Supporting and empowering people
affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS in South Africa

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Thinking Big Ideas - Director's Blog March 2017

Posted by Martin Keat


March has been another busy month for us all at the Trust. As well as the usual business of building our support for children and young people in South Africa we also had the opportunity to review our strategy and business plan with our Board of Trustees, after which I was fortunate to spend two weeks working with our team in South Africa. It was an enlightening and thought provoking few weeks.

The good news is that we are on course to achieve our plans. In South Africa our support reaches over 2,000 children each day, in the year to date 300 children have been referred to clinics for health support, a further 200 children have been helped to secure child grants, 50 educational bursaries have been provided and more than 1,000 children have received psychological support and counselling. These are remarkable figures, it says many great things about our 12 community partners, but also the level of need that there is in the communities we serve. It remains our challenge to build support to meet this need.

The whole process was also very helpful in further clarifying the ‘big ideas’ which are at the heart of who we are and what we do. The late Bishop Simeon Nkoane inspired our founding; we see his compelling and persistent vision in this statement:

‘There is no doubt that an educated leadership will be crucial for South Africa in the future.’

Our community partnerships help to create space for children and young people to access  education, but the matter of leadership is critical and very contemporary.

Whilst in South Africa I was fortunate to attend a dialogue seminar at the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg where the concept of ‘sufficiency’ in social and economic policy was discussed. The panel included a policy researcher, two community activists and a business leader. Fascinating within this discussion was the common agreement that South Africa needs to build better links between communities and the State that serves them. This is the difference between representative democracy, where we choose our governments at the ballot box, and participatory democracy, the broad participation of people in the direction, operation and accountability of government policy.

This was more simply put in an analogy presented to me during my stay: ‘…in South Africa it is as if we are driving a car and as the engine makes louder and more worrying noises we deal with this by turning up the volume on the radio.’ Essentially the radio needs to be turned down and the noises heard!

I should be clear that it is not our intention to influence the political choices of people in South Africa, rather to play a role in supporting the establishment of systems of participation which were illegal during apartheid and remain to be fully developed in the modern era. We continue to work to achieve Bishop Simeon Nkoane’s vision of youth led leadership, which is also aligned with Article 12 of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child: ‘States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child…’

Our work helps to create support and safe spaces for children and young people, but also helps them to build critical thinking capabilities, confidence and awareness of the rights that they hold under the bold and free constitution set in place in 1996. The existence of the Safe Parks we support is essential in creating space for our Peer Education Programme, equipping young people to identify those areas where they wish to influence and inform policy which impacts on their lives. This is a vital role for us and will help build habits of empowerment that can last a lifetime and contribute to a stronger South Africa in the future. This is a very big idea!

Thankyou so much to you if you have already joined us and support this important work. I would ask that you please share our message with others, it will help us to build the support that we need to continue until we are no longer needed. If you do not already support us then please consider joining – you can find out more about how you can do so here. Collaboration is a central value for us - we welcome contact and new ideas about how we can secure the funds we need to maintain and build the support we provide.

Together we can change the world by changing the life of a child. Thankyou. 

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A big part of our work here at the Bishop Simeon trust is committed to assuring that children and young adults in South Africa are able to challenge and conquer those obstacles in their lives that prevent them from accessing education and assuring that they can  make the most of the potential they possess to thrive and build a positive future.