This is Africa

Jim & Tyler – 2017 carpentry skills program graduate

Hello from South Africa. Our return trip was uneventful and we’ve been busy in the township the past 6 weeks. The initial period is particularly enjoyable as we reconnect with the many youth we have come to know.

As we drive along the main road in the township, the boys are quick to wave or call out our names. Driving requires frequent stops in order to say hello and catch up with many of the guys. Plenty of smiles and African handshakes!

Janet and Prayer (grade 12)

Since the South African school year is January to December, Janet was in high demand upon her return to help the high school boys prepare for final exams. This is also the time when applications to attend college, university, or vocational training must be finalized for 2018.

Siyambonga – age 16, grade 10 (with dog Sheba). Siyabonga regularly attends Janet’s tutoring groups

Many of the boys are doing well, including each of the young guys who attend college and university. Thomas and Paul both graduated from business degree programs in 2017, Aphiwe completed Mechanical Engineering technology in 2017, Ben and Wanga graduate with computer science degrees in 2018, Kudzai will graduate with a BA Hons in 2019, and Siyathemba and Onke are on track to complete business/economics degrees in 2020.

Class of 2017 – Hands & Heart Carpentry Skills

Youth enrolled in the one year, Hands & Heart carpentry/welding skills program graduated November 30th, and some have already secured employment or further training. Many of these young men did not complete grade 8 or 9, but now have the prospect of a job and income. Jim deals with dozens of boys who cease attending high school between grades 7 and 9 due to weak literacy/numeracy skills and dysfunctional home environments. Not surprisingly, many are struggling to find their path in life.

Angel & Jim

Angel discontinued school in 2016, prior to completing grade 9. Shortly thereafter, Jim introduced him to the Hands & Heart carpentry skills program which he completed in November 2017. Angel starts a 1 year paid internship at Hope HQ in January 2018. Successfully completing Hands and Heart was a huge accomplishment for Angel, and we are proud of him. While working at Hope HQ, he will learn the skills associated with the craft of producing a brand of hand-carved birds which enjoy a worldwide following.

Danwille – age 19

Jim met Danwille (pronounced dan-ville) in early 2016 while he was in grade 9 and struggling at school and home. Danwille commenced the Hands and Heart carpentry program in January 2017, graduated 2 weeks ago, and commenced full-time employment with a reputable construction firm last week. Jim met the company owner a few years ago and recently contacted him regarding an opportunity for this hard-working young man.

Government-sponsored school lunch program (primary school in Knysna township)

Mandla is 23 years old and grew up in an orphanage from age 6 to 18. He has been featured on our blog numerous times since we met when he was in grade 10. He graduated with a Social Work auxiliary certificate in 2017, sponsored by the Khayamandi Foundation (USA), and commences full-time employment in January His employer, an NGO focused on youth development, had this to say:

“He definitely deserves it. He has proven himself being a dedicated and responsible young man that refused to let his circumstances stand in his way. We are blessed to have him on the team. He will be appointed as Family Reconstruction Worker… His main duties will be to liaise with the child, parents, schools and the welfare sector.”

Playing dominoes in Hornlee (Knysna) – Jade, Naldo, Wachied, Urhll, and the guys.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” Oprah Winfrey

Simbulele – 4 years ago (2013)

We met Simbulele when he was 15 and in grade 9. He is now 21 years of age, graduated high school in 2016, and completed 8 months of skills training in 2017.

We’ve faced many challenges together, however Simbulele is doing well and has come a long way. He is currently working in a local restaurant and starts a permanent job in January as an Early Childhood Development Registration Assistant with the Knysna Education Trust (KET). KET is a local NGO which enjoys an excellent reputation, and this is a terrific opportunity for Simbulele. Thank you to Bev & Tony of Ottawa, Canada for believing in this fine young man.   (Knysna Education Trust website)

December 8 2017 – windy, dusty day in the township

Many of the profiled youth come from extremely dysfunctional home environments. Some of the boys live with an alcoholic parent(s) who is verbally and/or physically abusive. For others, both parents are deceased.

Money spent on alcohol or drugs means food is often lacking. When faced with the choice between buying bread or soap, bread commonly wins out. It is not uncommon for boys to lack soap or toothpaste. Imagine yourself at the age of 14, for example, struggling to survive in circumstances beyond your control. 

Inadequate nutrition, poor hygiene, and cramped living conditions result in high rates of tuberculosis. Three of the boys mentioned in this post were diagnosed with TB since we returned to SA, one of whom after Jim recognized his symptoms and recommended he be tested.

