“It seems a very long time ago now and quite frankly it was the last thing on my mind but the origins of this charity arose from a very bewildering, totally mesmerising and exceptionally inspiring surprise visit to an area called Nkomazi in 2003.
Prior to this visit, Philip, my brother-in-law, had asked me to bring any second-hand children’s clothing with us on our visits to South Africa. He had explained that some of the baby clothing would go to a charity in Nkomazi called Thembalethu. It transpired that the school Philip then worked at had links with Thembalethu, so I enquired further. Thembalethu sounded so full of hope and determination that I decided to make the 1.5 hours journey myself down to the Swaziland border to see Thembalethu in action.
I had not been prepared for what I saw and heard. Thembalethu was a-buzz with people; children, toddlers, old people walking in from the road, care-workers and of course …. music! As I listened to Sally McKibben (CEO of Thembalethu) I tried to take in all the programmes that were being initiated, organised and run by Thembalethu. I met Cleopas Maseko (soon to be the new CEO) and the very talented Vusi Kubayi (Music Director of a youth group and editor of the only newspaper in the area – The Nkomazi Voice). I was in awe of this organisation and the people who worked for it. The overwhelming enthusiasm and determination to engage young people and to encourage them to deal with the problems that they faced in their environment left a lasting impression on me. Sally had explained the challenges, an area of about 700,000 with a very culturally diverse blend of people due to the porous borders with both Mozambique and Swaziland. The HIV infection rate was approximately 40%, unemployment around 70% and the area had somewhere in the region of 12 – 15,000 orphans. I left with an overriding feeling of helplessness questioning what could I do, if anything, as an individual, yet with a real desire to try and do something.
On my return to the UK I chatted to friends who were also moved by the work of Thembalethu and within a year a group of us opened a not-for-profit shop – Bella Natura – which sold baby and children’s organic clothing with all profits being used to help Thembalethu.
On a subsequent visit to Thembalethu, I was asked to see a performance by the ‘Youth in Action Group’, a drama group that worked in local schools, using drama and music to convey important messages about HIV/AIDS. Well, I was reduced to tears and there and then decided somehow I had to bring this group to the UK – they had such a moving message for young people.
I continued to run the shop and dream of bringing these young people to the UK. Then I struck gold! Through a mutual friend I became acquainted with Dawn who asked if she could help! The rest is really history, Dawn was a power to be reckoned with and the ‘Youth in Action Group’ stepped onto UK soil in June 2009. With the support of a growing group of stoic friends, Za finally registered as a UK charity in Feb 2010.
Things have changed along the way. Thembalethu has suffered the funding crisis brought about by the current recession and many of their programmes have been cut or reduced. However, the massive lesson I have learned is that, even though our charity is currently small, it is making a difference thanks to an essential blend of ‘ideas people’ and ‘implementers’. Our road to success has been a bumpy one (as I am sure most charities will agree), but if you work together with those that expand and implement ideas towards a shared vision then what seems an unachievable idea becomes possible.
Thank you to everyone involved with Za Foundation – this charity exists because of you.”
Founder and Director of Za Foundation