Archive for June, 2010

At the beginning of this year I was hanging out with Kate Bain of Izulu Orphan Projects up in Empangeni. Most years I go up and help out with the adding of new orphans to their database. Each year I meet school leavers who would like to study further, but don’t have the funds to do so. And I always think: there must be something I can do.

So this year I decided to start an NGO called I Learn to Live – Ngifundela ukuphila. The premise of the organisation is to fund school leavers to study at nearby Further Education Training (FET) Colleges. These colleges offer students courses in, what are termed here in South Africa, scarce skills. Government has identified certain skills which are seriously lacking in South Africa and most are related to the trade industry. As a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu Natal, I am convinced that most of these students would have far more opportunity in the trade industry than they would armed with a degree heading out into the financial districts. In an article written in 2007 by Karen MacGregor the percentage of unemployed graduates rose to 9.7% in 2005 (these are the latest figures I can find). So we’ve got qualified guys and girls sitting at home, doing very little. Study a trade, such as plumbing or welding, and you could get your apprenticeship and eventually start your own company servicing the community from which you came. Get a qualification in hotel and catering and you could work in any of the lodges which dot the Zululand landscape.

Getting a degree, diploma or a certificate however does not guarantee you a job placement. The more I read up on education and the work environment, the more I recognise that soft skills, such as managing time effectively and employing a strong work ethic, are necessary additions to a qualification. We’d like to provide our students with both life and soft skills which will prepare them for tertiary education.

Practical experience is another necessary component to a qualification. Graduates have the theory but more often than not, no experience or practical skills. Providing them this experience is crucial and something I Learn to Live aims to do. We want to link our students to local industry so that they can experience what it feels like to work in the industry in which they’re hoping to get a job in.

We also recognise that not everyone is cut out for tertiary education. Starting a small business is another way to get people in this area to earn a decent living. We’re hoping to link with organisations such as ACAT whose mission is to empower people who live in rural areas to “improve and sustain their quality of life spiritually, physically, materially, intellectually, socially and environmentally”. By running courses in entrepreneurship we’re hoping to get people excited about earning money through the servicing of people within their own community and neighbouring areas. The FET Colleges also provide free courses to individuals who are interested in, for example, small scale poultry farming.

There is actually a great deal available to young school leavers and entrepreneurs in this rural area, however most of them do not have the ability or technology to investigate their options. We want to provide that necessary link between FET Colleges and other options to school leavers and see change happen in Empangeni and surrounding areas.


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I’m a big picture person but equally a details person. This can be highly annoying as I have the ability to work out every single step of the process that is needed to reach the ultimate goal. However what generally happens is that I become completely paralysed by the enormity of what I’ve dreamt up and end up doing nothing more than designing my logo and having a beautiful plan but nothing to show for it. So at the moment I have a constitution and a registration form – which is hopefully going to get posted to the NPO registrar this coming Wednesday. And I have a logo!

The logo is obviously quite an important element for any organisation and being a designer (even though I gave that up years ago) I knew it had to really represent the message I was trying to convey. I wanted to use a bird as they clearly represent mobility and soaring heights. I chose the secretary bird as it’s the only bird which kills and eats snakes; it basically stomps on them until they die. For me the snake represents the obstacles in the lives of these young students and our organisation seeks to help them to overcome those obstacles in various ways. The bird is also endemic to Southern Africa, and is found in the area where these kids come from. Another cool fact is that its name originated from the crest of quill-like feathers which gives the bird the appearance of a secretary with quill pens tucked behind his/her ear. Lastly it’s also depicted in the South African coat of arms.

So that’s the superficial stuff done…well besides the registration form because without that – I have NOTHING!

The way forward is as follows: Firstly, I’ve decided that instead of the ten students I originally wanted to assist next year, I’d start with two; less daunting and far more possible to raise funds for two students than ten. However, if we raise enough money we can definitely assist more students. Finding these two students is the first step. Secondly, I’ll be running a life and soft skills course with the students to prepare them for their new venture into tertiary education. The course will focus on the following:

• HIV/AIDS education which will incorporate issues on preventing HIV, pregnancy and practicing safe sex. Basically this module is about making the right choices (not an easy path to take but hopefully we can help them see the light!).

• Time management which teaches students how to manage their workload and deadlines.

• Goal setting which deals with the setting of, and working towards, short and long term goals.

• Stress management is an important component of daily life. For many of these kids they’ll be experiencing quite stressful situations – meeting deadlines, meeting expectations set by their families, the college and the organisation.

