The older I get, the more of a mystery life is, and the more that mystery makes sense to me.
The fact is that I am constantly mesmerized by the process and interconnection of life and people, and how relationships and experiences merge to form one great pattern of friendship, working together for social justice.
So here’s a jigsaw puzzle I’d like to share with you.
Had the pieces been scrambled, awaiting each other to form a complete picture, I’d have been hard pressed to match them up; and so it is quite amazing to see the pieces beginning to fit together, see a picture emerge and wonder what is in the future for Ukulapha Community Outreach, working to improve the lives of women and children in an impoverished community.
Hence the mystery...
Meet Oliver Dason, a fine young lad — aware of the inequalities around him, compassionate and humanitarian — guided by dedicated parents, a loving and supportive church community, and a well-rounded education at Glenlyon Norfolk School, which introduced and developed his thirst for adventure. Oliver continued his education at the University of King’s College, in Halifax, and is now back in Victoria, British Columbia, to continue his studies.
In 2010, Tony, Susheela and Oliver were invited by Laurie Pettinger, their neighbour at that time, to a presentation on Ukulapha Community Outreach. Laurie provided firsthand information on Slangspruit Primary School and the community, as she had just returned from spending time at the school, and Oliver was interested in considering this area of humanitarian work for his Middle School Personal Project.
Oliver was the only teenager at the event, which made him feel a little uncomfortable, until he watched my Powerpoint presentation. He began to notice the differences between himself and the children at Slangspruit, and compared his school and education in Canada to Slangspruit Primary School. It was a shock to Oliver to see how little food was available for the students at Slangspruit Primary School through the government sponsored lunch programme, and he was very disturbed when I informed everyone that for many students, this was their only meal for the day. Oliver has always had nutritious food and he has never experienced rationed food of any kind at any time. At 14 years of age at the time, he was hungry all the time and so could not understand how the children at this school managed with their studies, with so little protein in their food, and with so little food – how could they study and look so happy?
With these thoughts, Oliver wrote to me in August 2010, as he wanted to raise funds for nutritious meals at Slangspruit Primary School. I was delighted to receive his email:
“My name is Oliver. I am 14 years old and I attend Glenlyon Norfolk School. I met you at your talk/presentation at the Yacht Club. You saw me and I introduced myself. I am very interested in the Ukulapha Community Outreach project.
In the talk, there was a part that made me feel sorry for the children. When the pictures of the food came on the screen, I was shocked to see how little food there was. These children only had one meal a day and so they were probably hungry. I was even more shocked when you told us how each child got one tiny wedge of the orange. When I come home and get an orange, I get the whole fruit. We are very privileged and they are not as fortunate as us. I felt sorry for the children and I really want to help them. That is why I chose to do my project on Ukulapha Community Outreach. I will try to collect money for the children’s food and I will help them the best I can. I am privileged and I hope they can feel privileged in a way at least for once. I am now sure I want to do this project for next year and so I am not going to change my mind.”
And I responded:
“… Both Mr. Msomi, the school principal, and I are thrilled that you are interested in helping the children; thank you very much. When one asks any of the children what they would like, they all say food!
Your heart is in such a sweet place Oliver, and you obviously have such a social conscience as well. This is what Ubuntu is all about; what Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Tutu have spoken of and about, inviting all South Africans to honour the essential human condition - “I am because you are”. We really can’t exist without each other.
Your ideas and motivations are superb; I will gladly assist you as you may need.”
Oliver decided to focus on Humanitarian Work for his school Personal Project for Grade 10. His plan was to provide 2 meals, an Easter Meal and a Christmas Meal, but he raised enough money for 3 meals, and so he added a Thanksgiving Meal. He included additional funds for first aid kits as he noticed from the pictures Carolyn showed, that many children played barefoot on the school grounds that had rocks and stones protruding from the ground, and Laurie had mentioned to Oliver how little things like first aid kits would also be appreciated by the school. Constantly getting scrapes and cuts himself, Oliver understood this situation and wanted to make sure that the children had these kits.
After fulfilling the requirements of his personal project in 2011, Oliver continued to support Ukulapha and Slangspruit Primary School and the 3 meals soon increased to 4 special meals a year. The children love him for thinking of them and are amazed that a lad in a country they had never heard of, cared enough to have had a newspaper route, delivering in snow and rain, played clarinet and saxophone at mini concerts to raise funds, and engaged his church community towards meeting his goals.
One meal for all the children in 2010 cost $350.00, but in 2013, with the increase in the price of food and a substantial increase in enrollment, $850.00 was needed for one meal. Now, in 2017, with the enrollment at 1090 students, about $1,000.00 needs to be raised for one nutritious meal. Determined to keep the nutritious meals programme active and alive, when Oliver graduated from high school and moved to Halifax to attend University of King’s College, his church community at Oak Bay United stepped in and continued his outreach work. Oak Bay United Church has provided 4 nutritious meal to 1090 children since 2015. In 2016, aside from the 4 meals at the end of each term provided by Oak Bay United Church, Oliver has added a meal to celebrate his birthday in September with his friends at Slangspruit Primary School. Now, in 2017, Oak Bay United Church provides 5 meals – a Welcome Back to School Meal in January, an Easter Meal, a Celebration Meal in June, Oliver’s Birthday Meal in September, and a Christmas Meal – all nutritious and tasty meals for every child in the school. I continue to work with Mr. Msomi and facilitate this process, purchasing everything for the meal. In addition to this, Oak Bay United Church and the Dason family sponsor Asanda, a graduate of Slangspruit Primary School, now studying at Alexandra High School.
