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 

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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 

 

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

Approaches to Education

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Janet and Siyathemba (age 17) receiving a reconditioned laptop (1 of 6 provided by Kurt Cooper)

Siyathemba graduated (matriculated) from a township high school in December 2016 and just started university in Cape Town. We have known Siyathemba since he was in grade 9, and you will not meet a finer young man. He comes from a good family, father is employed, mother passed away 2 years ago, and his older brother is completing his final year of university (engineering). Siyathemba required assistance with his university registration fees which are not funded by government student loan programs, and we were pleased to help (R5,000).

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Kurt Cooper (volunteer from USA) – Hands & Heart (carpentry/welding program)

Many of the boys in the Hands & Heart carpentry/welding program dropped out of school in grade 9, but are literate. Too many come from homes where emotional and physical abuse is the norm.

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Santhonio – age 16

Santhonio is 16 years old, dropped out of grade 9 in 2016, and now attends Hands & Heart. The daily walk from the township to Hands & Heart is long and includes shortcuts through the bush. Like a number of the H & H students, Santhonio lacked suitable shoes. We purchase many pairs of shoes, as shoes eliminate a common barrier to education.

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Mandla (age 16 – grade 8)

Mandla dropped out of grade 8 in 2016 following 3 years of violence in his home. His mother and step-father have since divorced, and he is now staying with relatives. Mandla attained respectable marks in grade 7 and wanted to return to school, however township schools are overcrowded and many have waiting lists. In January, Mandla’s mother was told he was too old to repeat grade 8 which, according to Department of Education policy, is correct.

Jim contacted the Department who agreed to interview Mandla and assess his situation. Long story short, Mandla was allowed to return to his former high school this past Wednesday and is now repeating grade 8. He’s a very happy boy!

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Garald (Program Director – Hands & Heart)

Hands and Heart provides the prospect of a brighter future, and uplifts youth by restoring self-confidence and teaching hand-skills which can lead to employment.

While it is common for boys to smile on the outside, many cry when Jim speaks with them alone. Many feel lost, most are fatherless, and too many feel shame.

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Danville (age 17) – Hands & Heart

Ten youth who are not literate now join the 25 full-time Hands & Heart students each Friday to learn carpentry and life skills. Thank you to YFC Knysna for making this happen, and providing an option for the many youth who never learned to read and dropped out of school between grades 6 and 9. Needless to say, we have a waiting list of boys for the Friday program.

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Janet and Mihle (grade 9)

It would be easier if we only mentored responsible youth who were doing well at school. However, frustrated drop-outs, illiterate boys, and gang-involved youth undermine families, communities, and schools. Ignored long enough, some will inevitably become the criminals of tomorrow. School Principals and Department of Education officials are very supportive of programs like Hands & Heart and the Friday carpentry initiative. The next challenge is ‘scale’, and serving a larger number of youth.

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Penny and Lolo (grade 5)

Lolo is the latest boy to be sponsored by the Khayamandi Foundation of Augusta, Georgia, and he now attends a private school in Knysna similar to his older brother, Ntokozo (grade 11). Thank you Khayamandi.

Our Canadian friend Penny has been tutoring Lolo each week during her 7 week stay in Knysna and her husband, Don, volunteers each Friday at Hands & Heart. Thank you both.

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Haylen’s vision is currently 20:200 in both eyes. Corrected vision will be 20:40 in 1 eye and remain 20:200 in the other, but this will be life-changing to this likeable young guy who works hard at H and H. Haylen moved to Knysna to escape gangsterism on the Cape Flats of Cape Town.

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Haylen – age 17

Robin recently commenced his 2nd year at TSiBA College and was just voted President of the Student Representative Council for 2017! Robin has no family to assist him, and we sponsor his annual fees (R1,700), stationary supplies (R500) and incidental expenses.

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Robin – 2nd year TSiBA College

Marowayne commenced his first year of study at TSiBA in January 2017 and also required our sponsorship of TSiBA fees, stationary, etc. Maryanne’s parents are both deceased, and studying at TSiBA has been life-changing for him.

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Kudzai (2nd year University of Namibia), Jim, Junior (final year of College in Johannesburg) – from the archives!

Thanks to everyone who is already helping and making it possible to positively impact the lives of deserving youth here in South Africa. 

We greatly appreciate your continued support. Janet, Jim, & Clarke 

What’s Normal?

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Langa Township tour (oldest township in Cape Town) – December 2016. L to R: Jim, Shooter (age 66 – in front of his house), Janet

Normal: the usual, average, or typical state or condition.

While the definition of normal may be the same all over the world, the usual or typical state or condition varies widely.

We mentor boys and young men who are growing up in an environment which many of our readers may not consider normal.

