Archive for the ‘I Learn to Live – Ngifundela ukuphila’ Category

I Learn to Live - June 2016 Newsletter (3)


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I Learn to Live - 2015 Newsletter (D2)

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We’re incredibly excited about our very first community event called: GENERATE IDEAS FOR YOUR FUTURE!

The purpose of this event is to introduce grade 6-9 learners to the concept of thinking about their future and the various options available to them. This is not a career day, but rather a day that fosters in children a culture of thinking for themselves, thinking about their environment and context, thinking about the challenges they face and finding solutions to these challenges. Our intention is to show the children that it is very possible for people in the communities they live in, to come up with ideas for solving problems and meeting the needs of community members. I Learn to Live follows two main schools of development: community mobilisation and asset based community development. Both of these schools promote that change can only truly be sustainable if community members are fully involved and engaged in changing their own lives and communities.

Plan of action

We have invited 80 children from grade 6-9 who live nearest to the centre to attend the event. These children are attending local schools in the area. The day will involve the following (described in detail after this section).

The activities for the day include:

  • Video room: we have created a 15 minute video that showcases ideas from grassroots entrepreneurs across Africa and other developing countries.
  • Stalls: we have invited a number of people to man stalls that showcase different small business ideas (these are confirmed stall holders).
    • Paintage: a painting company in Durban. The owner is a refugee from Burundi who walked to South Africa. He began doing odd jobs at an architecture firm, and through hard work and initiative taught himself how to use CAD and the company then paid for him to go to Draughting school. He now runs Paintage with his wife.
    • Poultry farming: Rick and Anita will talk to the children about poultry farming and introduce their bible study group model that leads to poultry farming small business opportunities.
    • Hair braiding: Zikulise Community Uplift Project will offer a hair braiding demo and encourage grade 9 learners to think about attending a 3 day course that teaches the basics of hair braiding. Hair braiding is an easy first business to start as it does not require capital outline or many tools.
    • Sbongile’s succulent gardens: Ma Sbongile will show the children how to use rubbish, like tin cans, to create beautiful succulent gardens. These gardens use old fabric off cuts to decorate the cans, and plants such as rock roses, which grow quickly and abundantly in hot climates. She will show them how to make the garden and then each child will be giving the opportunity to make their own garden to take home.
    • Sizah’s farming project: Sizah, facilitator at I Learn to Live, through her own initiative and hard work, began a farming project and now sells spinach to Five Ways Mall Spar. She will share with the children how she became involved in farming to producing quality crops that are sold at a grocery store in town.
    • Innovation hub: two ladies who work in the field of entrepreneurship will host an innovation hub with the children. The purpose of this hub is to give children the opportunity to think about their lives and the challenges they face, and facilitate the process of learning how to think about how they can address these challenges with the resources they have. This involves the children working in small groups of five.


(In the forthcoming months, most likely during school holidays, I Learn to Live will be hosting a course called Creating Futures: Supporting Young People in Building Their Futures. The purpose of the course is to “enhance the ability of young people to think more critically in evaluating opportunities and challenges related to their lives and livehoods”. This course will provide a platform for more in-depth entrepreneurship programmes in the future).

If you’d like to support us financially to make this day a huge success – please donate and use the reference: Generate.

Thank you!

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2014 Year End NewsLetter - ILTL (hw)

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Let me be honest, at times running an NPO and being involved with people who generally fall into one of the following categories: poor, disenfranchised, abused, neglected, and/or foreign, can be rather depressing. Sometimes I feel that I have so much to offer people, by virtue of the fact that I have access to certain resources and knowledge, but then there are times were I feel two of the worst emotions: uselessness and hopelessness. And right now that is exactly how I feel because for all of the knowledge and resources I possess, they do not make a difference to the situation that the woman I met with today, finds herself in.

I have spoken of her before; she is a quiet and unassuming young woman, who is hugely driven and a survivalist. She has fled from one African country to another with her young son and youngest brother, she has studied hospitality through a local South African college, even though she’d already studied the course in her own country – it was not recognised here. She has found shelter for her family, baked bread for spaza shops, and sold cigarettes and clothing in order to make money. She has tried, in various and interesting ways, to make a life for her little family in Durban, South Africa. We have walked a long road together, Denise and I, and every time I think that the tide has turned and she is about to emerge from a place of survival into a place of growth and security, a new challenge emerges and she is forced to begin again; she has to steel herself for another battle.

Today we met to discuss her dreams of starting her own small business; a café selling homemade Tanzanian and African cuisine. Denise has been an entrepreneur since the age of 14, when she bought and sold second hand clothing in Burundi, so that she would not have to depend on a sugar daddy like the other girls her age. Last year she found herself a kitchen on Umbilo Road, and began cooking and selling her food, much to the delight of the many foreigners who long for food from their home countries. Unfortunately, she did not have a proper contract with the kitchen owner and he soon realised that he too could make good money by selling food. So Denise lost her kitchen and she lost her income. She has spent the past two months looking for new premises and has been met with much resistance, as a foreigner, and as a woman. She was given a brand new stove to start off her small business but it sits gathering dust at the shop because she has nowhere to put it.  In a cruel twist of fate she has also been asked to leave the house they have called home for the last two years. She must move out by the 1st of March and so far has not found anywhere else that meets her meagre budget.

So as she sat across from me, a woman filled with dreams and a viable business plan, I felt her utter despondency at the futileness of her situation. She told me she has never felt this lost, this scared and this uncertain, about her life and the lives of her child and brother. She does not know which way to turn and cannot fathom how she will come out from this place.

