South Africa in October 2015. 

More Youth & Needs

 

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L to R: Siyambonga, Ntokozo, Siyathemba, Sonwa

Meet the 2 newest members of the Bulele mentorship group at Percy Mdala High School. Siyambonga (far left) and Sonwa (far right) are both in grade 8 and were recently invited to join based on the priority they place on education and doing well at school.

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L to R: Kweila, Siyambonga, Ntokozo, Siyathemba, Sonwa, Siyabonga.

Six of the eight members of the Bulele mentorship group which was established 2 years ago, ranging in age from 13 to 17 (grades 8 to 11). Luyolo was absent due to his participation in a writing competition and Onke was attending a public speaking competition.

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L to R: Oyama, Somila, Janet

Janet’s newest student is Oyama (far left) who is 17 years old and repeating grade 9. Oyama’s father died a number of years ago and his mother died 1 year ago. Her death required that he move to Knysna to live with his Aunt. Oyama’s older brother, Wanga, commenced a computer science degree in February 2015 at the University of the Western Cape and is a very positive role model to Oyama.

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Robin (age 18)

Jim started mentoring Robin 10 days ago after being introduced to him by his older brother, Rieced, who Jim met 1 year ago. Robin graduated high school in December 2014 with a Bachelor’s Certificate, thereby qualifying him for acceptance into university degree programmes. His interests include becoming a high school teacher and he plans to commence university in January 2016. Robin’s home situation is challenging in a number of ways, which includes an extreme shortage of food. It is a very difficult situation for him and his 2 younger sisters and largely explains his decision to take a gap year and seek temporary employment. Robin & Jim will be working closely to make university a reality for this fine young man.

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Afternoon sun filtering through the trees around Jim & Janet’s house in Canada, February 28, 2015. Thank you to our neighbours Sharon and Lincoln who submitted this photo. Now you know why we leave Canada during the Canadian winter!