December 2017 – Knysna township

This is Africa. When tourists visit scenic Cape Town or Knysna and claim that South Africa is not real Africa, we beg to differ. Visit the Cape Flats (townships) surrounding Cape Town and see how the majority of the population lives.

Please don’t be fooled by the orderly rows of government-provided concrete block houses in most townships. It’s the living conditions within these homes, and the many shacks, which reflects reality.  

Almost one third of South Africa’s children are under the age of 15. 

Leighton – age 14

“78% of our Grade 4 students can’t read. Not in English, not in their home language, not in any language. Of the 50 countries that participated in the test, we came dead last.” (The South African Child Gauge 2017)

Each day we are reminded of the impact one person can have in the life of a teenage boy or young man. Too many youth lack someone in their life to provide guidance, encouragement, and hope. 

If not for your individual donations, educational funding from the Khayamandi Foundation (Augusta, Georgia – U.S.A), and financial support from The Moondance Foundation (Wales – U.K.), much of what we accomplish would not be possible.  

Thank you very much for your ongoing support.

We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas!   Janet & Jim 

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Hope For The Future

Jim learning to dance (lol) – March 2017

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born in 1931, son of a primary school Principal, opponent of apartheid, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1984), author, and served as chairman of South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

The Archbishop wrote the introduction to a book entitled Reclaiming Youth At Risk: Our Hope For The Future. We’d like to share the introduction with you.

Janet & Haylen (age 17) – Hands & Heart student

“Children from difficult circumstances need someone to throw them a lifeline since it is very difficult to pull oneself up by one’s own boot strings. Without help, too many young persons will drop out of school, become involved in substance abuse, and increase the population in jails. We talk about youth as if they are statistics, but they are not statistics. Perhaps we should ask, “What would you do if this was your child?””

L to R: Urhll, Haylen, Duran. All 3 guys attend Hands & Heart skills training. This photo captures Haylen receiving prescription glasses from Jim, after 2 years without glasses. His uncorrected eyesight was 20:200

“We have based our whole society on power; portraying compassion, gentleness, and caring as “sissy” qualities. Tough, macho – this is how you should operate. Children adopt these values because they are so prevalent.”

“I fear that our wonderful expressions of concern for young people are often just so much baloney. This is all hot air because our deeds speak far more eloquently than words.”

Photo taken after the long walk home from carpentry training on a very hot day. L to R: Angel, Haylen, Dallin, Rivano

“We must realise that it is a very, very shortsighted policy if we fail to redeem and salvage our most needy young people.”

Hands & Heart carpentry/welding program (March 31, 2017). Thank you, Kurt (standing with hands on youth’s shoulders), for volunteering many hours the past 3 months.

“A great deal of violence happens among young persons who feel that their lives will end in a cul-de-sac. They may come from depressed communities and lack father figures or caring adults. Without human comfort and outlets for wholesome recreation, they may turn to drugs for excitement and seek status or security in guns and knives. They desperately want to count, but take shortcuts to gaining respect. If you can’t be recognized for doing good, maybe people will take notice of you if you are troublesome.”

Chaylon (age 16)

Chaylon attends the Friday carpentry training for boys who struggle with reading. After weeks of perfect attendance, Chaylon missed 2 consecutive Fridays because his only pair of shoes were no longer wearable.

Chaylon’s home

We purchased shoes and socks for Chaylon last Thursday and he returned to the carpentry programme the following day.

Thembelani – grade 10

Three weeks ago, 17 year-old Thembelani returned to high school after missing the initial 2 months of the academic year. There were many hurdles to overcome, the least of which was money for school shoes and school fees. Thembelani recently messaged the following to Jim:

“no I should b da 1 whose thinkin u for everything u have done for me and showin me how important education is and for that salute u. ure da first person who learned me somethin important.”

L to R: Santhonio (Leighton’s older brother), Leighton, Angel

Leighton (centre) turned 14 in January and commenced grade 8 in January 2017. One month ago, Leighton’s high school deregistered him based on 11 days of arriving late or being absent. Leighton’s mother only learned about his lateness and absenteeism on the day he was deregistered.

Department of Education policy dictates that “Schools have a responsibility…to investigate and to assist parents and learners to remedy the situation”. On behalf of Leighton’s mother, Jim contacted the Department of Education and officials intervened. Three weeks later, Leighton was permitted to return to school.

Janet & Siyathemba

Listen to Siyathemba’s thank-you for the reconditioned laptop he received in January 2017, prior to commencing his first year at the University of Western Cape. We met Siyathemba when he was in grade 8 and he regularly attended our Bulele mentorship meetings the past 4 years.

