Day One – Sunday 31st July
‘If you can’t find any miracles in life, be the miracle for those around you’
Today the most impactful experience for me was definitely our meeting with ShileThsalabala. Shile is a wonderful person who really opened my eyes to the fact it does not matter what mistakes one has made in the past, everyone still has the right to not only change themselves, but to change the environment around them for the better; by changing one’s mindset.
Sihle lives in and works to improve his township, Langa. We visited Langa and the digital educational enterprise Sihle runs. Everyone within the group was impressed and astonished by the professionalism and quality of work that he does. Sihle toured us around the old school and very proudly showed off the classrooms and equipment that he has installed into his coding school. It was so heart-warming and truly inspiring to hear his story and to be told that it was whilst serving time in prison for eleven years, Sihle realised that a change in lifestyle and decision-making was vital. The fact that he could move away from a life of crime and give back to the community was so profound. Whilst serving time in prison Sihle did more than change his attitude, he started the world’s first not-for- profit behind bars.
Day Two – Monday 1st August
‘Everyone deserves a fair second chance at life’
Beginning the day meeting Paul Talliard was the perfect way to put everyone in a good mood. Paul is an amazing man who runs an enterprise consisting of a furniture building team made up of ex-addicts or as Paul so succinctly puts it “people trying to get a fair second chance at life”. Paul also owns a recycling business a few minutes away. Both fitting and reselling old appliances is a method Paul uses to prevent these workers from taking the wrong path by staying in a sturdy job. The thing that struck me about Paul was the way he showed his workers that he cared. He was firm when talking to them to maintain authority however he would say to a passing man, “Hey Jimmy when you gonna come in and turn your life around?” and this showed he truly did care about people changing their ways and becoming better people. He would also speak highly of other workers in front of them.
When Paul was asked where he draws the line and has to ask people to leave he said that there is no line and that he will always give people a second chance if they are willing to change. This is something that not many people would honestly be able to say.
Next was lunch with Janine. It was so inspiring to see how she could pick herself up and come back fighting even stronger after the painful process of being forced to liquidate her company. While she was walking us through the factory it was heart-warming to see she had done everything by the book and all of the workers spoken to described working at Ukama as being a part of a big family.
An experience of today that will always resonate with me was the visit to the crèche. Although the never-ending affection and songs from the adorable three, four and five-year olds was oh, so gorgeous, it was the principal who was truly inspiring. Finding out that she had given away all of her furniture in order to turn her house into a creche was absolutely astounding. Liz was a truly unique person to encounter and could only be described as an angel. The power of generosity and forgiveness were very valuable lessons today.
Day Three - Tuesday August 2nd
‘Each one, teach one’
Today began with a trip to Robben Island. Thinking about such vile and horrendous acts such as apartheid happening so recently in the past is sickening, however it was important to learn more about it and be aware of the events. Seeing Nelson Mandela’s cell where he was held for eighteen years was extremely eerie and dark. The stories of Mandela’s motivation, optimism and positivity was a great way to represent all the motivating, stunning and intriguing people we had met over the previous four days. Our visit to the primary school in the Philippi township was extremely uplifting and a breath of fresh air in a way. Walking into a room filled with bright-faced kids who were just so happy and pure was a truly joyous moment. This is an after-school preprogram devised by Bulelani Futshane.
After a lot of dancing and singing about the importance of recycling, everyone’s spirits were significantly lifted.
Day 4 – Wednesday August 3rd
“don’t buy me meat, teach me to hunt”
Never have I come across such a vibrant, energetic and loving person in my life. Lebo Bogapane is a wonderful woman who has endured so much heartache and devastation in her life, yet finds the love within her to devote her time, money and skills to help children who have endured the worst situations possible. Lebo energetically runs a centre that supports and hosts children and teenagers who have been victims of physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse. Upon arrival, we were greeted with smiling faces and gorgeous songs. After being taken around the centre and shown all the facilities, we gathered together for a ceremony.
The kids showed us how much they knew about abuse and how open they were to speak about the issues surrounding the topic. It was jaw-dropping to listen to these brilliant kids who had been victims themselves, talk so matter-of- factly about such a sensitive topic, explaining to us how if one were abused there are steps one must follow to report someone and fix the situation. A group of boys and girls performed a magnificent song and dance for us. Passion and pride were presented during the dance and the kids had such impressive, mesmerising voices. Lebo is a person who will always stick in my memory for being so heartfelt and genuine when talking about her work. She demonstrated that she isn’t in it for the praise or money, but the fact that she genuinely wants to make a difference in these young people’s lives. The energy that she brings forth is so empowering and inspirational.
Day 5 - Friday August 5th
“It is not possible to teach someone how to learn”
A truly remarkable experience today was seeing how far our support goes and further reminded me why we are doing this. Noni Masina founded The African School for Excellence and my goodness does it live up to its name. Each student, or should I say scholar as the kids referred to it, utterly blew everyone away with the way they presented themselves, their social awareness and vocabulary. We were shown around the impressively large school and its many classrooms and facilities. With each classroom I visited, I was further comforted that our contribution was being stretched as far as possible. Every room was filled with talented teachers, engaged kids and appropriate learning tools to match. The spark and fire in the kids’ eyes, along with the goals of becoming lawyers, doctors and scientists, really proved their determination for a quality education.
Day 6- Friday the 5th of august
Today we were privileged enough to listen to the pitches of eight female impact entrepreneurs starting or developing their own small businesses through the SHE by Spark program. It was really inspiring to see the thorough planning that each of these women went through to pitch their ideas to us. A personal favourite of mine was a lady who uses natural indigenous African materials to create sanitary napkins. This business not only supplies sanitary products to girls who would have in other circumstances not had access, but also creates jobs and income for the women in the community. All of the women’s businesses had great impact on the community from education to beauty products. Hearing from such bold and inspiring ladies was a great way to end the trip.