Born in Zambia and raised in South Africa, I am an avid supporter of several charities focused on aiding children's health and education including Infinite Family, The Phelophepa Train of Hope, Lalela Project and Ubuntu Education Fund.
Infinite Family was founded by Amy Stokes in 2003, after arriving in Johannesburg, South Africa with her husband to adopt their son. Her joy at meeting her new son was tempered by the thousands and thousands of children left orphaned after their parents died of HIV/AIDS. So many of these children are headed for incarceration, destined to become repeat offenders and draining local economies of their resources that end up paying for prison stays instead of supporting the community. Infinite Family was created with the goal of nurturing, supporting and mentoring these children in an effort to get them off the street and help them become productive members of society.
The organization uses technology to arrange weekly video conversations between adult mentors and vulnerable pre-teens and teens. They surf the web together, do homework, discuss their lives and futures, and generally improve the mentees' communication skills. The program has spread across Africa, impacting over 500 children and young adults since 2006. In 2011, Amy Stokes was named a CNN Hero. As a Global Ambassador for Infinite Family, I had the privilege of presenting the organization to the United Nations Secretary General on International Literacy Day in September of 2012.
I've never forgotten how blessed I am to be able to live in the United States, and I'm deeply moved by Infinite Family's efforts to bring those same privileges and opportunities to the deserving and inspiring children of Africa.
The Phelophepa Train was established in 1994 as a way to leverage South Africa's rail infrastructure and bring crucial health care to communities that otherwise wouldn't have access to medical attention. Instead of passengers, the train carries doctors, nurses and ophthalmologists who provide basic health care and first aid to those who would never get treatment otherwise. From providing eyeglasses to a young student who is having trouble reading the board to performing cataracts surgery on an elderly woman to providing education on everything from basic wellness to preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, the Phelophepa Train has grown exponentially in its nearly 20 years of work.
What began as three cars offering eye care has expanded to two trains with 19 cars each that contain a health clinic, dental clinic, psychology clinic, eye clinic and classroom. Over the course of 37 weeks a year, a group of doctors, university students and volunteers provide services for South Africans, some of whom have traveled hundreds of miles to meet the train, that they otherwise wouldn't be able to access.
I have spent time on one of the Phelophepa trains and am inspired by the amazing work that is done to help those in dire need across South Africa. From treatment to prevention to education, this distance these trains travel cannot be measured in mere miles.
Lalela Project provides educational arts to youth affected by extreme poverty sparking creative thinking and awakening the entrepreneurial spirit. Founded by Andrea Kerzner, Lalela addresses the physical needs of children affected by extreme poverty in a unique and creative way. The organization uses the power of the arts to connect with children and reach both their physical and mental self, empowering each child to see the possibilities in his or her future. Lalela hopes to use the arts to break the cycle of extreme poverty, one child at a time.
Art is a powerful universal language that breaks down communication barriers. With so many children living in extreme poverty, art enables them to communicate and interact in a world where they may feel left behind. Lalela Project ignites imagination and teaches children how to map and manifest their dreams, helping them learn how to escape the cycle of poverty and create a different future for themselves and their communities.
I recently produced their 2013 Fundraiser Gala, where two students flew to Cape Town to attend the festivities. I am inspired every day by the mission of Lalela Project and their ability to use the arts and creativity to change the lives of so many young people.
Ubuntu Education Fund
Ubuntu is a Xhosa philosophy regarding human interconnectedness: I am because you are. The organization provides support to orphaned and vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa — from healthcare to educational support — in order to achieve a simple yet radical mission: to help raise township children by providing them with what all children deserve — everything.
Ubuntu Education Fund was founded by my friend Jacob Lief, an American who, through his work with a local teacher named Banks Gwaxula, decided he needed to support and foster the amazing ambition and perseverance he witnessed in a community ravaged by AIDS, unemployment, poverty and the legacy of apartheid.
Over the past 13 years, Ubuntu has built a system that takes the children of the Port Elizabeth region from cradle to career, providing medical, health, educational and social services and turning these children into the future leaders of their community. Operating on the belief that all children deserve every available opportunity, these children are given basic necessities as well as services and life paths they could never dream of without Ubuntu's help.
My support for Ubuntu come from the organization's incredible reach, but also its commitment to devote themselves to a single community in need and provide a true depth of service instead of trying to give a little bit of help to even more people. The strength of Ubuntu Education Fund's devotion to Port Elizabeth is what inspires me to be devoted to their cause.