Archive for March, 2011

The Sizo Story

Posted: March 27, 2011 in articles

Every now and then a story reaches out and hits you square between the eyes…

Sizoluhle Makhanya

Sizoluhle Makhanya

The day I met Sizo I knew that underneath a beautiful warm smile lay someone who had something unique to offer the world. Her ‘Drum’ shirt highlighted her passion for journalism , or rather stories, and little did I know that soon I would experience one of the stories which she was writing with her actions.

It started many years ago. Sizo grew up in rural South Africa, surrounded by poverty. For two years she lived in an area called St Faiths on the South Coast of KZN, South Africa. On the 24th March she took me there. It is tucked away beyond Port Shepstone in what someone described as ‘deep rural’. Tar roads soon became dirt hugging a deep bushland as it weaved its way up and down steep hills.

Heading to St Faiths

As we got higher the mist moved in and the temperature cooled. I began to realise why Sizo has been so desperate to get this trip done.

In the back of my truck was a box of jerseys. About 80 to be precise. Their destination was the little bodies of children who go to school in this area but cannot afford basic school uniforms let alone jerseys. My thermometer registered 23 degrees on a warm day mid day in March.  Winter was just around the corner.

Sizo, now 25, had spent two years schooling here at the ages of 5 & 6. For those years there was no school building.  The current one had been paid for by past pupils.  Sizo and her class mates would sit under the tree’s and learn. I shuddered to think that at that very moment so many of our next generation were sitting under a tree striving to educate themselves.  If it rained, school was off. If it was cold, you simply shivered your way through language lessons. Then at the end of the day, just as in the beginning, the steep hills and dusty roads find little feet walking 4km to and fro from home.

Personally, I have never known anything but motorized transport to school, nicely stocked lunch boxes, covered books and space cases full on pens and pencils. Oh, and I always had a roof over my head.

I met Sizo in the office of one of my clients. The fact that she was standing in the middle of the corporate world was testimony to how she had made the most of her rural schooling and was now making a living.  She had a positive attitude and given her track record had done well at her job. She lives at home with her younger brother who she supports acting as a ‘single parent’ given the loss of her mom. Her career in its early throws means a humble salary, but she was earning her way now and is on the road to somewhere that, I am sure, is greater than she can comprehend.

A warm gift

“I want to take jerseys to my old school down the coast” she explained.  Remembering what it was like to sit and shiver through lessons, she had committed to buy, with her own money, 80 jerseys for the kids who could not afford to do so. She has been to a local retailer, secured a good price and was beginning to buy the jerseys one by one. The cost alone, would be more than she could afford given her commitments.

I got to know a heart so caring and so sacrificial that all she lived for right now was to pull little green jerseys over the heads of these precious children who deserved nothing more than to be a little bit warmer than they ordinarily would be.

That was me sold. And a few others. We put in some extra money, bought more jerseys and co-ordinated diaries to make the delivery. In an unlikely moment a few months later I found myself with 4 others driving along the winding roads of the KZN South Coast wondering what I would find.

On arrival at the school I found green water containers collecting water from gutters which was used as drinking water.

School and playground

School and playground

A large solar panel fed power to fluorescent lights, however not every room was privileged to have them. Long drop toilets could be found at the end of a ragged field with two old footballs lying in a dusty patch between clumps of overgrown grass. The classes had chalk boards, concrete floors and luckily most the window panes were in tact.  The Grade R class had some blankets on the floor and loads of lego like looking toys. Small tables and chairs were stacked up behind them. Two teachers were present which meant that some classes were left unattended. I watched with interest as tiny kids took turns to point out words on the board at which the rest of

Grade R

the class shouted out their pronunciations. The teachers, I found out later, were at a union meeting.

But this school was in good shape. In fact, speaking to the headmaster, this was one of the better ones. Despite no electricity and scarce resources, the school was in good condition & the kids had what they needed to begin their education, the government supplying books and resources. Even a bunch of kids teaching themselves despite not having a teacher was a good sign.

The young teacher

I guess that was what struck me the most. This was one of the schools that was ‘better off’…

Soon kids lined up outside and Sizo, alongside the headmaster, began to talk to the youngsters. Names began to be read out and one by one the little children made their way forward. One by one, little heads popped out of little green jerseys, some smiling, some not sure what was going on. Then we all got into a group on the field just as the rain began to lightly fall for photographs.

