Don’t Abandon Me

Grade 8 and 11 boys (L to R): Athi, Siyambonga, Jim, Simamkele

While it may be instinctive to react negatively when a boy misbehaves, and feel inclined to abandon him, negative conduct can serve a mentor well. Instead of focusing on the inappropriate behaviour, focus on the reason behind the behaviour.

What is happening in the youth’s life which is motivating the destructive acts, making them seem pro-survival?

“Discouraged children show their conflict and despair in obvious ways, or they disguise their real feelings with acts of pseudo-courage.”   ” …such as attention-seeking or running with gangs.” – Reclaiming Youth At Risk : Our Hope for the Future (Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg)

Bryan – age 17 – home for his family is a steel shipping container with no electricity or running water. Jim helped Bryan return to grade 9 in January 2018 after dropping out 1 year ago to due circumstances at home.

Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, by Eric Jensen:

“Children who have had greater exposure to abuse, neglect, danger, loss, or other poverty-related experiences are more reactive to stressors. Each stressor builds on and exacerbates other stressors and slowly changes the student.” “Behavior that comes off as apathetic or rude may actually indicate feelings of hopelessness or despair.”

L to R: Jason (14-grade 6), Jay Jay (15 – grade 7), Chaylon (14 – grade 8), Rayno (14 -grade 8). Only 40% of grade 8 students in township schools complete high school.

The Price of Inequality – Joseph Stiglitz: “…the poor know that their prospects of emerging poverty, let alone making it to the top, are minuscule.”

“NIDS- national income study: “…if your parents are among the poorest earners, the chances that you will be income-poor is about 95%.” (Murray Leibbrandt, Director)

Leedunn – Age 17, dropped out of grade 9 in 2016 due to circumstances at home. Jim helped Leedunn return to grade 9 in January 2018.

Professor Ben Turok (The Confronting Inequality Conference): “We also know from historical experience that extreme inequality of the kind of levels we see in South Africa is not good for development and growth…”

Oxfam: “Left unchecked, growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart. It increases crime and insecurity, and undermines the fight to end poverty.”

L to R: Wanga and Siyathemba

Wanga and Siyathemba represent the future of Africa. We met Siyathemba when he was in grade 8 and joined one of our mentorship groups, and Wanga when he was in grade 12.

You won’t meet better people than these 2 young men; hard working, reliable, and honest. Siyathemba just commenced his 2nd year of a B. Comm degree, and Wanga is completing the final year of a computer science degree.Your individual donations, and support from the Moondance Foundation, are helping Wanga and Siyathemba continue their studies.

Janet’s connections at Cell C (internet provider) helped both guys secure employment during the December-January university break.

Janet and Ace (Andile)

After commencing university in 2016, Ace’s mother passed away and he needed to return home to care for his younger brother, Asanda. Asanda is in grade 10 now and doing well again, allowing Ace to resume his studies. Thanks to generous sponsorship from the Khayamandi Foundation, Ace recently enrolled in a 1 year program in Cape Town to upgrade his high school marks and qualify for admission to an education degree. Ace aspires to be a high school teacher.

Some of the boys we mentor who didn’t complete high school, working with the Khayamandi Foundation for 1 week in January: (L to R) Akhona, Ruwaan, Ruwaan, Reagro, Franklin.

Statistics South Africa 2012 – only 38% of South African fathers live with their children.

Fatherless children are at greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, poor academic performance, school drop out, teen pregnancy, and criminality.

Working with the Khayamandi Foundation team (January 22 to 26, 2018).

Don Pinnock – South African criminologist and author: 

“One of the biggest indicators for male delinquency is absent fathers.” “…in the absence of role models, how do young men assert their masculinity?”

“They carry feelings of shame and anger which they generally hide with bravado and, often, violence.” “They are drawn to others like themselves…”. “These kids often turn to violence and aggression…because these are a reliable method for reasserting their existence.” “I hurt others therefore I am”.

Olwethu – age 19, completed grade 8. Currently enrolled in a 9 session carpentry skills program.

Growing up in the Care of strangers – Waln K Brown, John R Seita:
“That is why I started running with a gang. The streets let us escape from problems at school and at home. Home was just a place to eat, sleep, and catch heck.”

Siyabonga (age 14) – returning to school tomorrow, thanks to the determination of friends Tracy, Kurt, Ross, and Lauren.

Epigenetics (by Don Pinnock) – It’s new science that is raising profound issues.

