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 

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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.

 

Township Fire

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White Location

On Sunday evening we observed thick black smoke rising from the top of the township. Within minutes, flames were higher than the trees and we heard the sirens of emergency vehicles en route to the fire. While this photograph does not do justice to the extent of the fire damage, Jim was told by an adult male that 17 homes/shacks were destroyed.

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White Location

The same adult male told Jim that, upon returning to his girlfriend/wife in Knysna, a man learned that she was cheating on him and he decided to burn down the shack in which she lived. The fire spread quickly to surrounding homes. Fortunately, the home of a 16 year-old member of our original Bulele membership group who lives only 6 houses from the fire site was spared. IMG_2070 Janet and our Canadian friend, Elizabeth, visited a wild cat sanctuary during her stay in Knysna. These are 4 month old lion cubs!

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Marlise and Robin

Jim and Robin attended the annual e’Pap luncheon where Robin was invited to speak about his experience with e’Pap. e’Pap is a nutritionally complete porridge developed many years ago by an African social entrepreneur. The e’Pap program in Knysna feeds thousands of disadvantaged preschool to high school-age children each school day. Robin graduated high school 4 months ago and credits much of his academic success to the fact that he ate e’Pap daily through primary and high school. Many youth attend school on an empty stomach and suffer the distraction of hunger on a daily basis.

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Truce-Signing

Following the signing of the truce between the 45 boys in the 3 high school gangs, the Police invited the boys and their parents to an evening meeting intended to reinforce the importance of parental involvement in the long term solution to this issue. IMG_1821 The meeting went well and each member of the panel and Jim spoke briefly, after which parents asked questions and offered input. Two youth also provided input.

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South African Police Services community meeting

Many of the boys attended the meeting, along with some parents, however it is possible that many parents never received the invitation letter from their sons.

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Red Bridge

With only 1 week remaining before we return to Canada, we remain busy with our     youth-related projects and implementing plans to maintain communication with many of the youth during our absence.

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L to R: Jim, Dennis, Michael

Preparing to depart also includes saying good bye to the many friends we have met over the years. Last weekend we were invited by Marie and Brian (from Ireland) to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon on their boat. We dropped anchor by scenic Red Bridge.

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L to R: Micheal, Brian, Janet

We will certainly miss our friends and the natural beauty of of Knysna… Janet & Jim

Field Trip & Truce

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Bulele Group from Percy Mdala High School

The 8 members of the Bulele mentorship group visited the Knysna Correctional Centre during their Easter school break. The prison has 350 inmates aged 21 and older in a facility intended for half this number of prisoners.

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Prior to entering the prison

Janet photographed Jim instructing the boys on some safety tips while inside the prison. The Bulele boys are a terrific group of young guys who are very responsible, yet were keen to visit the prison. While they were shocked by some of what they learned and observed, they thoroughly enjoyed the field trip.

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Knysna experience a few days of heavy rain last week, resulting in significant soil erosion at this township house.

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Janet and Siyathemba outside Siyathemba’s home

Thank you to our Canadian and South African friends who have donated used laptop and desktop computers. Two deserving grade 11 youth who we have known for 3 years are the most recent recipients.

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Siyabonga

Siyathemba and Siyabonga are thrilled that they can now become more computer literate and prepare homework assignments using WORD and Excel.

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Inside Siyathemba’s home

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Masibulele (grade 12)

Janet recently installed a computer at the Safehouse operated by Ella & Penny of Emzini Tours. The desktop computer was donated to Emzini and will enable Masibulele (grade 12), Robin (applying to university for 2016) and other Safehouse residents to complete assignments, prepare CV’s, and become more computer literate.

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Hands & Heart Skills Programme – Knysna

Hands and Heart is a 9 month skills training program developed 2 years ago by YFC Knysna. Jim took 5 boys to Hands & Heart during the Easter school break.

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clockwise: Jim (old), Masande (15), Sinethemba (18), Vogen (16), Luthando (14), Teswill (16)

The boys learned that the program teaches the basics of carpentry, plumbing, brick laying, welding, and electrical, and requires a minimum of grade 9 education. 

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Members of 1 of the 3 gangs Jim has been working with. The fighting/stabbings which commenced 2 years ago involves approximately 45 boys between grades 7 and 11.