It has been pure pleasure working with Oliver and his parents over the years; a sheer delight witnessing a privileged young lad with such a social conscience, being a global citizen. To top it off, we were all delighted when the Dasons treated Oliver and the Slangspruit community to a visit when Oliver completed high school in 2014. It was a wonderful week for Oliver to be immersed at the school, help me shop for a grand meal, help the kitchen staff peel and prepare this special meal, and also serve the long lines of delighted kiddies! I think this was a defining moment in his young life.
In Oliver’s words, “When I arrived at the school, the students and Mr. Msomi, the school principal, warmly and excitedly greeted me. The students all had bright smiling faces. I was welcomed to the school at an assembly where the students sang and danced for me. I was very surprised.
Shopping with Carolyn (the coordinator) for the special meal I had raised funds for, was also an amazing experience. I helped Carolyn choose ingredients to make the meal perfect and special. By going with Carolyn, I was able to see how much food we actually needed to purchase for the 960 students for one meal and the cost of every ingredient. We bought everything that was needed for the meal, even the condiments,
Preparing and serving the meal at Slangspruit Primary School was probably my favourite part of my visit. I was able to help in the kitchen cutting butternut, where I cut my finger, and stirring the huge pots full of meat and rice. I saw firsthand how much teamwork and effort was needed to produce my special meal and experienced the excitement in preparing this special nutritious meal for the children.
When the food was finally prepared, all the students lined up to receive their meals and there was excitement in the air The children were very excited and they waited for the food with great anticipation…I was so happy to see the smiling and grateful faces of the children.”
Every year, during my annual trip to Victoria, because of Oliver, I am invited to make a presentation at his church, Oak Bay United Church, to update the community on the work of Ukulapha. Many at Oak Bay United Church have shown interest and have supported Ukulapha with cash donations for the nutritious meal programme and/or for specific improvements at Slangspruit Primary School. They are very interested and happy to see the progress made to this impoverished township community.
In September 2012, when I was in Victoria, I was invited to Oak Bay United Church to talk about my work at Slangspruit Primary School and the community, and to celebrate Oliver’s birthday with cake and a clarinet concert after the service. It was in this lively atmosphere, with Oliver playing a few solo items and a few duets with his clarinet teacher, and everyone enjoying cake and coffee, that I met a woman by the name of Jane. Jane approached me quietly, and asked if we could talk. Needless to say, I was beside myself in excitement! We chatted, and when Jane heard that Ukulapha also provides education sponsorships, she informed me that that was the specific area she wanted to be involved in. In fact, she wanted to cut a cheque on the spot if I could tell her what was needed. Having heard a short talk and not knowing me from Eve! Amazing!
Jane and I chatted over the phone that year. I wrote her the story of Thandeka, a more deserving young lady I couldn’t think of. Without hesitating, Jane was on board, and she has changed a young woman’s life forever. By following her instinct and clearly being her generous self, and sponsoring Thandeka’s college education, she has made a significant positive difference in the life of Thandeka, and provided her with opportunities to serve her community.
From a female family legacy of domestic workers, with her mum and siblings, Thandeka is such a vital young lass who has struggled against all odds. Until recently, Thandeka's mom lived in the original mud house in the rural area outside Pietermaritzburg, with limited possibilities as her dad, with whom she was very close, passed when she was in Grade 12. Within the past year, Thandeka and her sister have built for her mum a cozy, safe and secure brick house.
Thandeka was desperate to further her education at the Further Education and Training College (FET) diploma in Public Management. She worked very hard to achieve the best results possible to try and get a bursary and she succeeded .
This got her the job as student coordinator at Durban University of Technology (DUT) where she continued to work exceedingly hard. Despite her restricted income, Thandeka never stopped supporting her family back home.
It soon became clear to Thandeka that to advance and enable her dream to unfold, she needed to study further. With her income hardly making ends meet, she went ahead anyway, truly unaware of how she’d make it financially, but compelled to study and give herself a chance at life. She completed a bridging programme through DUT towards her undergraduate studies.
Thandeka’s strong faith in the process of life and self-advocacy despite roadblocks led her to Jane...at her eleventh hour.
Thandeka advanced to study for a Bachelor’s in Technology, Public Management, and look where she is today! In line to study for a Master’s Degree when she is ready! A young woman’s life is changed forever.
Today, Ukulapha is delighted to have Thandeka, with all her expertise, serving as chair of our board!
The pieces of the jig saw slide into place as Jane and Thandeka met in September 2013 when Ukulapha brought Thandeka to Victoria...sharing privilege and opportunity...woman to woman...
A fine line between doing nothing and changing everything...