Creating lasting change in Africa
One small act can change the world. I can hear the rumbling of cynicism already, but allow me to explain. On the 15th April 2011, the film A Small Act by Jennifer Arnold was released in the UK and I went along to see it.
What unfolded was the remarkable story of Chris Mburu, who began life in poverty in a Kenyan village and became a Human Rights lawyer working for the United Nations. He tracked down the Swedish schoolteacher who had sponsored him through secondary school, a lady who never knew what had become of that little bit of money she donated each month. He also founded his own sponsorship programme in her name: the Hilde Back Education Fund. With a small budget and limited resources, the foundation managed to support 10 children per year to attend secondary school.
The story would be incredible enough, but the documentary was so successful and had such an effect on audiences that donations began flooding in and this year, the foundation is able to support over 100 children and has hugely increased its geographical scope. Without Hilde Back’s first donation, without Chris Mburu setting up the foundation, without the film being made and people donating, none of these children would have continued their education.
The problem of access to education is not unique to Kenya. Matt Crowcombe was on a gap year in South Africa when he met schoolteacher Henry Matthews. Henry introduced him to the residents of the Lonely Park township near Mafikeng where schools had class sizes approaching 200 and severely insufficient resources. Matt realised that simply giving handouts was not helping these communities; there needed to be long-lasting change, and that would only come about through the availability of a decent education for the children and young people of the township.
The charity SOS Africa was founded in January 2003, on the day a young boy from the township named Thabo Mokete started at Mafikeng Primary school, escorted through the gates by Matt and Henry. This was just the start of their story. It is no wonder that simply giving handouts has been the preferred option for many; putting even one child through school is no mean feat. Money has to be budgeted for not just the school fees, but also aftercare tuition, school uniform, transport, medical costs and even stationary. This did not put Matt off however; he and Henry pledged to help as many children as they were able to. Like Chris in Kenya, they hoped that investment in education would create the sort of long-lasting change that is needed to raise the standard of living for everyone in the community.
Today, SOS Africa is supporting 12 children and the number of children it is able to support grows by 2 every year. Matt is not content to stop there, however. Last year, 2010, saw a hugely successful project to ensure that South Africa’s poorest communities did not miss out on the World Cup festivities, distributing 7,500 footballs and 50 sets of equipment to schools.
The big hope for the future is to build a school within the Lonely Park township, which would enable SOS Africa to support many more children. Until then, the priority is to raise enough money to buy a school bus. This would mean that the children could get to school safely and efficiently and would mean that even more children could be helped in the future. SOS Africa cannot use money it gets from sponsorship, because it guarantees that 100% of this money goes directly to the education and care of an individual child. Until an award-winning documentary is made about Matt’s story, the charity is relying on its own publicity, word-of-mouth and a few mad stunts by the public to raise money for this appeal.
One person doing a small act of her own is Tan Barker. A South African living in the UK, Tan introduced me to SOS Africa in the first place. She is a fearless woman who’s not afraid to walk on the wild side and in August this year, she will be shaving her head in order to raise money for the charity and to raise awareness of the work it does. The money she raises may go a long way to paying for the school bus.
The reason I chose to write about Matt’s story is because when browsing the SOS Africa website, I discovered that he shares the philosophy that simply chucking money at a problem does not work. Instead he was just a guy on his gap year, who saw a problem and developed a real solution to it. He could have just donated some money and let someone else deal with it, but he didn’t. He set up a charity, supporting dozens of children through school, giving communities hope for employment and raised living standards that simply didn’t exist before. All of this while studying for a PhD. In a similar way, Chris Mburu used the chance at a better life he had been given to give the same opportunities for others. Working tirelessly for Human Rights issues around the globe, he still found a way to really make a lasting change to the village he grew up in and others like it. If Hilde Back hadn’t sponsored a child in a distant land, or if Matt Crowcombe had not invested time and money into getting that first child, Thabo Mokete, into school, hundreds more children in Kenya and South Africa would not have access to education and their communities would have no hope of escaping poverty.
Now do you think that one small act can’t make a difference?
- Find out more about the film, A Small Act
- Find out more about Tan Barker’s head-shaving fundraiser and how to donate.