Arrived Safely

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Kweila

We arrived safely in South Africa and devoted our first week to settling-in, adjusting to the 6 hour time change, and reconnecting with friends & contacts. Clarke, our dog, also arrived without incident and is doing great.

Janet presented Kweila (see photo) with one of five reconditioned laptops we will be placing with grade 12 high school students and first year college/university students. Kweila commences grade 12 in January, and was just thrilled with his first computer! Thank you to Mona & Paul of Ottawa, Canada for your helpful donation.

Tomorrow we resume our regular schedule in the township and get to work. We both have a full week ahead and are anxious to get started!

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Excerpt from Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Sebastian Junger)

“It’s common knowledge in the Peace Corps that as stressful as life in a developing country can be, returning to a modern country can be far harder. One study found that one in four Peace Corps volunteers reported experiencing significant depression after their return home…”

“What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender.”

“Whatever the technological advances of modern society – and they’re nearly miraculous – the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be brutalizing to the human spirit.”

“Our fundamental desire, as human beings, is to be close to others…”

Thank you for your continued interest & support.  Janet & Jim 

Africa’s Allure

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Knysna (photo by Terrah-Caleb Mello)

In a matter of weeks, we commence the return-journey to beautiful Knysna. What better time to reflect on why Africa has captured the hearts of so many, including ourselves.  

“Few go there. Africa has a reputation: poverty, disease, war. But when outsiders do go they are often surprised by Africa’s welcome, entranced rather than frightened. Visitors are welcomed and cared for in Africa.  If you go you will find most Africans friendly, gentle and infinitely polite.  Africans meet, greet and talk, look you in the eye and empathize, hold hands and embrace, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness.  All these things are as natural as music in Africa.”  Richard Dowden – Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

“It’s addictive. Get’s under your skin like chiggers (mites). You scratch and it gets worse.” Kathy Eldon – In the heart of Life

We received the following whatsapp message from a grade 11 youth who, 18 months ago, was gang-involved, stabbed at school and nearly died, and on the wrong path. This youth proved instrumental in helping Jim connect with other gang-involved youth and work towards the signing of a truce between 3 gangs in April, 2015, which remains in effect:

“Hi jim am working hard on my studies i want u 2 see de guy u give hope on is going 2 prove u right.”

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Carpentry-Mentorship Initiative: Last week we commenced the search for adult mentors using social media, letter-to-the-editor of the local Knysna newspaper, and advertisements (see photo) in the weekly issue of Knysna ‘Action-Ads’.

The youth we have identified for this initiative are not ready for employment, or on-the-job training, and are best-suited to a mentorship relationship.

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Thank you for your donations, as this is the time of year when we rebuild the war-chest for the challenges and opportunities awaiting us. We are anxious to return to South Africa, and will keep you posted on our progress. Janet, Jim, & Clarke

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Accomplishments & Challenges

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L to R: Akhona & Rhino

We feel very fortunate to do what we do. The number of boys and young men whose lives we get to impact on a daily basis reminds us how lucky we are. While it is still over 2 months away, leaving South Africa is going to be very difficult for us.

The nature of what we do works, but the needs are enormous. The degree of poverty and daily struggle for survival faced by most township residents is much greater than many residents of Knysna realize.

The fact that you are reading this blog post means you are more aware than most, and already contributing in the form of moral and/or financial support. Thank you.

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Ben (painting at Ella’s/Penny’s Safehouse)

Guys like Ben make our job easy. Despite being kidnapped by armed rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at age 10, and still not knowing the whereabouts or status of his parents, Ben is doing well in his 3rd/final year of a computer science degree at University of the Western Cape. Ben’s education expenses are sponsored by Karen & Mike from Canada and the Khayamandi Foundation.

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Janet, Thembinkosi, Sinoyolo

To further support the members of her Concordia High School physics study group, Janet downloaded 180 instructional videos onto 2 donated laptops. The computers are kept at 2 of the boys homes which most consistently have electricity, but are available for all of the boys to use.

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L to R: Masande, Azo, Mzi

The majority of the boys in our tutoring and mentorship groups are doing well and we continue to add new members. Most of the previously gang-involved youth have ceased such activities and the more academic guys have re-focused their efforts on school and we selected 4 to attend Janet’s study groups.

