Archive for the ‘health and human development’ Category

South Africa has a lot to be proud of.  For a country that many consider relatively isolated, it has achieved leadership in numerous fields, including medicine, commerce, the arts, and human rights.

Many would not know that South Africa has the world’s third largest hospital, Chris Hani – Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto (1). South Africa was also the first country to conduct successful open heart surgery – performed in 1967 by Christiaan Barnard on Louis Washkansky at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town South Africa (2). Groote Schuur also happened to be one of the world’s laregst teaching hospitals at the time.

One of South Africa’s biggest cities, Durban is the 9th largest port in the world, and the largest in Africa. Presumably this is the case because South Africa is also a major manufacturer of automobiles, as well as the world’s largest producer of gold, platinum, chromium, vanadium, manganese and alumino-silicates. For those of you who think think I am nuts, South Africa is also amongst the largest producers of macadamia nuts (3). South Africa also has most of Africa’s phones, internet connections, and infrastructure. It is also a major exporter, producing more manufactured goods than Russia, Singapore, or Portugal.

South Africa also leads when it comes to the arts. The recent anniversary of Paul Simon’s Graceland tour, celebrated with the film “Under African Skies”. Is a reminder of the quantity and quality of musical talent in the country. Famous South African artists include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu of Juluka, and painter Gerald Sekoto (http://www.art.co.za/gerardsekoto/).

South Africa also arguably has the world’s most open constitution, allowing for same gender marriages, freedom of expression, and freedom from oppression. The country will also be the first to have a disabled athlete on its 2012 Summer Olympics team in London (4).

These feats demonstrate that South Africa is a can-do country. South Africans are open-minded, talented, diverse, and hard working. By supporting the work of Education without Borders in Cape Town, South Africa, you know your money is making a huge difference in students lives. By donating just a few dollars a month, you empower students to participate in a country that really is on the move.






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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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SA project Manager Vimbai was in Vancouver for the past two weeks. Part of her visit included promoting the Vancouver South African Festival, as well as raising awareness of Education without Borders and its work in the Cape Town Gugulethu area.

Vimbai spoke to festival goers throughout the weekend, and concluded the event with an emotional and inspirational talk about the realities of South Africa, the country’s large income disparities, crime and violence, and what it is like to work with young people facing so many challenges. Vimbai’s talk, sobering at times, also drew wonderful examples of how despite such adversity, Education without Borders is making a difference in the lives of so many students.

Besides the film festival, Vimbai also spoke to various community groups while here in Vancouver. Organizations in the area of dance, music, and the local media got to learn first hand how Education without Borders is working to improve outcomes in the area of education. How we are working in english, arts, and math education, and how we are drawing on local talent to find local solutions.

Vimbai, it was wonderful having you here with us! Keep up your hard work in South Africa, and we look forward to hearing more news from you, Courtney, and the students.

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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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I’ve been a bit lacking in my blogging obligations lately, having been caught up in day to day activities here in the Middle East. For the past couple of months I’ve been in Israel, taking time out to study Hebrew, and learn more about the complex issues that face this country and its neighbours.

My experience in Israel has been an interesting one , learning a new language – as foreign to the one’s I speak as oil is to water – I could not have expected less. It has been an exercise in humility filled with grammatical mistakes, invented words, stutter, and endless bouts of laughter from native Hebrew speakers.

Yet besides now being a better Hebrew speaker, perhaps the most biggest lesson of these couple of months has been the reminder of how important it is to never stop learning, no matter where you are in life, and to not be scared to make mistakes while you are doing it.  One can never stop learning, the key is to keep an open mind and not fear failure.

In South Africa the Matric graduation exams are now well underway, with summer on the doorstep. With the formal school year complete, students should give themselves a good pat on the shoulder for their hard work, no matter the results.

But with the end of a school year, this gift called life continues. Every single day is unique, and each one should be used to keep learning and to continue teaching others, even when the school year is past.

No matter how old you are, whether it be going to college, technical school, trades, high school, or university, or just reading a book; never miss a beat to make yourself better. For it is in becoming more educated that we can better contribute to improving ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world as a whole.

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Fezeka School, local educators, and Education without Borders volunteers have been organizing a series of motivational talks for students. Ted and Roger, two local volunteers who have been involved with EwB for some time, teamed up with EwB project manager Vimbai, and guest speaker Unathi, to talk to 50 grade nine students. To learn more about Vimbai, please visit this page: http://www.educationwithoutborders.ca/node/124

Here is some feedback from Roger about Unathi’s talk.

Dear Unathi and Vimbai,


Let me once again thank you, Unathi, for an outstanding presentation. There was no doubt in the mind of Ted, Vimbai and I that you really hit a few nails on the head with your eloquence and clarity. You make a wonderful public speaker. I attach a few photos. I also have some video. All will be put on a disc. I can have this ready for you when you return from France and when we meet I can pass it to you.


In one of the videos, you say “it’s not cool to not have a job and it’s not cool to sit at home.” I think this is powerful stuff. The fact that you were once again surrounded by eager learners, demonstrated their wish to learn more from you. The challenge for Vimbai and ourselves is to create follow up from these talks.


I also think the message that there are a variety of jobs is getting across. One expressed an interest in meteorology, the other being a pilot and the one that intrigued me was “how do I become a spy?”


All good stuff.

Below is a summary of some of Unathi’s key points of advice to the students, as well as some photographs (http://s1217.photobucket.com/albums/dd383/educationwithoutborders/Unathi%20-%20talk%20September%2015th%202011/) – Thanks to Ted Weber for these.

-There is career, a job, and a future out there for everyone

-Make a list of your ideal professions and then think where you are now what subjects you need to achieve this as a main goal.

-It is important to know and to focus now on your strengths

-Choose something you enjoy doing, not what you think others think you should enjoy.

-When difficulties occur, choose a teacher adult role model that you can identify with. Choose someone you can trust and who is respected in the community.

-Look for bursaries in the Sunday papers, the internet, or government training grants through Thetas

-Loosing bad friends early on School is a good thing. It is important to hang out with motivated good friends!

-School is a place to learn and prepare for your future, as well as having fun.

-It is no fun being 25 in a township without a job; so use school as a jumping board to get a good job!

-Unathi, who is a respected wine maker and scientist, discussed how agriculture is cool and how she liked nature biology, the trees, the outdoors, and was good at science. She explained to students how science, biology, and respect for nature are key to improving lives, and that there are many careers in these fields for motivated people and women.

Thanks for all the great feed back Ted, Roger and Vimbai on Unathi’s talk. I look forward to meeting Unathi and Vimbai, as well as some of the students when I visit Cape Town next time!


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