Siyathemba Audio: 

Thank you for following our initiatives in South Africa, and caring about the youth whose stories we are able to share. In the interest of confidentiality and youth safety, there are some stories or details we are unable to share. The physical and emotional abuse faced by too many boys at home, or on the street, is real. While none of the youth are perfect, and they sometimes behave like typical teenage boys, their determination in the face of hunger, inadequate housing, or lack of shoes/basic clothing, is impressive.

Janet, Jim, and Clarke

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.

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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)

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eugene

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

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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.

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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.)

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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)

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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)

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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.”

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Athi

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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Africa & Sissies

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Masibulele – worked all week with Khayamandi

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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😀”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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%.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

Battling Poverty

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Jim posted this blog entry from Canada:

Of the numerous books I have read since returning to Canada in May for our sabbatical (lol), there are two I highly recommend.

The first is I Am Because You Are authored by American Jacob Lief who, 15 years ago at the age of 21, established the Ubuntu Education Fund in a township in South Africa. I LOVED Jacob’s book, and didn’t want it to end.

Some people ask us why we spend so much time in South Africa or “don’t you want to travel to other countries?” Read Jacob’s book and I believe you will understand what it is that has captured our hearts and keeps us returning to South Africa. This book provides important insight into the legacy of apartheid from the perspective of the majority of blacks and Coloureds who still reside in South Africa’s townships.

Jacob was once asked “Billions of dollars are being invested in Africa each year, and it’s no secret that the results are not amazing. With all this aid money why aren’t more leaders being produced, why aren’t more kids in these impoverished areas getting into top universities?”

Jacob responded: “Maybe it’s because we’re giving them a cup of soup, a windup computer, and a shipping container for a school.”

As wonderful as it is when large NGO’s distribute malaria nets, provide school shoes, or run soup kitchens, these individual actions will never alleviate poverty. We agree with Jacob that the solution lies in a more holistic approach which includes an ongoing relationship with each child.

This is why we sometimes take a boy to the doctor, the hospital, purchase school shoes or clothes, tutor them after school, make sure they have sufficient food, and continue to mentor them year after year. Short term interventions are unlikely to change a lifetime of poverty.

Jacob’s book reminded me of so many of our experiences working in a disadvantaged community. You will gain a valuable understanding of South Africa upon reading this book.

You may wish to start with an article Jacob Lief wrote for the Huffington Post:

Ending Poverty: The Next Big Idea is To Stay Small

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What follows is an excerpt from an email Jim sent to a number of our friends and colleagues in South Africa last week. We thought you may be interested:

“An important component of our mentorship groups is the focus on character. Youth are exposed to 6 core values; Integrity, Accountability, Self-Regulation, Positive Anger Expression, Cause-Effect Goal Setting, and Respect for Girls.

To demonstrate the importance of these 6 core values, I’d like to have guest speakers attend some of our meeting and share how adherence to some of the core values contributed to their success and happiness in life.

I’m hoping you can help me identify some positive male role models who I may contact to determine their level of interest. Our meeting format is casual, and the guest speaker would join us around a table and just chat. Just speak from the heart (in English) about their personal journey in life, as it relates to some of the 6 core values.

I am seeking black and Coloured males, but predominantly black. Please remember that many of the boys lack a positive male role model, and the majority have no father in their life. My goal is to expose the young men to positive male role models from their own race and community, as much as possible.

Doctors, engineers, athletes, musicians, and business people would be great. Equally great would be any black or coloured male who meets the criteria of being a positive male role model. This person might be a parking attendant, a gardener, a painter, a fireman, or a chef. What they do for a living is less important than their character. So long as they demonstrate compassion for their fellow man and are a positive male role model.”

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The second book is How Children Succeed by Canadian author Paul Tough. I encourage you to treat yourself to this intelligent, evidence-based work. I read this book for the first time 1 year ago, but wanted to read it again.

The author explores considerable data regarding the impact of chronic stress associated with poverty. Previous research tended to explain cognitive deficits in disadvantaged children as being more the result of poor nutrition, or poor parenting, or not being read to as a child. Paul Tough presents convincing data regarding the physiological, and psychological, impact stemming from the stress of living in poverty.

Township youth worry about insufficient food, no money for school clothes, lack of soap, what happens if their mother loses her job, no money for electricity for cooking or lights to study by, and so on.

One of many encouraging findings in this book, based on the work of Angela Duckworth, is that “…character is at least as important as intellect”. I frequently use this video in our youth mentorship groups. Watch the TED Talk to learn more:

The Key To Success? Grit

Thank you for your continued support, 

Jim & Janet

images Click here…