A return to normal and a reality check

Imagine having to worry about your child’s walk to school. If they take their normal route, will they encounter protests and strikes? Will they be harassed for going to school in the midst of the unrest? These were our concerns during the recent protests in Diepsloot. Will our kiddos go hungry before we are able to get there to give them their food? It had been two months.

The residents of Diepsloot were challenging their poor living conditions. Demanding electricity be installed throughout the informal settlement. Demanding that something be done about the high crime rate. Demanding roads be completed. Basic things but a luxury to many in Diepsloot. We would love to say that the call to action brought swift change, but it did not. Despite the uprising Diepsloot still struggles.

Each Ngangifisa family is safe, but they were not untouched. Our delay in delivering food caused Kamohelo Moema and his six bothers and sisters to go hungry. Kamohelo’s older brother is disabled and bound to a wheelchair which means at the age of 13 Kamohelo is the advocate for his family. Without our monthly assistance he would be forced into a decision no child in grade eight should have to make. He would have to leave school to provide for his siblings.

Every time we arrive in Diepsloot to deliver food we are met by school staff who urgently need to speak to us. Usually, it is to tell us Jonas once again broke dress code, that Thabiso talked back to one of his teachers or that Jack is struggling in Math. On this occasion, however, we were met with the details of Kamohelo’s  living conditions and the harsh words of the social worker informing us that she “does not know how the family survives.” It was like being punched in the gut.

Seven children living in one room with electricity that is rigged and being stolen, when it works at all. There is no indoor plumbing. There is no kitchen sink, shower or toilet. They do have water through an outdoor tap where they can fill buckets for cleaning and bathing. The majority of their government stipend goes to the medical bills the older brother accrues. Food isn’t always the priority.

We are failing them. We could do more. We haven’t asked the right questions to make sure we understand Kamohelo’s needs. We can not be lazy in sharing all of their stories. We must shout louder that we have 20 families waiting to join our program. A waitlist Kamohelo sat on for over a year. Barely surviving.

“Poverty is a very complicated issue, but feeding a child isn’t.”  -Jeff Bridges

$300 is all it takes to feed a family for an entire year. €267 eliminates the worry of where their next meal is coming from for twelve months. £246 means children are fed, focused on school and working towards breaking the cycle of poverty. 

One frivolous night for most of us is an entire year of comfort for these children. Regardless of where you live and the currency you use, $300 can be one good meal celebrating with friends. It’s a ladies night. It’s a stag party. A single night of happiness for the privileged is an entire year of hope for these kids. You cannot tell a hungry child that you gave him food yesterday…What about today?

There is not much we can do about the stability within Diepsloot. We can not affect the politics within the settlement nor can we police their streets to make them safer. But we can ensure the children don’t go hungry. We can make them feel loved and supported. We can show them the difference between surviving and thriving.

A child may be born in poverty, but poverty is never born in a child. We produce enough food globally to feed 11 billion people, yet 25,000 people die everyday of hunger. This is one person every three and a half seconds. How does this still happen?

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She can and she will. Watch her.

I have always loved the Eleanor Roosevelt quote “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I have not led my life with the intent of making history and having my name in lights. I have no false hopes of changing the entire world. But, Eleanor Roosevelt’s words have always given me permission to be loud, share my opinions unapologetically and attempt to positively influence those who are still finding their voice. Right now her words are being shared with our girls in Ngangifisa. One of them just might make history.

1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school because of their period. Why? For many the cost of feminine products is equivalent to an entire day’s salary. There is also the stigma due to ridiculous superstitions in many tribal cultures that date back centuries. These narratives paint women who menstruate as unclean or impure. Some cultures go as far as banishing girls to menstrual huts, far removed from their community, for the duration of their period. Our girls are not banished, but many use a communal toilet which affords them no privacy. Can you imagine?

A communal toilet in Diepsloot

We have to provide resources and better health education. Girls can not stay home and miss 20% of the school year. Our girls must get an education to break the cycle of poverty. Thanks to organizations like Project Dignity change is happening. They have empowered our girls and others to reach their full potential. They are educating them on their bodies and the harm in using less safe and less absorbent materials like rags, paper or bark to manage their period. They gifted all the girls in Ngangifisa with one of their kits of re-usable sanitary pads and panties. There is no more embarrassment or lack of supplies. If we raise the girls up, we raise the whole community.