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Signing of the Truce.

TRUCE SIGNING – On Friday, April 17, a truce was signed at the outset of the school day. Each of the 3 gangs selected 2 members from the opposing gangs to sign on behalf of their members. Initially, none of the boys were willing to be the first to sign. Following 5 tense minutes, and some gentle prodding from Jim, the signing process commenced. While the situation remains volatile, this is an important step.

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Knysna – Thesen Islands

Fog rolling over the hills separating the Knysna lagoon and houses on Thesen Islands from the Indian ocean.

Sun and a high of 20C today. Autumn has arrived. J & J

Progress in South Africa

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The ‘Sandwich Lady’ starts most of her weekdays preparing sandwiches for each of the boys who attend Jim’s or Janet’s after-school mentoring or tutoring sessions. All the boys are hungry after a full day at school, but some also lack sufficient food at home.

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L to R: Luyolo (16) and Siyathemba (16)

Two of the Bulele members from Percy Mdala High School fooling around after our most recent meeting.

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Akhona (16)

Akhona has a new job working for a reputable house painting and renovation contractor in Knysna! This photo shows him holding the white overalls Jim delivered prior to his first day of work.

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Acona (16)

5:20pm just as Akhona arrived home from day 2 on the job (work commences at 7:15am). He loves his new job, and the adult literacy program he also attends.

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Some of the youth Jim mentors at a local high school.

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The boys, aged 14 to 18, have been quite cooperative and there has been some meaningful progress. However, it remains a complex and serious issue.

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Bulele mentorship group at Concordia High School

Two representatives from the Khayamandi Foundation (Augusta, Georgia) spent last week in Knysna to further assess needs within the township. Recently retired, Kurt (seated at left) and Coop (blue shirt on right) focused on identifying the nature of projects Khayamandi may wish to undertake in Knysna.

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L to R: Siyabulela, Buntu, Kurt, Thembinkosi, Phumlani

Kurt and Coop accompanied Janet, Jim, and our friends Ella and Penny, to learn even more about our township initiatives. It also served as a wonderful opportunity for the boys to interact with Coop and Kurt and learn how both men approached their education and successful careers. It was a fun time for everyone.

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Grade 8 tutoring group

Coop (at blackboard) is a Civil Engineer and eagerly seized the opportunity to help Janet tutor the boys in math.

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Masibulele (age 19, grade 12) and his little friend

Positive Change in South Africa (source: The Long View: Getting Beyond the Drama of South Africa’s Headlines, J.P. Landman)

The SA fertility rate (births per female) is currently 2.4 yet was 5.8 in the 1970’s. It remains 5.0 across most of sub-sarahan Africa.

Since 2009: GDP growth of 2.8% in SA exceeds population growth of 1%. Employment growth has been 1.5%.

Sunny and hot with mostly clear skies today in Knysna. Jim & Janet. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youth Giving Back

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Thiso’s home

The housing conditions for some families remain unacceptable. People living in temporary wooden structures or shacks often suffer from leaking walls and roofs, which can mean wet clothing, bedding, and disrupted sleep each time it rains. One example is the structure where Thiso (16) lives with his single Mom.

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Thiso’s bed

When it rains, water penetrates the walls of Thiso’s room and his bed must be moved.   IMG_1957 Daniel and Pride (visiting from Zimbabwe) and Simbulele recently volunteered to undertake the task of water proofing the exterior walls of Thiso’s room. Yesterday we embarked on this project using a house-wrap product which is waterproof and windproof.

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L to R: Daniel, Pride, Thiso, Simbulele, Jim

Teamwork! The guys worked hard in the hot African sun.

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Our photographer, Janet (with Pride) !

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Simbulele (on roof), Thiso, Jim

Assessing the roof…

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Daniel

Leak-testing the roof (we forgot to provide advance warning) !

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Jim & Thiso

Repairing holes in the metal roof.

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Jim, Thiso, Elizabeth

The finished product being inspected by Thiso’s mother, Elizabeth, when she returned home from work.

TODAY…Pride, Daniel, and Thiso will help Simbulele windproof 2 interior walls of the wooden structure where he stays.