From Canada

One of Janet’s study groups – Concordia High School (2019)

Our two lives are separated by over 13,000 kilometres. And such different places in so many ways. Returning to Canada is always an adjustment, despite our appreciation for the wonderful country we call home.

Three of Janet’s students received awards for top marks in math.

While in Canada, Janet remains connected with many of her students and is able to continue to tutor in English, math, and science through social media. Likewise, Jim remains in touch with some of the young men he mentors.

Jim delivering soccer boots (cleats) early April 2019.

In early April, soccer boots (i.e. cleats) were provided to each of the 5 soccer teams. The program continues to thrive, with tournaments most weekends. The 5 groups of boys are working well together, and we continue to enjoy peace in the schools and on the streets.

Warriors soccer team with their new boots (cleats).

Coach Justice has done a terrific job of organizing weekly soccer tournaments and providing a professional and highly competitive outlet for the guys. Thank you, Justice.

Jim and Herb Hunter (far right) with Interact members.

Jim was invited to speak to the Knysna Rotary Club in April on the topic of youth gangsterism. Herb Hunter (photo – far right) is the Rotary member responsible for Interact Clubs (junior Rotary) in each of the local high schools. Herb, a Canadian who now resides in Knysna, invited some Interact representatives to attend.

Carpentry Skills graduation (April 2019). Don (standing – far left), Coop (standing – center), Jim.

For the 3rd consecutive year, our friend Coop delivered a  9 week basic carpentry skills program to 15 youth. Assisted by fellow Canadian, Don, the young guys acquired a range of skills. This top-notch program concluded with the construction of a one room addition to a house where a paraplegic man resides. Well done, Coop and Don.

Knysna, South Africa sunset – April 2019

Thank you for your readership and continued support, 

Janet and Jim

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Soccer Upstages Gangsterism

Centre-rear: Coach Justice

You are already familiar with these faces from our previous blog posts about the Peace Agreement signed in December 2018.

However, notice the more relaxed body language and nobody throwing gang signs.

Red cap: Coach Justice

“U a great guy jimmy… Nd ii gotta thnk u cause if it wasn’t for u then mby some of our friends would have been stabbed to but ii thnk u for opening our eyes nd showing us that there is more to life than being a gangster nd beating each other up…I thnk u for everything u have done so far nd ii hope we wil walk a long path together 🙏 Jim.
U an inspiration for many people nd thnx for what u doing ii hope people appreciate what u doing. K.L. (Message sent by leader of one group – March 28th)

L to R: Coop, Rumano (grade 10), Jim

Our previous blog post described how Jim and Coop had retained an experienced Coach and were planning a soccer clinic for 3 boys from each of 5 groups (4 of 5 groups who signed the Peace Agreement plus a 6th group). Funding for the clinic was provided by a donation to the Khayamandi Foundation by Don, an American who recently visited Knysna and met with some gang-involved youth through Jim.

March 9th 2019 – Soccer Clinic

The soccer clinic was a success. We provided transportation and all 15 boys “pitched”, as they say in South Africa. Three were in Jim’s car, and 12 in a taxi van. The 12 in the taxi had a history of violent fighting and this was the first time in a long while that many had been together under the pretence of peace. The boys were tentative at first, but that quickly changed on the soccer field. And the ride home included many laughs between new friends.

March 9th 2019 Soccer Clinic

The clinic concluded with a soccer match that included many local youth who were also on the field. Our 15 guys are standing and wearing orange bibs.

Soccer Clinic wrap-up by Coop

At the end of the clinic, each threesome was provided some basic equipment and challenged to return to their group and institute a training schedule. “Demonstrate that you are serious, and Coach Justice will commence weekly coaching visits and we will provide soccer boots (cleats)”. 

standing: Coach Justice

And it is happening. Justice has commenced coaching sessions with each group and soccer boots (cleats) were delivered to 2 groups last week. Some of the groups initiated soccer matches on their own. Two teams played on each of the 2 previous Sundays, and a mini-tournament involving 4 groups and Coach Justice is scheduled for today.

The Peace Agreement remains in effect, and the soccer program is helping to reinforce and maintain peace. Damaged relationships are being rekindled, and new friendships established.

Peace Agreement Group 5

Yet there remains work to be done. There are numerous youth gangs in the community and not all respond to the same approach. The 5th group to sign the December Peace Agreement is one example.

Far right: Welcome Witbooi

Welcome Witbooi (see photo) is a reformed gangster who now works with gang-involved youth and impacted communities across South Africa.

The prison system in South Africa is controlled by the notorious Number Gangs; the 26’s, 27’s, and 28’s. The highest rank in each gang is General, and the dominant gang is the 28’s. Welcome joined a street gang at age 13 and was sentenced to 23 years at age 17. He served 14 years, prior to being released 7 years ago.

Welcome is a retired 4-Star General in the 28’s, the highest rank attainable. Stars are earned by stabbing or killing a prison warder (guard), or designated inmate. While death is typically the only way out of the 28’s, there is sometimes another option for a General. That’s how Welcome got out. (Click to learn how)

Group 5

Welcome was recently in Knysna to conduct a workshop and start the process of developing a Gang and Violence prevention strategy for the town. The workshop and 2 speaking engagements were sponsored by KILT; the Knysna Initiative for Learning and Teaching.

KILT kindly scheduled a few hours of Welcome’s time to be spent with Jim, such that they could tour the Location (former townships) and meet with 1 of the groups who signed the Peace Agreement. The meeting was scheduled in advance, and allowed Welcome to speak candidly with the guys.

Walking through the community with Welcome.

While some of the conversation was not in English, it was evident that Welcome’s message was well received, The impact has been positive. Welcome’s credibility as someone who knows the harsh reality of life in the 28’s, and prison, is invaluable.

Much has been accomplished. Thanks to each of the groups, and the willingness of many of the guys to make more responsible choices, the boys in Janet’s study program now attend schools which are considerably safer.

Peace means the groups are no longer fighting during or after school, or carrying weapons to school. And this means walking to and from school is safer for students attending 3 high schools.

Thank you for your readership and continued support, 

Janet and Jim

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