“What was not formerly realised is that, in the assembly of a foetus, the cell membrane mediates information between the DNA’s templates and the environment within which the pregnant mother exists. New life is built on a combination of ancient genetic wisdom and epigenetic responses to what’s happening moment by moment. Nature is nurture.”

Concordia township (Knysna) – 2018

“This means that a mother’s stress, poor nourishment or use of harmful chemicals can alter the way a baby’s brain forms, sending signals to it to adapt to a hazardous environment. It means more dopamine and aggression, less control by the prefrontal cortex, more physical, less reflection. In teenage years this translates into more aggression, higher drug use, lower inhibitions.” – Don Pinnock

Cooling off in Knysna township with a water-filled pylon cone!

“The assumption that youth-at-risk are incapable of learning and/or do not care about anything is a fallacy. They long for adults…willing to make the effort to understand them…” – Janis Kay Dobizl

Thank you for your ongoing support.  Janet & Jim 

Blog Homepage               To Donate

 

Mentorship

Junior (Panashe) – completing his final year of F.E.T. College.

While the benefits of mentorship may seem obvious, few youth mentorship programs have been subjected to controlled studies regarding their effectiveness. Surprisingly, some seemingly well-designed programs have even demonstrated negative outcomes. Mentorship is a somewhat nebulous term and, while the purpose of mentorship is clear, evidence-based guidelines on how to mentor effectively are less available.

“If it feels at times like you are at the end of your rope in reaching out to them, remember you are the rope – the very lifeline they desperately need and deserve to experience success in their lives (Breaux, 2003).”                                                                    Educating Latino Boys. An Asset-Based Approach – David Campos.

Siyathemba – completing 1st year business degree at University of Western Cape (UWC)

One youth mentorship program for which scientific evidence does exist is B.A.M. (Becoming a Man).

B.A.M. is a mentorship program for at-risk high school boys in some of Chicago’s most dangerous inner-city neighbourhoods. We learned about B.A.M. almost 3 years ago.

Structured like a randomized clinical trial, a University of Chicago Crime Lab study found a 44% reduction in violent crime arrests among B.A.M participants, as well as a significant improvement in school attendance.

L to R: Urhll, Haylen, Max

B.A.M. founder Anthony Ramirez-Di Vittorio: 

“…the most important thing is you have to start with the men who lead the program. We’re looking for men who have a hybrid set of skills that is hard to find. Because we know it’s not the message.”

“The kids have heard ‘Stay in school and stay away from drugs 1,001 times.’ It’s the messenger. The clouds part and the sunshine comes through when the right messenger is there.”

“…at BAM, we’re not talking at the youth.”

Kudzai – completing 2nd year at University of Namibia with financial support from the Khayamandi Foundation, Cooper family, and Iizidima.

“I want to be remembered for making a difference that rippled through generations. The real question and my secret is what difference that will be.” – Kudzai

Ben – completing final year of Computer Science degree at UWC – sponsored by the Khayamandi Foundation.

Reclaiming Youth At Risk: Our Hope for the Future – Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg

“Positive, trusting relationships are the bulwark of success in work with challenging children and youth. This is not a “touchy-feely” truism but is based on a half-century of hard data from research…”

“The most difficult youth are those who create trouble rather than friendships. Successful youth workers have long recognized the…potential of turning crisis into opportunity.”

“Obedience can be demanded from a weaker individual, but one can never compel respect. In most children’s programs, it doesn’t take long to see that adults expect to be treated with more respect than they demonstrate.”

Daniel – completing 2nd year Business degree at University of Zimbabwe with support from family & Iizidima.

“Horace Mann, the leading American educator in the nineteenth century, told teachers they needed to respond to the most difficult pupils like physicians who find challenge in solving difficult cases.”

Paul (left) completes Bachelor of Business Administration degree from TSiBA University in December 2017 with support from a Canadian couple and Iizidima.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

“…best thing is to have disadvantaged kids spend as much time as possible in ‘environments’ where they feel relatedness, competence, and autonomy.”

“The problem is that when disadvantaged children run into trouble in school, either academically or behaviorally, most schools respond by imposing more control on them, not less.”

“Autonomy is not what one is inclined to use to manage the truly unruly kid in the class.”

Wanga – completing 2nd year computer science degree at University of Western Cape, Cape Town with support from family & Iizidima.