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Franschhoek Wine Valley – near Cape Town (visited by Janet & Jim – Xmas 2016)

When Jim tells some of the boys that, in Canada, he does not personally know anyone who has been robbed, stabbed, raped, charged with a serious crime, or been in prison, they are surprised.

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Township adjacent to scenic Franschhoek (visited by Janet & Jim – Xmas 2016)

During a discussion with a 21 year-old college student (Shane) regarding male role models and the challenge of growing up in a township, Jim mentioned that he had never seen a stab wound prior to visiting South Africa. The youth’s eyebrows raised and he responded “Jim, how can that be?”

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Township in Franschhoek, one of the most popular and scenic towns in South Africa (Visited by Janet & Jim Xmas 2016)

“If you have a good brain and the world you grow up in (chaos of poverty, bad school) demands that you shut it down, you are bound to suffer.” Why Smart People Hurt – Eric Maisel

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Imizamo Yethu township (Hout Bay). 90% of residents live in shacks. (Visited by Janet & Jim Xmas 2016)

Some people continue to ask whether what we do makes a difference. The irony is that it would be very difficult to not make a difference.

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L to R: Gaylen & Jaendré (December 2016)

So many young people are desperately seeking guidance and direction in life. Many are lost, like a rudderless boat at sea.

On a daily basis we see teenage boys come alive, and feel hopeful for the first time in a long while. They start believing in themselves again. Working with disadvantaged township youth has been our most rewarding experience in life. 

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L to R: Harris, Zane, Jim, Max (December 2016)

Jim recently took 4 teenage boys to visit their 4 teenage friends who are in custody at a juvenile correctional centre awaiting trial on very serious charges.

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L to R: Max, Zane, Olwethu, Harris

One of the 4 youth in custody for 16 months while awaiting trial told Jim “You see us laugh when you visit, but it is tough in here. It’s dangerous, with 30-35 guys per cell, and not a place the other guys want to be.” 

None of the 8 boys, including the 4 in custody, believe crime is acceptable. But many grow up in environments where fighting, bullying, drug use, being robbed, dysfunctional homes (alcoholism, violence), and barely passing (or failing) at school has a semblance of ‘normal’. Not right, but normal.

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Mosselbay Junvenile Correctional Centre

Upon exiting the correctional centre, Jim and the boys had a healthy discussion about ‘normal’. Their normal, Jim’s normal, and the normal facing their friends in custody. No one was flippant or disinterested. The mood was sombre.

If we ignore such youth, it will likely be at our peril.

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Chester (commences carpentry training February 3rd)

The Hands & Heart carpentry & welding program commences Monday, January 16th, and the 24 guys are very excited to start.

The 1 day per week carpentry program for boys who struggle to read begins Friday, February 3rd and Jim has selected the initial 10 youth.

The college and university students previously profiled on our blog all continue to do well, academically and otherwise.

Final results for all grade 12 students in South Africa were released 5 days ago. Many of the original members of our Bulele mentorship groups completed grade 12 in 2016, and all did well. Most did very well and will attend universities in Cape Town.

Schools reopen Wednesday, January 11th for the start of the 2017 academic year.

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township spaza shop (corner store)

“All the best in 2017 and thanks for your continued support.” Janet & Jim 

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The Future is Now

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L to R: Santhonio, Friend, Angel, Shilyn

Don Pinnock, author of Gang Town, argues that, for many township youth in Cape Town, the future is now. When your community and/or home environment is violent, and there is a chronic shortage of food and other essentials of life, the prospect of a future which is brighter than today may seem implausible.

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L to R: Garald (H & H Instructor), Simbulele (grade 12), Tyler (grade 8), Denver (grade 9), Khanyile (grade 12)

Skills programs such as Hands and Heart which teach carpentry and welding provide hope of a future which includes the prospect of gainful employment for many of the youth we mentor. Jim recently took 6 of the 8 youth in the preceding photos for interviews at H & H, and a 7th will attend the new carpentry mentorship program for boys who can’t read.

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Interview Day at H & H: Zukisani (matric), Urhll, O-Joe, Vano. (the latter 3 youth ceased attending school after completing grade 8 or 9)

While most of the youth Jim has taken to H & H for interviews are 16-17 years of age, and did not complete grade 9, others will complete high school (grade 12) this month or matriculated 1-2 years ago.

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Grade 9 at boys Percy Mdala High School (Principal at rear).

On November 18th, the Principal of Percy Mdala, Deputy Principal, and Jim enlightened all the grade 9 boys regarding the Hands & Heart skills program. The presentation was directed to boys who are struggling academically and who enjoy working with their hands. Most of the boys who expressed a strong interest in H & H were 17 or 18 years of age, yet still in grade 9.

