Archive for July, 2010


This has been an exciting week for I Learn to Live – firstly, I finally sent off my registration form for NPO status and I’m hoping it will not take forever for it to be approved. Out here you can wait anything from 3 months to 2 years – so, get on your knees people! The second most important thing I’ve done is to select, with Kate, the two young women who are the very first students who I Learn to Live will support in their journey to obtaining a qualification in the field of their choice. The ultimate goal obviously being job placement and income generation.  The third cool thing that happened, and I will be vague about it for now, is that we have had some overseas interest in I Learn to Live….:)

A few weeks ago I asked Kate to identify two girls from her NPO that she felt would benefit from connecting with I Learn to Live. I wanted to find two girls who were in their last year of school, had good marks and showed the potential to take the opportunity presented to them, and run with it. Kate, and her wonderful assitant Bonikele, found me two young women; one in her last year of school and the other in her first year out of school.

So…let me introduce you to our young students:


So while I was up visiting Kate last week, she introduced me to a young woman from the community called Sinothile.  Kate had identified her a while ago as someone who would be a future leader, especially if given every opportunity to attend a tertiary institution. In Kate’s words: Sinothile has the potential to be the first female President of this country one day!

Sinothile  is in Grade 12 (her final year of school) and she is determined to find a way to educate herself further. She is interested in Tourism and History, which she studies at school,  but would also quite like to do something technical like plumbing or electrics. Currently she shares her home with 12 female family members. The health of her family is seriously compromised at this time, with her mother being very sick and her granny recently having had a stroke. Her aunt is also unwell and the father of her aunt’s child died last year. Her mother was earning an income but now that she is ill she can no longer work. Only Sinothile’s aunt is working on a beading programme which Kate recently started. There is very little money coming into the family home. Sinothile carries the hope of her family as the future bread winner. Getting a proper education which could lead to gainful employment is very important to this family.


Sithabiso is currently in her first year out of school. She tried to get a bursary to study at the local FET College this year, but was not successful. This year she joined Anita, the American doctor and missionary, who runs the HIV/AIDS counselling course. Sithabiso is learning, along with a number of other women from the community, how to counsel and test people from the community for HIV/AIDS. She’s also learning to do tests for blood pressure and diabetes. Her commitment to this course and her dedication to learning the material, which she must then write tests on, is evident in the good marks she has obtained. Sithabiso comes from a family of six.

Both young women have family members infected with HIV/AIDS. The responsibility lies with both young women to  ensure that when adults who are infected pass on, that the siblings are looked after.  

So – their journey to further education begins – first we’ll go to the Richards Bay Career centre is order to assess the girls career options, based on the career testing methods employed by the Centre. Once we know where their interest  and potential lie, we’ll apply for a course offered by the local FET Colleges. And then, to prepare the girls for tertiary education, we’ll run through a life and soft skills course which should give them the tools to handle this new adventure.


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I spent two days last week with Kate up at Izulu Orphan Projects, just to catch up and see what’s been happening – that place is a hive of activity! They’ve just moved into their brand new office which means Kate can now separate her work time from her home life. Her dad, who is an architect, designed the plans and Kate got some guys from the area to build it – and they did a fantastic job!

I didn’t think to take a photo of Kate’s new office – but this is what was left of her old office when it was burnt down last year by a troubled kid from the community. We spent all night fighting that fire in our pj’s. Never a dull moment!

On my tour of the new facilities we came across a group of women from the area who were being trained by Anita, an American doctor and missionary who has been living in SA for 15 years. Anita is teaching groups of women from the communities to do HIV/AIDS testing – this is so that people no longer have to go into town to a clinic and wait in long queues to be tested, but rather can access testing in their own area. Once the various support centres are built in the communities which Kate’s NGO services, there will be a room set up for testing and counselling. Before people are tested they are asked to watch a DVD which explains to them, in their own language, what it means to be tested and what their future is, if they test positive. If people test positive for HIV, they will be directed to the nearest clinic or hospital which provides ARV treatment. This is a fantastic service which will certainly speed up the process of getting people on ARV medication and ultimately prolong their lives and the time they have with their children. The ladies are also taught to do blood pressure, diabetes and various other tests. Each of the ladies has to write a test and pass it in order to go out into the communities and begin their work. One of the ladies, Khethiwe, passed her diabetes test with 100% – and this is a lady that I met nearly 4 years ago while conducting my honours research. She was unwell, looking after too many children and was not expected to live for very long. Kate and Chadd got her access to ARVs and today she is healthy and contributing to the lives of her own community members. If you have a moment, check out this absolutely beautiful advert which shows the affects of ARV treatment on a woman named Selinah. Click here.