• Financial skills and budgeting are important for when the students being to make their own money. In many cases these students will most likely be expected to assist their families as they become the primary breadwinners.

One of the reasons why I’m telling you all this is so that I have to be accountable to you. You have full permission to say: Ash, what’s happening? What have you done so far? The other reason is so that you can tell other people about this NGO and hopefully get them to help fund these students. FET Colleges offer bursaries and we’re hoping that each of these students will get one. Students have to apply for a bursary in the October of the year before they plan to study. They only find out if they’ve won a bursary in the April of the year they study. They have to pay for their studies and the money will be returned to them in the September of that year. I know that these kids can’t afford any of this. So we’re planning on raising the money for them. If they win the bursary, the money we spent will be put back into our account and used for the next student. We’ve been assured by FET that our students stand a very good chance of winning bursaries, especially if they complete a life and soft skills course. The bursary only lasts for a year though and they must reapply for the next year. Being awarded a second bursary depends on how well the student does – so continued follow ups with these students is key.

So keep bugging me for progress updates!

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Right now Mzansi is humming – partly (mostly?) due to the vuvuzelas which have blown non-stop, or so it seems, since June 10th 2010. I cannot ignore the most exciting event to hit South African shores since the 1995 rugby world cup. The streets are alive with sounds of foreign tongues, vuvuzelas and soccer commentary. If you work anywhere near Florida Rd you may as well give up on game day and head to Booty’s Bar, Spiga or some other local and order a beer.

At every street corner, at every set of robots (traffic lights), flag sellers ply their trade. All the flags of the 32 nations competing at this world cup are available – as flags, as socks for your side mirrors, as quirky alice bands and so much more! I’ve bought flags for my car and socks for my side mirror (one got nicked – yes, just the one). I had a chat with a Zimbabwean who’s bringing in R3000 on a good day and half of that on a bad day – he’s made enough money to go back to Zim, buy a kombi (van) and start his new taxi businesses. I’ve contributed to this local trade by buying 5 huge flags: South Africa, New Zealand (a total accident!), England, Nigeria and the Cameroon (should have bought a Ghanaian flag instead). I am one of those people and extremely proud to be one. I’ve watched nearly every game – not bad for someone who only recently learnt the off-side rule because it was compared to a shopping analogy. The point is: you cannot ignore it. You cannot help but get caught up in the excitement and the excess paraphernalia (if you’re wondering what you’re going to do with it all once it’s over – you can donate it all to the Umcebo Trust down at uShaka).

Durban has proved to be a perfect host city. The sun shines for most of winter, the temperature rarely drops below 25 degrees during the day, and we have the beach. The glorious beach, with its brand new, spacious promenade – you can now walk from uShaka Marine World all the way up to Blue Lagoon (or Lugs as it is affectionately called). Our stadium, surely the most beautiful in the land (or world if I’m being honest), has risen like a phoenix from the dust bowl that was once another soccer stadium….but lets not dwell on that or the rugby stadium across the road. This stadium has brought a touch of class to Durban (or as it’s affectionately known dirt bin)

I applied for tickets to all the Durban games and came out with three tickets to watch Nigera play Korea. Not quite Portugal vs Brasil – but in hindsight it worked out for the best because that had to be the most boring game played so far. We were greeted by a line of South African police who did a great job at welcoming us in – I’m hoping this friendly attitude remains long after the games have finished and the tourists have gone home. We sat in the rafters which gave us the best view of the stadium and listened to the Koreans as they beat their drums, they did a fantastic job at competing with the vuvuzelas, which seem to have lessened over time (ruptured throats and vuvu lips could have something to do with that). Local entrepreneurs are doing a roaring trade selling shu-shu-zelas – ear plugs – to fans.

Tonight I become a Black Star and will be backing Ghana all the way. I’ll be sitting at the Africa Bar with my American friends, my sister and her English fiancé, and hopefully a real Ghanaian or two.

Jabs and his vuvu – the lady behind definitely not loving it! Al, Cath and Romy supporting the boys. Photos by Romy!

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Kate and Jedd

Kate can best be described as a whirlwind of flying golden curls, armed with a voice that has the potential to reach the highest hills of Zululand. This woman is NEVER at rest. If she’s not looking after her two small boys and her two foster children, she can generally be found screaming across the landscape of surrounding villages in a huge Land Cruiser looking for people to assist. She feeds and schools orphans, she helps build vegetable gardens, she looks after the sick and she constructs homes out of breeze blocks for those whose homes are simply not habitable. She’s an IT whiz and can cook up a storm. The woman is a walking wonder.