“The more they fall behind, the worse they feel about themselves and about school. That…tends to feed into behavioral problems, which lead to stigmatization and punishment…” – Paul Tough

“Fast-forward a few years, to the moment when those students arrive in middle or high school, and these executive-function challenges are now typically perceived to be problems of attitude or motivation.” – Paul Tough

Onke – completing 1st year Business degree at University of Cape Town.

Paul Tough:

“One of the chief insights that recent neurobiological research has provided, however, is that young people, especially those who have experienced significant adversity, are often guided by emotional and psychological and hormonal forces that are far from rational.”

“This doesn’t mean that teachers should excuse or ignore bad behavior. But it does explain why harsh punishments so often prove ineffective in motivating troubled young people to succeed.”

Talking back and acting up in class are, at least in part, symptoms of a child’s inability to control impulses, de-escalate confrontations, and manage anger…”

Thomas – graduated 2016 with B. Tech degree from Nelson Mandela University and currently completing a 1 year internship. A Canadian couple were very supportive of Thomas while he completed his education and sought employment.

Thank you for enabling us to mentor and provide academic support to many deserving youth. The young men whose photos appear in this blog post are all doing well and serve as positive male role models. We have known each of them for a number of years, in some instances since they were in grade 8, and we continue to be proud of their accomplishments.

Janet & Jim

Click for Blog Homepage         Click to Donate

Disadvantage

Joodse Kamp – Knysna

How does the world appear through the eyes of boys growing up in poverty?

Is there a causal link between the chronic stress of poverty and an overdeveloped fight or flight response?

Do disadvantaged youth demonstrate a lack of resilience or motivation?

Why do children living in poverty often struggle academically?

These are some of the issues we encounter in South Africa.

Khayalethu – Knysna

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed and How Kids Learn Resilience, documents the effects of toxic stress on children living in poverty.

“On a cognitive level, chronically elevated stress can disrupt the development of what are known as executive functions: higher-order mental abilities…”

“When parents behave harshly or unpredictably—especially at moments when their children are upset—the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and respond effectively to stressful situations.” 

Concordia – Knysna

While the body’s fight or flight response to danger serves the purpose of shortening reaction time, environments which chronically stimulate flight or fight are not healthy.

“…toxic stress can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. A highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating in school: fighting, talking back, acting up,…” – Paul Tough

Jack Shonkoff – Director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child

“If you haven’t in your early years been growing up in an environment of responsive relationships that has buffered you from excessive stress activation, then if, in tenth-grade math class, you’re not showing grit and motivation, it may not be a matter of you just not sucking it up enough. …you may not have developed those capacities because of what happened to you early in life.” – Jack Shonkoff

Khayalethu – Knysna

Gender Gap: A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls – Claire Cain Miller

As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more. New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage.”

“Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters.”

Marianne Bertrand (University of Chicago) with Jessica Pan “…also found that boys fare worse than girls in disadvantaged homes.”

Rheenendal settlement – near Knysna

Reclaiming Youth At Risk : Our Hope for the Future – Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg

“…kids growing up in adversity often make choices that seem in flagrant opposition to their self-interest, rendering those goals more distant and difficult to attain.”

“Frustrated in their attempts to achieve, children may seek to prove their competence in distorted ways, such as skill in delinquent activity.”

“But for others, the fear of failure is stronger than the motivation to achieve. Youth who have learned to expect failure seek to escape further shame and embarrassment by working very hard at avoiding work.” 

Knysna Location

Protective Factors and the Development of Resilience in the Context of Neighborhood Disadvantage – Ella Vanderbilt-Adriance & Daniel S. Shaw.

“…resilience refers to the process through which positive outcomes are achieved in the context of adversity (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000a).”

“Protective factors are defined as characteristics of the child, family, and wider environment that reduce the negative effect of adversity on child outcome (Masten & Reed, 2002).”

“Several studies…have found that qualities of the parent–child relationship are not related to positive outcomes for children living in the worst neighborhoods (Gorman-Smith et al. 1999; Shaw et al. 2004).”

After-School Mentorship Group

“Across risk status, child IQ has consistently been found to predict a range of positive outcomes, including academic achievement, pro-social behavior, and peer social competence (Masten et al.1999), as well as the absence of antisocial behavior (White et al. 1989).”

Thank you for your continued support. Janet & Jim 

Click for Blog Homepage         Click to Donate

Drought, Wind, Fire

Lush Knysna – before fires of June 7th

Knysna is a town of 73,000 situated on the southern tip of the African continent, 489 kilometres east of Cape Town. It is surrounded by hills overlooking the lagoon which opens to the Indian Ocean. Knysna is one of the most scenic places on earth, and where we devote much of each year. Approximately 21% of residents live in the town center, with the remaining 79% residing in suburbs established as Black townships and Coloured-areas during apartheid.