Subz panties and pads are 100% cotton and a “green peace” product.

We just celebrated International Women’s Day. A day that’s sole purpose is to eliminate discrimination against women and help them gain equal participation in global development. True equality is never going to happen if we are making 131 million girls around the world feel shame because they are a woman and get their period.

How is this still a topic in 2019? Maybe because this is not what most would consider a “well behaved” conversation. No one wants to discuss this reality. It isn’t a pretty or a polite dinner topic. But we promised the children of Ngangifisa food and emotional support, and our girls need to be supported in this area. They will be able to openly have these conversations, ask us questions and not be afraid of who they are. It’s a good thing me and the women who are the backbone of Ngangifisa are not afraid to behave badly.

To help ensure our girls stay in school and build up their community, donate now.


2 years and counting

When we began Ngangifisa two years ago we could have only dreamed that we would have achieved what we have. We remember the shy and quiet faces of the children staring back at us on that first day, not quite believing what they were hearing. Each family would receive support and most importantly food every month. It was our promise. All they had to do was stay in school and try their very best. Could it be that simple? Would we really show up as promised? We could see the doubt and feel the uncertainty.

Their trust took time, but we earned it. Before long the shy, quiet kids we first met were replaced with the rowdy teenagers we so wanted them to be. Our little family was born and they slowly began to open up about their circumstances and home life. Tebogo’s father shot his mother and then himself right in front of them. Mahlomola’s father simply left and never came home. Disease, gangsters and abuse, their stories had it all and it broke our hearts.

Two years under our belt hasn’t hardened us to their stories or their struggles. Each new child and each new story brings a new ache in our souls. Two years also doesn’t dampen the joy we feel every time a donation comes in.

This school year began with Jonas and Kelebogile being sponsored by the West family. Brian and Amy West have committed to purchasing both families groceries every month and their son, Cooper, has committed to being a pen pal. The power of his simple words in his first note to the boys are incredible. The looks on Jonas and Kelebogile’s faces when they read them were priceless.

Dear Jonas and Kelebogile,
My name is Cooper West and Meghan is my Godmother. She’s actually my dad’s cousin, which would make her my cousin too, but she is more like an aunt to me.
She is awesome and I learned about you and your school from her. I’m in 7th grade and I’m 13 years old. I am an only child. We live in the United States in a state called Minnesota. It’s shares a border with Canada. We get lots of snow (we currently have a foot or more of snow on the ground) and it gets very cold here in the winter, which is the season for us right now. Meghan says it is summer for you right now. I have learned at school that whatever my weather is, yours is probably the exact opposite because we live in different hemispheres.
What is your favorite subject in school? Do you like school? I like learning about history and science. School is okay for me. I like being with friends at school and my teachers are very nice. Do you like sports? I like watching football and baseball, but I don’t really play. I like swimming and fishing in the summer time. And sometimes we go tubing in the winter. Tubing is where you ride down a steep hill of snow on an inflatable inner-tube. It’s a lot of work to get up the hill, but it’s so fun to slide down it so it’s worth it. That’s probably my favorite thing to do in the winter.
Meghan tells us that you are very special kids and that must be true because she is a very honest person. She sees good things in you and because of that, even though I haven’t met you, I believe in you too. Bye for now!
Your friend,
Cooper West

Wouldn’t it be great for all 55 children to receive such amazing love? It really is that simple.

We are proud of them all and swear we don’t have favorites. Each one steals our hearts in a different way. Jonas is always making a joke and is the deciding vote on what we have for lunch each month. Thabiso refuses to look at the camera and rolls his eyes every time we hug him. Lilian writes beautiful poetry and loves sharing it with us. Thabisile sparkles as she runs across the school campus to embrace us. Little Inam is just precious. Tebogo and Maseng continue to amaze us and be the leaders we know they were born to be.

For two years we have shared their stories. We have patiently and methodically built Ngangifisa. We are grateful to our friends and family who have spread the word and shared what we are doing. We are blown away by the generosity and donations. It has truly turned into a global initiative and let’s us know that the world is more connected than we sometimes think.

We began with the dream of changing these kids lives. They have forever changed ours. We look forward to what our third year brings and the new families we will hopefully get to meet.

We dreamed of this and we dare to dream for more.

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