Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

In researching material for this blog it’s easy to get a bit disheartened by the scale of South Africa’s problems. True the country has serious shortfalls in education, high levels of violence, and unacceptable levels of corruption. Yet despite these issues there are also plenty of success stories.

Like many emerging market economies, South Africa has enormous social and economic challenges, which are often hard to grasp  for those in developed economies; however, one of the benefits of being an emerging market is that South Africa (like other BRICS countries) has a dynamic economy, with sufficient opportunities to lift many from poverty to the middle class.

A recent BBC story speaks about how young black entrepreneurs such as Desmond Mabuza have begun to transform South Africa’s restaurant scene, taking what has long been a white dominated industry, and transforming it progressively into something more representative of the country. Mr Mabuza is an exceptional case, since not only was he the first black man to break the glass ceiling of high-end restaurants, but also because he is educated as an engineer, not as a chef. As Mr Mabuza says, ” [In engineering] you’re paying attention to detail, the overall project planning, being objective, processes [and] a lot of that training has come in handy for me in terms of how I implement and go about my daily business.”

Mr Mubaza is but one example in a particular industry of how those who have the right skills can achieve great success. Developing skills like Mr Mubaza’s require young people to commit to staying in school, learning a profession, and then later on transferring these abilities to other fields as they pass through life. What makes South Africa and countries similar to it (Brazil, China, and Vietnam) so exciting, is that this is actually now a possibility. Unlike failed states such as Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan, or decaying ones such as Greece, Italy, and Venezuela, young South African’s are blessed with a dynamic country rich in natural resources, a growing middle class, and a mature stable democracy. In South Africa it is possible!

Unfortunately the problem in South Africa is that while the country is on a good track, access to quality education remains a huge barrier for many young people. For this reason the work of organizations such as Education without Borders is so critical, because it enables young learners to develop the essential skills to enable them to participate in the development of country that holds so much promise.



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In the early 1990’s South Africa’s brutal Apartheid regime was brought to its knees, ushering in a new era of freedom, democracy, and expression. Many young South AFricans have no living recollection of the Apartheid era, and know only of the country as it is – a place where people of all races have complete liberty of movement.

Yet one of the overarching themes in this past edition of the 2012 Vancouver South African Film Festival is that xenophobia, while no longer legally legislated, is widespread and tolerated in South Africa.

Rape, homophobia, child poverty, and racism towards immigrants are sadly a reality in South Africa. Several films at the VSAFF highlighted these issues, include the acclaimed “Man on the Ground”, the story of immigrants living in South Africa’s vast townships during the wave of xenophobic violence that swept the country three years ago.

The courts in South Africa have begun to deal with certain abhorrent acts of violence, including cases of “corrective rape” – the idea of raping lesbian women to rid them of their homosexuality. Yet the legal system is far behind the situation on the ground, and women continue to die in increasing numbers. (1)

Recently Somali immigrant shopkeepers found themselves the victims of hate attacks, including the destruction of personal property and theft. Many immigrants fear for their lives, but have nowhere else to go. (2)

Apartheid in name is over in South Africa, but in practice the country remains a deeply divided place. Disparities in income, education, land ownership, are exacerbated by government corruption from an ANC in power for nearly 20 years. It remains unlikely that there will be any drastic improvement in the situation in the near term. Ultimately a combination of new governing parties, improved education and literacy, and better health care will allow the country to face down corruption, xenophobia, and poverty.

In the meantime, NGO’s like Education without Borders continue to deliver significant incremental change in South Africa’s townships. Events such as the VSAFF raise funds for real projects run by volunteers and local people. These projects not only improve the lives of South African youth, they also help raise a future generation that will be more tolerant, informed, and productive. (3)

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13908662

(2) http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/storekeepers-smash-somali-shop-in-khayelitsha-1.1302825

(3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn3aJKORPEQ&feature=youtu.be

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This evening, after leaving the office late, I was tempted head straight home and go to bed early. This past week I’ve had very little sleep; the unfortunate juxtaposition of my obssession with early morning starts, and my partner’s obligation to study well into the morning hours for his Ph. D. Call it burning the candle from both ends.

An early Friday night seemed awfully tempting on a cold and rainy winter’s night, but in the end I stuck to a promise I had made myself earlier in the week, that I would go to synagogue to practice my Hebrew and connect with my community. Now don’t get me wrong, I am about as religious as an apple can be an orange; however, religious event aside, there is something special about being part of a community, being connected to people of similar backgrounds and interests.

Community is important. It connects people together to a common project to better their lives and the lives of the people who live around them. Education without Borders’ mission is to empower parents, teachers, and students to build a community around their schools. The long term objective is not just education, it is also to create a community around the schools EwB supports.

Yet EwB also indirectly helps build community amongst South Africans living abroad. Our NGO achieves this by offering meaningful cultural and fundraising projects (such as the Vancouver South African Film Festival) that bring expats together in a common cause to help improve the lives of fellow South Africans.

In the end everyone is looking to belong somewhere. We are all in search of a community where we can contribute, and where we feel we belong, and where we can be better human beings. Projects such as EwB help build that sense of community for so many people, whether in  Gugulethu at the start of another school year, or here in Vancouver on a cold raining night.


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Many of us in Canada take for granted our access to education. In fact, one may argue that Canada, like many countries in the West, has an excess of accessible education. As long as one has an interest and desire to learn, post-secondary education is reasonably accessible, whether directly at universities and colleges, or online through the internet.

In South Africa the situation is vastly different. As highlighted in a recent Globe and Mail investigative piece, South Africans face enormous barriers to access affordable public education (1). Waitlists for post-secondary institutions are in the thousands, and all this despite a well document need for a more educated work force.

Education without Borders helps to fill the void for many young South Africans seeking to improve themslves through better education. By providing access to improved education, EwB gives the students we support the tools to be one step ahead in the competitive process to access post-secondary education and rewarding jobs.

(1) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/worldview/in-johannesburg-a-desperate-bid-for-education-turns-deadly/article2297297/

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