Kate took me out into the communities so I could see what has been happening since my last visit – she recently built a house for a young family who were living in appalling conditions; the older girls were sick and were looking after their young siblings. Kate was so shocked by their living conditions that she decided she had to build them a new house. Msizi Africa, a fantastic non-profit based in London, was donated money for this particular project, which meant that Kate could go ahead with her plans. The family now lives in a two bedroom home which is a far cry from their dilapidated rondavel and are extremely happy.

The rondavel which the young family was living in (Pictures above by Msizi Africa)

The house Kate and her guys built with funds from Msizi Africa

I got to see the site of the first community based support centre, which is modelled on the support centre built on the property where Kate lives. This support centre will have a child crisis centre – somewhere for kids to run to if they need to for temporary care. They centre will have beds and a lady who will look after the kids, she’ll live on site so that if kids come in at night, there is someone to receive them. The support centre will also have a media room where kids can come and do their home work after school – hopefully a few computers will be donated so that they can learn computer skills which are so necessary for job placement today. An small medical facility where people can be tested for HIV/AIDS, diabetes and blood pressure will also form part of the centre. The first centre has been paid for by Rotary and the second centre location has been found, but R30 000 is needed to purchase the land from the community before building can begin.

So exciting times at Izulu Orphan Projects – if there’s something that I’ve mentioned here that you’d like to support, please email me and we can talk about a way forward!

For news on my first student, who will be sponsored by I LEARN TO LIVE, please look under the I LEARN TO LIVE category on the right (I’ll be updating it soon)!

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Photo by: Samantha Reinders for The Wall Street Journal

I was driving to the Bluff the other day and had this major philosophical monologue going on in my head; I was thinking about hawkers. Those guys you see every day at the same robot (traffic lights for my foreign friends) trying to sell you the same things: hangers, left over flags, aprons, cell phone  chargers for your car, etc. I was thinking about the fact that these guys, just like you and I, need to make a living and we often don’t give them the time of day because we find them irritating. Or because we feel sorry for them. So instead of acknowledging them, we ignore them.

So as I’m thinking that everyone needs to make a living and some people unfortunately have to do that by standing out in the baking sun all day, trying to sell products to people who just want to get where ever it is they’re going, this guy approaches me. I see him out the corner of my eye, weaving his way through the cars. And this guy suddenly sprays my windshield with soapy water and starts cleaning it! Just like that! Even though I’m shaking my head and making very visible STOP TOUCHING MY CAR head movements, he ignores me and continues. And man was I getting irate because not only am I being ignored, I am thinking: I am going to have to pay him! For a service I didn’t even ask for!

And then I get it. This is God just checking up on me. Just seeing whether all my philosophical musings are really just that, nothing more than musings. Here’s a guy who can’t get a job, a guy who’s come up with a way to make himself a bit of cash. He could be out hijacking cars, robbing ladies of their handbags or scaling the walls of fancy homes, in the dark, and helping himself to whatever’s inside. And maybe he does do that when he’s really desperate, but today he’s earning a living. And while his method might be a little in-your-face, you have a choice: give him a buck or two, or at the very least, give him a smile in thanks and carry on along your way.

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I love Nelson Mandela. I do. And I have to tell you that I always feel quite heart sick at the thought that one day the man is going to pass on. But he will. It’s his birthday this Sunday and therefore Mandela day: a day where we as citizens of this country, and globally, are asked to give a mere 67 minutes of our time to assist someone in need, help out at a local charity, basically do something for someone else who cannot do it themselves due to poverty, dire circumstances or because they are too vulnerable to do it themselves.

“It is time for the next generations to continue our struggle against social injustice and for the rights of humanity. It is in your hands.” Madiba, June 2008

So mobilise your church, synagogue, temple or wherever it is you worship, your sports team, your work colleagues and friends, and find a charity, individual, family….someone who could do with a hand, and help them out.

Some practical ideas:

  • If you know of a children’s home in your area, phone up and ask them if there is anything they need which you could assist them with (painting, DIY, fixing chairs/tables, etc)
  • Spend some time with the old dears at a home for the aged (not as cute as kids but they could teach us a thing or two about life and they’d really enjoy the company)
  • Get your friends and yourself to clean out your clothes cupboards and donate all the clothes/shoes you no longer wear (but which are still in good condition – never donate anything that should really just go straight into the bin) to a local charity like the Salvation Army
  • Is there someone in your building who can’t get out on their own because they’re too old, infirm, etc? You could spend some time with them or offer to take them to do their groceries or take them to the doctor
  • Is their a specific car guard or security guard who takes care of your car, or your life!, on a daily/nightly basis? Show them how much you appreciate them: buy them lunch, a pair of shoes, something they might need
  • If you have any ideas you could offer, a specific charity or NPO/NGO, please post them in the comments section.

If you’d like to do more than your 67 minutes, I’ll be posting some great local charities which you could support. Please look under the Good People, Great Causes category on the right in the next few days.

