In Zulu, silethokuhle. In English, we bring the good.
This is what we’ve chosen to call the fledgling foundation I’ve founded here in the community of Ngwenya, located in KwaZulu-Natal, the traditionally Zulu area in the northeast of this beautiful country of South Africa. And it’s not that the foundation’s staff and I are bringing the good, or those who donate, or those who come to volunteer – it’s the community too. We all, as human beings, get to choose what we bring to the world, and this foundation is for all those who choose to bring good to all they do.
Ngwenya is a breathtakingly beautiful place in the Lebombo mountains and at the same time, is economically extremely poor and very rural. Much of the community does not have running water or electricity and has not received much in the way of aid. It’s also my neighbor – I can see the rondavels and houses from near my own home further down the range, and it’s a place full of bright, kind, engaging people who I very much enjoy spending time with . The Zulu culture is alive and well, in many ways, and part of the mission of the foundation is to help preserve that while also providing skills which will help children and adults succeed in the Western world, too. It’s rich in natural resources, as well, and the community only needs to understand more about conservation in order to care for the land in a way which will allow it to sustain this extraordinary place for generations to come.
Officially, the mission of the Silethokuhle Foundation is to support culture, conservation and compassionate education in the community of Ngwenya. We believe that great things are possible in and for the community, and in supporting the preservation of the culture, the growth of the people and the conservation of natural and historic resources, we hope to develop, in the spirit of ubuntu, trust and cooperation with the surrounding communities and the greater world.
To begin with, we’ve chosen to reopen a preschool called Lindokuthle, which means “we wait for the good”. No such thing as coincidence, eh? The building was built by the municipality and then closed several months ago because there were not enough families able to pay the R45 fee – that’s about US $3.75 – per month in order to pay the teacher’s salary. My thinking is that if that’s the case, they really need the preschool! And so it will reopen on July 6 with 24 children enrolled from three to five years of age. The building itself is in great shape, and we’ll add a kitchen so that we can provide the children with a good meal each day – key to their growth. We’ve found a wonderful teacher and lovely assistant from the surround area – we are clear that this is a Zulu school, not an American one and that our role is to support the teachers and parents in making it a place which serves their needs, rather than tell them what is needed. We held a parent’s meeting – which means a meeting for the entire community here! – and had a full house. The interest was high and the questions were excellent. The community has been incredibly welcoming to me, the foundation and now to the school – and the families were delighted by the idea of teaching English at this early age. (The standard curriculum in South African schools is taught in the tribal language for the first three grades and then in Grade Four, the children are immersed completely in English. Which sounds good but all the textbooks, in all subjects, are in fourth grade level English, so to say that they can be quite lost is an understatement. I can’ t imagine being directly immersed in that level of Zulu!) The families happily agreed to pay a lower fee and to volunteer one day a month at the school – whether that be painting on the weekend or helping serve tea to the children. I wish I could convey the happiness and delight in the classroom that day.
There’s much more to tell you and this blog may well become more about the foundation than about me until we get a web site up, so stay tuned! I’ve already begun teaching English to the 2nd and 3rd graders at the Bekhimkhonto Primary School which Lindokuhle will feed into, and will add the first grade as soon as I return from my upcoming trip to America. The kids have learned so much in just a month or so – it’s incredible to witness! We’ll provide learning circles for teens and adults very soon – in which we listen and learn and they ask questions and learn and we all end up smiling at each other with full hearts. A vocational training centre and a community centre with emphasis on cultural activities along with a shop are next on the agenda. There’s much to do here, not a dull moment, and yet it’s all unfolding with such ease and so much joy.
Many of you have asked how you can support us. There is a Facebook page – here and we’d love to have help with many things as we seem to be growing very quickly! The official registration of the foundation is happening in both South Africa and the US, but until that’s all done, the best way to donate is via PayPal. You can contact me for details – christa at christagallopoulos.com. I have heard from so many who would like to donate actual goods – books, etc. – which would be lovely except that shipping to this area is very iffy, and there are very pricey duties involved. A little money goes a long way – the tiny scissors are about $3.00, shoes are $7.50. If you’re in the Washington DC area, I’ll be selling my artwork the first week of June as a fundraiser, too.
And, of course, if you’d like to visit, just let me know. It’s an extraordinary place and as you’ve seen, has changed my life in so many ways. I love to share all that it offers with those who join us in the belief that far from needing to be “fixed”, South Africa has much to contribute to the world.
Your support, whether tangible or in pure spirit, means so much to me, to all of us here. Thanks for walking this path with me, with us. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos on Instagram and Facebook, as we continue to grow. I’ll look forward to introducing you soon to both Sanele Thwala and Michele Musselwhite, who form the rest of the three legged stool that is the foundation – and I know they join me in welcoming you to our endeavor.
Silethokuhle. We bring the good. I believe, as many of you do, that when we bring the best of ourselves to whatever we do, we heal the world. I’ve chosen, along with Sanele and Michele, to do it here. We hope you’ll walk with us as we do.
Siyabonga kakhulu. Thank you very much.