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Jaendré (15 years old)

15 year-old Jaendré dropped out of school in grade 6 , but is able to read. Jim met Jaendré 5 weeks ago and has arranged for him to be assessed by the Department of Education, such that we can determine how to proceed in his best interest. Jaendré was living in the streets and begging for food, but is now staying with his grand parents.

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Akhona & Jaendré

Drug use is a common problem here, and the above photo captures Akhona (age 17) explaining his personal experience with marijuana and the addictive nature of this drug. Akhona told 15 year-old Jaendré about the difficult withdrawal symptoms he experienced, which are common among boys who have been smoking 2-4 times per day for an extended period. More concerning is that regular users sometimes progress to smoking TIK (crystal meth).

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L to R: Lolo (Ntokozo’s brother-grade 4) & Ntokozo

Each year the grade 10 students at the private school attended by Ntokozo are required to participate in the Oakhill School Odyssey. Students hike-bike-canoe 400km over a 20 day period. Ntokozo’s group departed this past Friday and return March 17th.

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Ntokozo’s group leaving Knysna

From a 16 year-old boy facing serious criminal charges who Jim has been mentoring the past 4 weeks:

“Thanks for believing in me Jim, you made me see a vision bigger then a picture,crazy i just needed someone to show me the picture again.”

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Your donations enabled us to help many youth prepare for the start of the 2016 high school year, enrol in Hands & Heart Skills Training, and commence or return to college  and university. Thank you!

Yesterday Jim purchased school shoes for a grade 10 boy whose home situation is not good. The boy was wearing one size 5 shoe and one size 7. His correct shoe size is 7.

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Janet with the little ones

Each Wednesday morning, Janet, Penny, & Sue visit a different preschool (crèche) to teach township children about responsible pet ownership using videos on iPads and laptops. Yes, that’s correct, Janet working with young children!!!!

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Sue & Liyakhanya (grade 3)

Sue and husband, Ian, reside in the U.K. and spend 3 months each year in South Africa. They have been our neighbours the past 2 years and Sue now tutors Liya in English, as well as participating in the responsible pet ownership program. Thanks Sue!

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Hands & Heart 2016

The #1 item on Jim’s wish list is a trade skills program for illiterate boys, modelled after YFC’s highly successful Hands & Heart initiative. Three of the youth we mentor are currently enrolled in Hands & Heart 2016, which is a 1 year program providing practical training in carpentry, tiling, plumbing, & welding, however the young men must be literate.

Jim’s wish is a carpentry program for boys aged 15 to 21 which is suitable for youth who are unable to read. Jim mentors many boys who dropped out of school between grades 6 and 9 because they never learned to read. When the teasing from classmates becomes too much to tolerate, the boys drop out of school.

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This week Jim started planting the seed with potential individuals and organizations for a carpentry program geared to illiterate, yet determined, young men. One possibility is retired men whose hobby is wood-working, but who also have a passion to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth. We’ll keep you posted on our progress!

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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.

Africa Makes Us Smile

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Having fun in Knysna township

We’re back in Canada and enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. Canada is a wonderful country and we are so fortunate to have been born in this safe and  economically/politically stable country.

However, we miss Africa because Africa makes us smile!

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It is difficult to travel 10 minutes in South Africa without seeing something that makes us smile or laugh! Crazy things happen in Africa. Kids dance on top of guardrails, people sway to music while waiting for a traffic light (a.k.a. robot) to change, piglets scurry across the road in the township, and people commonly find a reason to laugh.

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Onke (grade 11)

Onke is among the top 2-3 students in his grade 11 class, studies hard, is articulate, clever, and will inevitably do well in life. He remains an active member of our original Bulele mentorship group and plans to study economics and work as a government economist. Janet presented Onke with a reconditioned laptop donated by friends of ours in Ottawa and delivered to South Africa a few weeks ago by a visiting Canadian friend.