For more information, visit the website on: click me

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I don’t like to think about May 2008, when scores of foreigners were attacked by South Africans and had to flee their homes. Homes that they lived in, side by side, with some of those very same South Africans for years. Some of them had shared meals together and had looked after each others children when the need arose. So on my return from a short holiday in London, I was literally filled with the most indescribable fear. For the first time in my life, I considered leaving South Africa; I wasn’t able to deal with this hatred and fury that was roaring across the country for innocent people. Especially after all that had occurred to end the apartheid era; for wasn’t this exactly what was happening again? The only difference being that this time it was the same skin colours but different nationalities.

You might be wondering why I’m writing about this, this is of course meant to be about happy stories from Africa, not hectic tales of violence and hatred. But this week I sat with a young woman I met through my experiences of May 2008. And out of that horror and fear has come a relationship that would probably never have been forged if it were not for our meeting back then.

I was part of a group of Durbanites who had banded together to assist displaced foreigners in whatever way possible. I sent out a request to friends and family, both locally and in the UK. And I was blown away by the sheer generosity which resulted from that request. I did a huge shop with my mom, and friend Jono, at Makro (bulk store), where we bought canned good, toiletries, blankets, and toys for kids to play with. A temporary camp was set up at a police station right outside of one of the areas in Durban where foreigners had fled and I went and dropped off the goods there. I was amazed at the number of cars which were lining up to drop off items collected by ordinary South Africans to replace the material possessions that these people had lost. Part of my duty was to go round to various refugee camps to check on how people were doing. I’m not sure now what the point was because we had very little sway with any political parties. But I think what it did do was convey to people that actually, some of us do care.

Jono and my mom with the bootload of goodies

The receipt – we spent just under R6000 which was donated by South Africans, both locally and overseas

This is how I came to meet Denise. About a year ago she contacted me to ask if I could find her information on enrolling into a college where she could continue her studies in hotel and catering. She had done two years in Rwanda, after she fled with her family from Burundi, and wanted to get her qualification so she could find a proper job. And so began our journey with the South African education system (and what partly led to my desire to have an NPO). After much to-ing and fro-ing, being ripped off by fly-by-night colleges and not being given the correct information, we finally got her enrolled at an FET College here in Durban. I asked a friend Lara, if she would sit with Denise once a week and help her with her English and some of her homework, because studying in a language which is probably fourth on your list in terms of proficiency, is hard work.

I sat with her on Wednesday and we chatted about her plans to continue studying. We got talking about her family and she began to tell me about her experiences in Burundi and how she came to South Africa. From our previous meetings I knew she had fled from Burundi to Rwanda and then eventually made it to Mzansi with her family (or part of it). But she began to tell me a bit more about that time of her life. Both her oldest brother and her youngest sister, aged 11, had been murdered by the militia. Her sister had been shot in the chest while hiding under a mattress, waiting for the militia to leave. When she would not come out from her hiding place, they shot her. Due to the inadequate hospital services available during this time, they were not able to save her life. The circumstances surrounding her brothers death are not fully known by the family. Eventually they all fled to Rwanda and tried to reconstruct their lives. However, Burundi and Rwanda share the atrocities of the genocide due to the fact that both Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups live in both countries. Denise’s parents are Hutu and Tutsi which of course led to many conflicts as the family tried to flee the violence. Today Denise’s family is scattered between Burundi, Rwanda and South Africa. She recently showed me photos of herself and her family from their happier days in Burundi. I could not reconcile the pictures of a young girl with an almost regal countenance, a girl who looked like the world owed her a thing or two, with this young women with the serious face and the slow to deliver, shy smile. For all the adversity she’s faced in her 27 years, she has a tremendous spirit.

Obviously Denise is not in a position to pay for her studies. Her brother works night shift as a security guard so that he can look after her son during the day. Denise would do odd jobs during the day but as is often the case, unskilled foreigners do not get jobs easily as there are enough unskilled South Africans who need jobs just as much. So a very generous donor agreed to pay for her 1st (of 3) level of study; she wrote her exams and is waiting for her results. Her goal is to finish studying so that she can get a job and then put her younger brother through college. And one day she hopes to return to Burundi. One of the first things she’ll do is look for a girl called Jacqueline. At the time Jacqueline was 11 and working for a relative of Denise’s. Both her parents had been killed and she was caring for her young brother; Denise would sometimes stay with her just so they would not feel so alone. She has no idea what has happened to that girl, or even what her surname is, but she’d like to find Jacqueline and help her as people here have helped Denise.

It is actually incredibly easy to make someone’s life that much more bearable, that much more human. Taking the time to listen to someone’s story – a story that might be incredibly hard to hear but would give the story-teller a chance to share a burden or release the build-up of heart ache. And it’s good to let people cry as they talk so that their pain is acknowledged and not reduced to merely a distant memory. The death of a young sister at the hands of militia is surely not something that can ever be forgotten.