Destroyed township homes

On June 7th 2017, bush fires in the vicinity of Knysna exploded out of control. Fuelled by winds of 90-100 km per hour, with gusts to 110km, and following 12 months of drought, fires raged out of control for days. Ten thousand residents were evacuated, as was the public hospital.

Estimates vary, but reports suggest the loss of at least 458 formal homes, 30 guesthouses/ B & B’s, and 150 formal and informal dwellings in the townships. This does not include the hundreds of homes damaged, but not destroyed. Over 1,000 firefighters from across the country battled the flames and Knysna was declared a disaster area. At least 38% of destroyed and damaged homes/businesses were uninsured. Over 2,500 jobs were lost. Seven lives, including 2 firefighters, were lost.

Knysna – July 2017

Knysna Fires : Five factors that produced the Perfect Inferno
Mark Dixon – Garden Route Trail – June 23 2017

Referenced in literature and rarely seen, a thermal wave is a sine wave flow of super-heated air associated with a fire. 

Heat from the fire rises, while the wind blows it horizontally before it touches down and ignites a new fire and then again bounces off downwind. The wave length of this thermal wave can vary between 300m and 1000m allowing it to jump over valleys and rivers and resulting in the seemingly random effect of single houses exploding into flames while those around them are left unscathed.

The superheated air rises from the flames and moves laterally driven by the wind.  …the high temperature heats everything before it, be it trees or a structure, which then erupts into flame spontaneously before any flame reaches the area. When this wave descends on a structure…, it forces the roof down with immense pressure while the extreme heat melts glass and disintegrates bricks.

Eyewitness accounts of this leading edge of the thermal wave describe it as a rolling ‘tumbleweed’ flying through the air at between 100km/h and 110km/h. The area beneath the peak of the thermal wave has been described by Knysna Fire Chief Clinton Manual as … a smokeless zone of earie silence and no wind.

Knysna June 2017

The following video depicts the aftermath of the fires, interviews homeowners, and speaks to the rebuilding process which lies ahead.

Video: Ná die vlamme (Get The Flames):   Click Here to Watch

               

Blog Homepage         Click to Donate

Thank you for your continued support – Janet & Jim 

 

Merry Christmas

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

DSCN8847

Knysna township

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

Version 2

Simbulele (19 years old)

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

DSCN8851

Knysna township

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

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

Janet & Jim

Road to freedom

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

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

Plett Siba's photos_2012 02 25_0937_edited-1

youth in Kwanokuthula township (20 minutes from Knysna)

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

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

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

Plett Siba's photos_2012 02 25_0915

teen boy in Kwanokuthula township

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

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

Cape Town Food Safari video 

Packing Our Bags

Shutterfly album-34

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Almost 3 billion people live on less than $2.00 a day. Over 1 billion live on less than $1.00 per day. Eight hundred million don’t have enough to eat. 

Until we travelled to South Africa for the first time 6 years ago, we did not know any of these individuals. We did not personally know anyone who lacked sufficient food. What does this says about us, or the world in which we live?

IMG_1021

L to R: Willard, Takudzwa (TK), Junior, Janet

We now know too many of the 3 billion and 800 million. We have many examples, but one is Takudzwa (TK). We met TK 2 years ago when he was 15 years old and starting grade 9. While the full story is long, TK will complete grade 10 this December, but now lives alone and survives on the 150 Rand ($15.00) he earns working each Saturday.

The cost of food in South Africa is similar to North America or Europe, but the annual inflation rate is 8%-10%. It is not possible to eat properly, or even alleviate hunger, on less than $60.00 / R600 per month, not to mention purchase toiletries and other necessities.

Thanks to your donations, we now provide funding to TK every 2 weeks, such that he may eat properly and complete his education. Thank you.

IMG_0627

Mike, Linda, and their 4 Shelties

Sandwich People: Two people who continue to help us address hunger and advance education are Linda and Mike DeVerno. For the third consecutive year, they sponsor the expenses associated with the 1,100-1,200 sandwiches Janet makes for the boys.

IMG_1666

The Sandwich Lady

At Janet’s tutoring groups and Jim’s mentorship programs, each boy is provided a polony (similar to bologna) or peanut butter sandwich on freshly sliced whole wheat bread. By the time school ends at 2:30pm, the boys are very hungry and we don’t want them distracted by this during their time with us. Thank you Linda and Mike for your continued support.