I met Kate and Chadd Bain in the December of 2006, at their small holding on the outskirts of Empangeni. My sister Cara had sent me an invite to an annual orphan’s party which the Bain’s held for the orphans and caregivers which their NPO assists. I was so impressed by what they were doing that I decided to do my anthropology honours research paper on the Izulu Orphan Projects. The party happens every year around Christmas time. It’s the perfect end to what is normally an insanely manic year. Every year a new batch of children in need are added to the NPOs database. As HIV/AIDS continues to ravage the landscape of South Africa, the greater the need for organisations such as this to dig in and get their hands well and truly dirty.

When I’m able, I go up and visit Kate, and I am always amazed by what she’s accomplished. It’s a hard life but man is it exciting! Kate is great at delegation (it is just not possible for one person to do this much work). She’s had been me pick up a sick lady from her little wattle and daub hut and run her across to the government hospital in neighbouring Eshowe where we sat for hours waiting …. just waiting with the rest of Africa for some service. Sitting in that hospital literally surrounded by the dead and the dying, I realised how lucky I am and how much I take for granted. Chadd passed away in early December, a week before their biggest orphans’ party. He died in a freak motorbike accident and as Kate likes to say, he died in the extreme way in which he loved to live life. Kate has taken on the mantle and Izulu Orphan Projects is going from strength to strength. If you’re looking for a great cause to support – this is a great one. Time, expertise, money….all welcome! To view Kate’s site click on here.

The three photos above I took at the 2009 orphan party. The boy in the top photo took his role as model quite seriously – giving me the perfect “orphan” shot. He shot off like an arrow to play soccer with his mates grinning like a loony straight after though! The two little girls in the middle photo were just gorgeous. There was a third, which can be seen in the big photo at the top of my blog, and each had her hair specially done for the party. They giggled and snorted with laughter as I tried to photograph them. The granny (or gogo) in the last photo was just wonderful. During the prayer service before the party she was standing up by herself, in a sea of seated people, clapping her hands and swaying to the music.

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I have a friend, Darryl, who owns a Moroccan restaurant in Durban called Yossi’s. It’s this gorgeous little nest of a place which is perfect for when you want to chill out with a glass of red wine and a plate of olives, hummus and pita bread. Just before the World Cup truly hit our shores I got an invite to the Africa Bar – what Darryl likes to call his “urban shebeen”. A shebeen, in the South African context, was an illegal tavern which usually operated in townships during apartheid. However, thanks to the wonders of the internet I just found out that the word shebeen is actually Gaelic in origin. I’m guessing some old Irish priest or adventurer brought the word with him (or her) into Africa and it eventually filtered down to Mzansi in a classic case of cultural diffusion.

But back to the Africa Bar. This is the place to go if you want to watch soccer (or diski as it’s called in the townships) away for the maddening crowd on Florida Rd. You can down a quart (two beers in one bottle), enjoy a tin cup cocktail and eat pap & wors or samp & beans all served on enamel plates. There’s also the Durban institution of Indian cuisine, the bunny chow (delicious curry in an edible plate – half a loaf of white bread with the middle scooped out). Darryl has pretty much nailed the market on the suburban shebeen experience; the only thing missing is booming kwaito music and lots of black people. But we’re working on that!

So this brings me to why I’m even writing this all down. As I sat on my beer crate chair and leaned on the khaya door table top, drinking my Castle lite, I thought: this is why I love my country. Long ago I made the decision that South Africa is the perfect place for me. Not everyone will agree with me on that and plenty will cite multiple reasons why we should all be packing for Perth or joining the migration to the UK which began around 1991 and picked up speed and passengers rapidly around 1994. And I acknowledge all of those reasons: crime – check, dramatic politics which leads to everyone feeling slightly uneasy – check, a megalomaniac for a political youth leader – check, etc etc. I know all of this. If it’s not in our daily papers and on the news in the evening, then I know for sure I’ll find it plastered all over the press in the UK. What we don’t hear very often and what I would like to share with you is that this country is brimming with possibilities, with opportunity and will people who are willing to make change happen. When Ghandi said be the change you want to see in the world,  I think he was talking to us down here in Mzansi. Because for every terrible story of violence and crime you hear, there is a story about hope and change. About people who are making this country a better place.

Salani kahle


Darryl, chief of the suburban shebeen

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