Here she stands: experienced, educated, willing, and determined to make something of herself, and yet she faces such obstacle and barriers. I know there must be a way for this woman – someone must know someone who has a space they want to rent out in an area that meets her budget. Surely. Surely between all of us, we can make magic out of this seemingly hopeless situation. Because one day, soon, I would like to be sitting at a little café table in the heart of Durban, eating a plate of hot and tasty Tanzanian fare, prepared by Denise and served by her brother Joseph.

If you think you can help, or know of someone who would be interested in assisting Denise, please get in touch with me at ashling.mcc@gmail.com or visit www.ilearntolive.co.za


A taste of Tanzania

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Hills of Zululand

A Zululand day is like a cat on a hot tin roof; no matter how fast you move you just can’t escape the heat. By 7am the air around you is a thick and soupy 30 degrees, and you know it is only going to get worse, as the sun climbs across an impossibly blue sky.

January 11th 2012 was registration day at the local Further Education Training (FET) College, and I was taking my three students, to sign up for their year of study. I’m a very ordered person; I make a plan and the primary aim is to stick to it; which is a pretty useless skill when you run a non-profit organisation in Africa. Plans are merely guidelines and the real skill is to go with the flow and move with the events as they unfold around you in ways which you had not factored in at all. The day before I had popped into the Izulu Orphan Projects office and five young women were standing at their door, asking the seemingly universal question posed by school leavers, “What do we do now that we have passed matric?”. IOP asked me if I would take the girls along to the College the next day to see if they could register as well. I stood their nodding my head while internally I was visualising trying to fit 10 girls into my car. Logistically it was not going to work, but I figured that some of the girls would not arrive at the specified time, so it wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong; clearly these girls want to study. I offered to pay for two of them to catch a taxi into Richards Bay, and after much silence and feigning of a lack of English communication skills, two girls were dropped in town to make their own way there.

One of my favourite things about working in Zululand is driving on the dirt roads into the rural areas. It is really one of the loveliest places; giant cactus and aloe plants can be found in abundance, and when the aloe flowers, it truly is a sight to behold. It lights up with hot orange pokers and is an iconic emblem for this area. The dusty and rutted roads take you past small homesteads, which are often surprising in their design, and décor. I have often been caught completely off guard by a wonderful mural splashed across a rondavel wall; a herd of leaping impala or a ferocious leopard in full flight. Some gardens are abundantly full with vegetables of every kind; pumpkin, tall rows of green and gold corn, huge bunches of the freshest spinach and beetroots the size of a small soccer ball. Cows stand languidly in the middle of the road, chewing the cud, and slowly saunter off after you grow tired of waiting, and hoot your horn. For miles vegetation and clusters of huts can be seen, with few cars on the road, which stretches out before you. It is in this environment which my students grow up; this beautiful yet world-limiting place, where young women feel trapped and long for a way out so that they can offer something better for their own children one day. Simply getting into town, a 30-40 minute trip by car, is out of the question. The options are to find the R40 each day for a return trip via taxi (which one often must wait hours for), to walk the long distance under a baking African sun, or to stay at home knowing that they will merely repeat the family cycle of poverty, pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. Access to information is near to impossible; though most people have cell phones, many do not have internet enabled phones, which means that in the early 21st century young people can’t find out necessary information, such as what subjects to study at school, in order to become a nurse or engineering. They don’t know where to study, how to get there, what it might cost or any other crucial information, which would help them to make the right decisions. We all know that the decision making process is detailed and requires sound knowledge so that choices can be made; these young people live completely without that knowledge. They cannot ask their parents, many of whom never finished school, and some of whom have never seen a computer with their own eyes, let alone used one. How do you change your life when you are shackled by such ignorance? For those of us who do have this knowledge, these life changing resources, I believe it is our duty to bring it to the people. As much as it is government’s responsibility to do this, I truly believe it is ours as well. Our government can never reach all of the people, nor can it provide all of the resources and man power. But together we can make small inroads into this social problem which will one day, and is already beginning to, affect us all.

Home sweet home

As we attempted to register the girls for their qualifications, I found myself giving a crash course in career guidance, as their hopes and expectations were wildly out of sync with the reality of the situation. Even though they arrived with dire marks for maths, accounting and economics, they were determined to enroll in Business Studies or Financial Management courses. The chances of them understanding the work, and passing the year, is slim; the FET College system is plagued by an 80% drop out rate, for the simple reason that students are not guided properly in relation to their career path. Young school leavers with 13% for maths are enrolled in the Engineering course, and although this course is not at University level, it is sufficiently difficult enough that someone with a low proficiency in maths is more than likely to fail. I heard from a friend about a young woman who enrolled in the Hospitality course, when really she had wanted to study Nursing; as English is her second language, she was under the impression that the word hospitality and hospital, meant the same thing. While this might seem mildly assuming, it is a terrible mistake to make. The reality is that she was never going to study nursing; she did not have the required marks, let alone the correct school subjects, which would enable a career as a nurse.

Since my return from Zululand two week ago, I have had countless people call me to ask what they can do for their children, and the children of their domestic workers. Children are not receiving the necessary information regarding subject choices and career guidance in school, and are attempting to access it, when applying for university or college. What use is it to know that you did not study the correct subjects to become a doctor or engineer when you are standing in a university registration queue? One of the main aims of I Learn to Live this year is to ensure that school children, both urban and rural, have access to this information well in advance of applying for tertiary studies. We hope to reduce the number of children who have been let down by this current system by providing them with a new system, one based on solid research and the current realities of study and employment in South Africa.

Dancers in the dust

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