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I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t a house made of wattle and daub with some plastic sheeting, which was meant to prevent rain from coming through the holes in the mud and sticks. How, I thought, are we all going to fit in there? I knew maThembi had a husband and three children, and there were five of us in our team. So mathematically there was no way all of us were going to fit into a house which consisted of one room. I needn’t have worried though, there is always a plan to be made in Africa.

The homestead in KwaJobe

I returned from the UK at the end of 2001. I’d only been there since the February of that year but it had felt like an eternity. As I stood staring out of the window of the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, into another grey rainy London day, I thought: I need to go home. So home is where I headed. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with my life but I knew I did not want to work as the graphic designer I’d spent three years training to become. In the beginning of 2003 I came across an advert in the paper which was issued by our government; they were looking for designers who were keen to work in rural areas of KwaZulu Natal, with women who used craft as a means for income generation. This sounded exactly like something I was meant to do with my life. I applied, got accepted and began one of the most exciting chapters in my life.

This is how I came to find myself standing outside maThembi’s house, in KwaJobe, trying to work out where I’d be living for the week. I also happened to be the only umlungu (white person) for probably a 100km radius…I was feeling distinctly out of my depth and trying not act like a spoilt city girl. So when they showed us the toilet I tried to look as nonchalant as possible…even though I was staring at what used to be a kombi seat with a whole cut in the middle, balancing precariously on a beer crate. The long-drop was about 50m from the house and all that persevered your dignity from the inquisitive eyes of small boys and skinny cattle, was a thin fence. Next to the long-drop were a box of matches and a bunch of newspapers; we were told to make sure we light some newspaper and throw it down into the long-drop so as to ensure that when you sat down the spiders, which hid under the seat, would not venture where they shouldn’t. It was at that point in time that constipation set in.

Can you tell me where the bathroom is please?

The two other girls in our team and myself were ushered inside maThembi’s house and we were told to drop our stuff and make our selves comfortable. The girls were all going to share the house with maT and her daughter, while her two boys and her husband where going to sleep in the make-shift kitchen. There was one double bed which we’d all share on a rotation basis with maT, and the rest of the time we slept on the floor on traditional Zulu mats called icansi (another word for extremely thin, non-padded and uncomfortable sleeping mats). Then we went to visit the two guys in our team to check out their spot, and just so you know, in Zulu culture – men are king. The guys were happily ensconced in a four roomed house. They each had their own room with a double bed and the women of the house brought them hot water for washing in the mornings and their breakfast was prepared and presented to them with great ceremony. So much for trying to instil a sense of gender equality in this community.

MaT and her family

The purpose of us living with the crafters was firstly so that we could learn from them their crafting skills and secondly so we could assist them with designing products in the materials they used. Our aim was to create products based on what the market wanted, which included the “on-trend” colours and shapes of the season. Products which were not seen simply as curios, but rather as art. Like all young designers we tried to outdo ourselves with fantastically shaped products which, of course, simply could not be made out of natural materials. So as the time marched on and the women valiantly tried out every one of our ideas, we eventually designed a product which suited both design expectations and what was possible for the materials. As we sat with the women in a giant circle as they sang, chatted, weaved and created, I got an incredible sense of perspective. I am indeed a very privileged person.

Zam showing the crafters how to use our design template.

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If I could wish for one thing (just for me, not like world peace or anything), then I’d wish for a killer singing voice. A voice like Kirsten Dey or Shekinah Donnell. If you’re wondering who the heck they are, then you should go and check out the local production of Hair Spray at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

I have a pretty short attention span. I’ve been known to get up during the middle of a movie and walk off to find something else to do. But this production had me glued to my seat. For a bunch of high school kids they managed to pull off one of the most entertaining shows I’ve seen in ages. Kirsten Dey has a voice that should make every Idols winner hang their head in shame. And Shekinah Donnell – who only sings one solo – had us all whooping and hollering with absolute glee. It was like watching Jennifer Hudson come right in Dream Girls!

Each cast member could not have been more accurate in their depiction of the original cast. If you closed your eyes and just listened you’d be pretty sure Michelle Pfieffer was standing on a stage not 50m away from you. Specifically great performances by Peter Court as Edna, Simo Dlamini as Seaweed J Stubbs, and Blessing Xaba as Motormouth Maybelle.

Every year, for the past ten years, auditions have been held giving local school goers the opportunity to vie for a spot in the production. This year 650 kids arrived at the auditions in the hopes of getting one of the 50 spots in the play. The production is a Young Performers Project which is run by PANSA and backed by Rainbow Chicken.

These kids deserve to be supported and I get the strongest of feelings that we’ll be hearing some of these names in top South African productions in years to come! Tickets are SUPER cheap at R70 and R90. The show runs until the 18th July 2010.

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