IMG_9285 - Version 3

Simbulele

William Easterly, author of The White Man’s Burden, makes the argument that the question isn’t “how can the world end poverty”. This question has been asked for decades and the big plans and spending of aid agencies/governments has not alleviated poverty.

Easterly suggests we instead ask “what can aid do for the poor?”

Plett Siba's photos_2012 02 25_0990

Township in Plettenberg Bay, 20 minutes from where we stay in Knysna

When we use your donations to buy school shoes or uniforms, a boy who would otherwise be absent from school is able to further his education. Providing school lunch or food at home allows a boy to concentrate at school, and not be distracted by the pain of hunger or constant worry of how he and his family will eat that night.

When we used part of Annie & Dick’s donations to purchase white overalls for a 16 year-old boy who could not read or write, he was able to start a full-time job as a house painter and support his mother and siblings. The boy, Acona, continues to do well and the painting contractor who employs him is thrilled with his performance.

Other examples include the numerous high school and 10 college and university students who are no longer hungry, or now have a much-needed calculator, reconditioned laptop / tablet, or textbook, because of donations from kind people like V & T, Bev, Judy & Brian, Coreen & Nick, Larry, Christine & Mike, Dorothy, Steve & Laura,  S & L, Pam & Bruce, Gayle & Garry, Teresa & Kurt, Karen & Mike, Rob, Elizabeth, Susan & Eric, Joan & Bill, Monica, Shirley & Andy, Christine, Kyle, Anne, Maya, Judy, Rick, Kathie & Colin…

Elephant Zimbabwe 2012

Zambezi River, Zimbabwe

“The assumption that youth-at-risk are incapable of learning and/or do not care about anything is a fallacy. They long for adults who are willing to make the effort to understand them and who will provide them the acceptance and guidance they need. ‘Don’t give up on me’.” Janis Kay Dobizl.

11 02 05_Zimbabwe_3431

Victoria Falls

I’m Privileged and Underprivileged                                                                             (By Mfundo Radebe, grade 12 student – published in The Mail & Guardian newspaper)

So, here’s the thing: I’m privileged; I’m under-privileged. As a grade 12 student at one of those affluent private schools which people complain reflect “privilege”, I believe I have had an incredible vantage point towards the social dynamics of our country. I’m not privileged economically per se; I’m just a township boy from Umlazi who has been given the chance to attend a “good school” thanks to being academically gifted. It has allowed me the privilege of being able to interact with people from completely juxtaposed environments.

While I have friends who are conflicted in choosing between London and New York for their June holidays, I come home to neighbours who will knock at our door just to get some sugar or rice. I haven’t really considered this a conflict of identity as much as I have been able to use this predicament to understand the different societies. I have seen that there are fulfilling aspects to living in or interacting with both societies. While being a child that can drive a Porsche to school (there aren’t that many) may seem like ultimate satisfaction and affords you many opportunities (I certainly respect my friends who use their privilege to the benefit of the world, however you interpret that), the kid who can barely afford bus or taxi fare to go to school may actually have a strong spirit of hard work that will help him to realise his dreams.

You see, my state of transition that occurs every afternoon when I travel from Umhlanga to Umlazi is one of reflection not on the perceived lack of privilege I truly face, but of how privileged I am that I am able to control where my future takes me. Our educational system does not reflect one that is really up to changing South Africa’s future and affording many young people with that option.

Not many people have the advantage of receiving a world-class education as I do, with teachers who care. Not many children go to schools where teachers ask if “you’ll be safe” when there is a taxi strike. I would like to know for how long that will be the case. For how long will other children be deprived of the opportunity to break the bonds of poverty? Nelson Mandela clearly articulated the power that an education affords one and so I stumble when I realise why there is no emphasis on the uplifting of schools, especially in townships. I shouldn’t have to travel more than 40km to receive a world-class education.

Let us work towards creating schools conducive to learning and growing capable youth. The future of the country depends on it.

On a side note, this is to my teachers: Thank you for constantly inspiring me, challenging my views, and for believing that I’m the next president of the country. I hope that one day every South African child can be exposed to encouraging environments, and believe that the future truly lies in their hands. (Mfundo Radebe is a grade 12 student at Crawford College La Lucia in Durban.)

Image 16 - Version 13

Janet & Jim return to South Africa in October