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playing dominoes in the township

Wood-Working Mentorship commences February 3rd!

Thanks to the supportive team at Hands & Heart, the carpentry mentorship program we envisioned becomes a reality commencing February 3rd. Each Friday, availing of the H & H facilities and instructors, supported by the adult mentors Jim recently recruited, will teach wood-working skills to illiterate youth aged 14 to 22. This means young guys who lack the literacy skills required for H & H will now have an opportunity to acquire much-needed life and hand-skills. Thank you to the wonderful team at YFC Knysna for their many initiatives designed to uplift local youth.

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Kurt (Ben’s university sponsor) and Ben

Many of our readers are familiar with Ben who, at the age of 10 was kidnapped, along with his father, by armed rebels from their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ben and a few boys escaped from the camp and made their way to Zambia where Ben eventually found his uncle and aunt who resided there. Long story short, his Aunt brought him to South Africa where Ben attended school from grade 5 to 12, all the while never knowing the fate of his father and family in the DRC. We met Ben when he was in grade 11. In 2016 Ben completed his 3rd year of a computer science degree at UWC in Cape Town.

3 days ago, after 12 long years, Ben found his family!

“I…have many reasons to be thankful at this moment. Today is literally the best day of my life. My longtime prayer has been answered.

I’m proud, happy, excited, delightful, joyful to announce that I talked to my mom, dad and siblings today. They’re all well. I can’t put into words how I’m feeling right now.

Here’s how it happened, couple of weeks ago, my cousin in Joburg phoned me to tell me that she gave my contact details to a man. This man is an African arts and crafts dealer who travels regularly in Zimbabwe and Malawi to buy arts and crafts to sell it in South Africa. One day during a conversation with my cousin, he mentioned a young Congolese barber he knew in Harare (Zimbabwe) that he was fond of, he turned out to have the same name and surname and age as my younger brother. My cousin immediately believed there was a huge possibility it could be my brother because years back we received news that linked them to the possibility that they might be in Zimbabwe but we couldn’t get any further lead that time .

… yesterday I got a phone call from them (My parents), they were so happy to know that I’m alive and well . Reception wasn’t very good because they live in a rural area but it WAY was better than nothing. We’ve still got a lot to catch up. I’ll call them tomorrow (in Zimbabwe).”

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Siya (grade 6) and Annie

Our good friends from the U.K., Annie & Dick, have been generous supporters of our initiatives the past 2 years. Most recently, Annie took the big leap and became a volunteer! Annie joins Janet each Monday and tutors Siya in grade 6 English. Thank you Annie!

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L to R: Siyambonga (grade 9) and Mxolisi (grade 9)

Our first month in South Africa is particularly busy for Janet, as November is the final month of the school year. Not only are the grade 8-11 boys writing final exams for each subject in November, but the grade 12 youth write their national matric exams. The school year in South Africa commences in January and ends the first week of December. While this is a stressful period for the boys, Janet thrives on it!

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L to R: Brendan (14) and Monti (13) – both in grade 7

Knysna Hope (NGO) has organized a 3 night camp for youth aged 12-15 this January at the Outward Bound camp facilities near Knysna. Funding from the Khayamandi Foundation means disadvantaged youth may attend for free.

We have been busy promoting the camp to many of the boys we know. Brendan and Mongi are impressive young guys and both are excited about attending the camp. The boys and their friends love to rap, and they create their own beats and write the lyrics. They participate in rap competitions and are keen to record their music. Jim knows some high school guys who have a small recording studio in the township and a visit is planned for next week.

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Onke

Congratulations Onke! We met Onke when he was in grade 9 and joined our original Bulele mentorship group. He just completed grade 12 and attained the highest academic results at his high school!! Two years ago a Canadian friend visited us, met Onke, and was immediately impressed. To reward Onke’s hard work at school, and support him as he commences his university education, this couple from Ottawa (Canada) purchased a new laptop computer for Onke! Thank you for your kindness.

Onke has applied to many of the top universities in South Africa and intends to study accounting, with a minor in economics. Watch this young man…he will go far.

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Thank you to all our followers for your continued support. We have been extremely busy, even more so than previous years. Time is of the essence to coach the graduating grade 12 youth on a suitable path for 2017, as well as grade 9 youth who previously dropped out of school or do not plan to return in 2017. It is also the time of year when we make sure youth who are commencing college, university, or trade skills training have an appropriate pair of shoes and basic clothing. Many do, but many don’t. The depth of poverty experienced daily by so many of the 200 young men we now mentor still, occasionally, blindsides us. Just when we think there is little left to surprise us, it happens.

Janet & Jim 

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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