Over the last several months I have thrown myself into helping as many early childhood/social impact focused initiatives as possible. These have ranged from helping the country’s largest food processing manufacturer think about how to use their influence to assist young children to facilitating a strategic planning process for an investment firm committed to early childhood investments to supporting an innovation firm identify opportunities for innovation and collaboration with business to providing guidance and feedback on policy recommendations offered by the violence prevention field. Through this process I have met many fascinating, committed, intelligent, energetic, sometimes frustrated, stressed and tired South Africans of all ages, backgrounds, education levels, ethnicities, languages and skin tones.
Thank goodness there are so many – because South Africa’s children need them desperately. The situation facing these children and their families is dire:
80% of South Africa’s children are black (10% are coloured and only about 10% are white). Compared to their white peers, these children are, on average:
• 20 times more likely to experience hunger
• 23 times more likely to live in income poverty
• 8 times more likely to have no access to adequate water
• 29 times more likely to have no access to adequate sanitation
• 4.7 times more likely not to complete secondary education
SA children are exposed to unimaginable levels of violence and trauma. 99% of 2000 children being tracked in longitudinal study have experienced or witnessed some form of violence, and more than 40% had multiple experiences of violence in their homes, schools and communities. In one of the rural provinces in which we are helping, 80% of children are poor (meaning household income of less than $71/month) and most live in single parent households.
In terms of educational outcomes, 78% of SA’s children cannot read in any language – birth or other – in grade 4. While this particular number is not dissimilar to literacy rates among low-income populations in the States, the challenges here remind me more of the systems – or lack there-of – in Guatemala, where there are similar levels of poverty, similar levels of institutional racism and inequity, a similar history of evil institutional violence and economic segregation against indigenous cultures, similar levels of regressive taxation and government distrust, and similar levels of government corruption and utter ineptitude. What South Africa does have, thankfully, is a growing cohort of committed individuals – white, black and coloured – who recognize that the future of their country is at stake. They are focused on correcting the mistakes of the past and ensuring that children and families have the foundation they need to flourish. While the hurdles are huge, it’s wonderful to witness, in our own little way to support, and to soak in – the diversity of opinions and approaches is breath-taking.
Chris and I have visited Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha, twice in the past week. The first visit was with Ayanda and Buntu, social entrepreneurs running ABCDConcepts, a for-profit immersive township tourism initiative and Sportingcode, a non-profit focused on youth empowerment through sport. These men – both in their late 20s – did not have formal education, yet they were bright, articulate, humorous, intelligent and street smart. Born and bred in the township, they were proud of their heritage and eager to both promote it and support it. Yet they would not be out of place in Silicon Valley, using all of the current lingo and “narratives” and “frames.” Our meeting with them was raw, humbling, revealing and inspirational. Read more about it on Chris’s blog here.
The following week we were back for an “Idea Maker” session hosted by the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative. It was designed to immerse ed tech entrepreneurs in the mindset of the 2 million residents of the townships of the Cape Flats (the relocation site for all of Cape Town’s blacks during the apartheid era, which, from the highway looks like miles and miles of run-down shacks). While the process was fascinating and illuminating, the real value of the day was hearing others’ perspectives – from the University of Cape Town graduate school of business professors to the township entrepreneur to the ed tech developer.
And from another perspective – the first time we drove in I was definitely nervous, not sure what to expect, making sure our car doors were locked, that no one approached us at stop signs, that all of our belongings were hidden in the car or tightly held to our chests. We arrived at a building with a vibe, an energy and a look that would fit right in to Boston’s Seaport. The second time, while still using common sense, I understood that not everyone was out to get us; that while crime happens, most township residents are going about their daily lives and not focused on robbing the idealistic white person. A lot to process and reflect upon.
We are so very fortunate to be here and to be learning so much!!!