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


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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.


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.

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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.


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”.

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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.”

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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

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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?


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.


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.


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.

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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?”

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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…

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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.

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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.)

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Janet & Jim return to South Africa in October

Happy Easter from South Africa


Jim, Coop, Tracy

Our American friends Tracy and Coop recently brought us some wonderful “toiletry kits” for youth who lack these essential items. The kits include a bar of soap, facecloth, toothbrush, and toothpaste, and are an improvement on the loose bars of soap and toothpaste Jim used to carry in the trunk (boot) of his car!


Phumlani and Siyabulela using Janet’s iPad

To live in South Africa, you must learn to live with the ambiguity of the place. If you can’t cope with ambiguity, I recommend Canada or Australia. (The Long View: Getting Beyond the Drama of South Africa’s Headlines, J.P. Landman)


Dr. Muir and Tyler

Tyler is 15 attends grade 8. When Jim met him he discovered that Tyler was struggling to read and words and sentences seemed to appear in duplicate. Jim arranged for Tyler to have an eye examination (one hour long!) by a community-minded optometrist and Rotary member. Not surprisingly, Tyler needed glasses and needs to do daily eye exercises to improve his eye control. The examination and glasses were provided free of of charge.


Concordia High School is the newest school in the township. It opened in January 2012 and caters to both black and coloured students. English is the language of instruction for black learners, and Afrikaans is the language of instruction for Coloured learners. The black students study their home language ( isiXhosa) as the 2nd language requirement, while the coloured students take English.

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Sergeant Lumkwana – South African Police

Concordia is the school where Jim has been working with youth involved in 3 gangs. Recently, Jim took 3 boys from one of the gangs to meet with Sergeant Lumkwana of the South African Police. The meeting went very well. The following day, Sergeant Lumkwana came to the school such that he and Jim could simultaneously meet with 17 members of 2 gangs.


Concordia High School

While progress is being made with the gangster boys, one boy was badly beaten last Saturday and another was stabbed once on the way home from school 2 days ago. However, there have been no further fights or stabbings on the school premises. The reason we are working with the boys is because this issue has become a significant distraction for many of the teachers, school administrators, and responsible students. Furthermore, many of the gangster boys also want the violence to end.


Janet, Mxolisi, and Thanduxolo

The boys finished their end of term exams a few days ago and now enjoy a 10 day vacation from school. Hopefully their tutor, Miss Janet, will also take a little break.


Clarke LOVES running on the beach and in and out of the ocean. He says “I’m not returning to Canada. I’m staying in South Africa”.


Knysna sunset

To learn more about the some of the racial issues impacting South Africa, watch this informative video entitled:                                                                                                I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured – Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope (2009)

Video link:   https://vimeo.com/23617382

Janet, Jim, & Clarke

Progress in South Africa


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Grade 8 tutoring group

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


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. 










Poverty, Education, & Health


Many people still live in shacks, otherwise known as ‘informal settlements’, while they await a government provided concrete block home. Assuming an individual or family earns below the income threshold and are a citizen of South Africa, they will qualify for a free, government-provided RDP house.

The population of Knysna is approximately 68,000. According to a recent report, there are 9,600 people on the waiting list for an RDP home. The acting municipal manager confirmed that one family has been waiting since August 2004.

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Left: Ryno Right: Acona

Ryno and Acona both dropped out of school in 2014 while in grade 8. Ryno is 15 years old and Acona is 16. Ryno is unable to read. While investigating options for Acona to return to school last week, Acona revealed to Jim that he was unable to read. This was the first time Acona admitted this to anyone and, when Jim & Acona shared this news with Acona’s mother, she indicated that she had no idea her son could not read. You may recall that in 2014 we removed another youth from school at the age of 19 (Chester) when it was determined that he was also unable to read.

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Acona – just after clothes shopping (thanks to his American sponsor)

Jim took Acona and Ryno for literacy testing last Friday and both are reading at a grade 1 level. The boys will now attend an adult literacy program each Friday from 8am to 3pm and Janet is preparing a CV for Acona, such that he and Jim can search for employment.

If you reside in the Knysna area and have a temporary or permanent job opportunity at your home or business, Acona has a wonderful attitude, work ethic and is extremely punctual and reliable.


Janet and Somila (grade 9)

Meet Janet’s latest English student, Somila, a grade 9 learner at Percy Mdala High School.


The cost of food and electricity in South Africa is similar to North America or Europe. Statistics South Africa reports the following:

Extreme poverty is defined as a household of 5 living on under R11 ($1.00 USD) a day. 20% of South Africans live in extreme poverty.

Just over 40% of the population lives in moderate poverty, defined as a family of 5 living on R22 a day ($2.00 USD). So…60% live in moderate to extreme poverty and many live in sub-standard housing, the vast majority of whom are black.


Thank you to Chris Walter and Larry Wurn for their donations of reading glasses. These are just 2 of the ladies who Janet recently assisted with much-needed eyeglasses. Note the broken piece of mirror in Janet’s right hand.


Your Donations…


Your donations recently enabled us to take 2 youth to private doctors for much-needed medical attention. One youth, age 18, was seen by a family physician regarding an issue which had been distracting him at school and causing serious anxiety for over a year.

The second youth tearfully revealed to Jim that he lost hearing in 1 ear around age 6 and, while he told his parents when he was 11, he was only attended to by a nurse. No one knew that the boy was still deaf in one ear (and only has 90% hearing in the good ear).

Jim booked an appointment with an ENT specialist 2 days later (imagine seeing an ENT in 2 days without a referral !) and the boy was examined, hearing tested, and he is scheduled for an MRI tomorrow morning which will be paid by the public health system. The boy finally told his parents about his hearing loss and Jim subsequently met with Mom & Dad to answer their questions. The youth now understands the need to protect the hearing in his right ear and be assessed once per annum.


Wanga (age 20)

Wanga recently graduated from Percy Mdala High School near the top of his class and was accepted at the University of the Western Cape to study Computer Science, the same university where Ben just commenced his 2nd year in computer science! Last week we put Wanga in touch with Ben and they have become good friends. There is no father in Wanga’s life, and his mother passed away in 2013. Jim met Wanga in early 2014 while assisting Wanga in his role as President of Rotaract (youth Rotary) at his high school.

Until next week…Janet & Jim.