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prior to entering the prison

Have you seen the American television show Beyond Scared Straight?  At-risk youth, most of whom are already in trouble with the law, visit an adult prison where guards and inmates provide a no-nonsense taste of prison life. They get frisked, lectured, screamed at, locked up, and intimidated by inmates and guards alike.

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The boys being indoctrinated by the guards on arrival at the prison entrance. “You are now on our turf and will do things our way”. (Notice that no one is smiling)

Just prior to returning to Canada Jim took 21 of the 45 gang youth to visit the Knysna Correctional Centre. These are the same youth who signed a Truce and agreed to stop fighting 4 weeks ago (the Truce remains in effect).

The American television show has nothing on the performance the inmates and guards delivered on each of our 2 visits! They were very tough, and all of the boys were scared. Within minutes, the inmates and guards eradicated any signs of bravado from the boys.

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This photo captures Janet saying good bye to some of the boys on her final day of tutoring high school math. Leaving is always difficult and, while we keep in touch with many of the youth using WhatsApp instant messaging, it is never easy to depart or be     so far away.

Jim & Janet return to South Africa in October 2015. 

Field Trip & Truce

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Bulele Group from Percy Mdala High School

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

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Prior to entering the prison

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

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

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Janet and Siyathemba outside Siyathemba’s home

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

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Siyabonga

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

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Inside Siyathemba’s home

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Masibulele (grade 12)

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

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Hands & Heart Skills Programme – Knysna

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

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

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

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

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Signing of the Truce.

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

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Knysna – Thesen Islands

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

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

School’s Out

IMG_1476Final exams ended last week and the summer holidays for students extend until mid-January. While most of our tutoring and mentorship programs continue with the exception of 1 week over Xmas, we are also helping the older youth find summer jobs and assisting with issues pertaining to their university and financial aid applications.

Sadly…2 of our favourite young guys departed Knysna and will not be returning. Kudzai (just completed grade 12) and his 16 year-old brother Junior returned to Zimbabwe a few days ago to spend time with their parents before returning to South Africa in January to, hopefully, continue their studies in Cape Town. Kudzai and Junior are very special guys with whom we have become very close and there were a few tearful eyes shortly after this photo was taken…

Kudzai has been accepted at Stellenbosch University and Junior plans to attend a junior college close to where Kudzai will be studying.

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Aphiwe

Aphiwe just completed grade 12 and is losing his best friend and study partner, Kudzai, as Aphiwe will attend university 16 or so hours away from Kudzai who will be in Cape Town. Cell phones are vital for youth to be able to secure summer jobs and be contacted by the universities where they have applied. Aphiwe’s phone ceased working and this is the replacement we were able to provide due to his Ottawa sponsor.

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While the challenge of helping street youth who lack food, shoes, or wish to return to school or find employment is daunting, the dire circumstances of some of these young boys is difficult to ignore. Two of the boys in this photo are 14, one is 15, and one 17. None have attended school for 1-2 years. With no employed family members to provide proper food or school uniforms, or a stable environment, life very difficult and offers little hope. Jim started working with these boys 2 weeks ago after being introduced to them by our friends Ella and Penny and we are slowing making some progress. The first challenge is cleanliness and the boys have been provided with bars of soap and toothbrushes/toothpaste and each week receive their next assignment! They are very pleasant boys to deal with.

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Thiso – age 15 at the Knysna Sailing Club. Thiso attends a predominantly white church in the town of Knysna and a member of the congregation arranged for him to have access to free sailing lessons each week.

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Thiso – just completed grade 9

Thiso is 15 years old and lives alone with his single Mom in the cleanest and best organized shack we have ever seen. His father is absent from his life and he has no siblings. His Mom is an impressive lady whose job only provides 4 hours of work per day. Life is tough and too often there is insufficient food or no electricity. Shacks never have running water. When he was younger, Thiso used to play with the children of the family for whom his Mom worked as a Domestic (cleaning lady) and, as a result, he speaks beautiful English. If you would like to sponsor Thiso at a cost of $15.00 CDN per month to enable him to purchase lunch (meat sandwich) each day at school, kindly let us know. Like far too many youth, Thiso goes without lunch at school. As he would tell you, hunger is physically painful and makes it very difficult to concentrate at school.