Sizo, teacher & friends

What a moment to see Sizo kneeling infront of what was once her school with 80 kids surrounding her. Even her Grade 1 teacher was present. The smile on her face made me reflect on whats really important and how worthwhile moments like this are.

Then the teacher spoke. I didn’t get much of what he said given he spoke in zulu but one sentence stood out at me.

“Before you can see where you are going, you need to know where you come from…”

I thought about it as I watched Sizo engage with what she was doing. Here was someone who was putting energy into a vision which did not serve herself but served others. She was wiling to give her time, her money, her resources to benefit the lives of those she knew needed help. Cause she was there. These were her roots. Her desire was for others in the same context to make it too. So important to her, that she would make the big asks to get this project done.

I thought about my own vision. My own use of my resources, the way I spend my time. Her work came at a cost. Her vision was not for her benefit. Yet something inside of her seemed to be jumping for joy, her soul soaking in every sweet moment of seeing joy in other people lives.

Sizoluhle Makhanya

Her name is Sizoluhle Makhanya. Sizoluhle meaning ‘a good helper’. And with that purpose she will continue to write inspiring stories which I know will challenge many.

(I encourage you to read an article Sizo recently for her company newsletter. Click here for “It’s in your hands’ by Sizoluhle Makhanya.)

Thank you to Lindani and others from Velociti who supported the project

(Follows on from ‘The Sizo Story‘ blog post)

It’s in your hands. Don’t let your childhood circumstances determine your future!

Many people have grown up in poverty, but have worked hard to rise above their challenging circumstances. Sometimes, however, people think they can never get out of it and this is not true. The celebrities we see on television every day often express how grateful they are for their tough background because it has shaped them into better adults. Pastor T.D. Jakes says the challenges of growing up do not cause people to suffer for the rest of their life. “If your parents are poor, for example, you learn to share the little that you have, to save money for rainy days and general responsibility,” he says. “To survive you need to have a positive attitude and drive to work hard.”

My tip: Look at challenges you faced growing up and take lessons from that.

UBUNTU
Growing up surrounded by poverty taught me the basic principles of UBUNTU. I started working at an early age to support my family and today I still share all the fruits of my labour with them and I always share what I have with the poor. When I see a hungry child, the memories of my childhood come back and I help them as much as I can. Growing up I learnt that sometimes all a person needs is love. Giving advice on how to deal with the challenge of growing up can help someone overcome and have a positive outlook towards life. I always share my life experience with young sisters in order to motivate them.
My tip: When you see someone in need, help them, even if it is not with money. You can be there for them in many ways – eg. spend quality time with them or impart wisdom.

HARD WORK
If your life is challenging, you are motivated to work hard and get yourself out of the situation you are currently in. If you suffered in the past it does not mean that you will suffer for the rest of your life. If you grew up poor you can think of ways to rise above your situation. This begins with setting goals on how to get out. If you do not have goals and drive to change your circumstances it will be hard to get out of an environment surrounded by poverty. One day my grandmother told me that I could be anything I wanted to be as long as I worked hard.
My tip: you can enjoy a better life if you work hard. Poverty is not a barrier to success . Use it as your inspiration and a challenge to succeed.

SELF-DISCIPLINE
Growing up in tough circumstances also teaches you self-discipline. You know that you have to give your all in whatever you are doing. You know that your resources are limited so you do not have money to waste. Self-discipline is a good skill to have in life. It will help you to be a successful individual who is not afraid to tackle new things in life. In order to be a better person and achieve good things you need to be self-disciplined.

INDEPENDENT AND RESPONSIBLE
Independence is a trait that is often developed from poverty. You mature quickly and you learn to be self-reliant and independent from a young age. In many cases you have to look after your siblings when you are a child yourself. This teaches you to be selfless as you put your siblings’ needs before your own. When you are older you become independent as you’ve learnt not to depend on others. You also know the value of money. You learn to stretch the R1 that you have because you know there’s no other place you are going to get it from. When you are older you take care of your finances and spend your hard-earned cash on important things because you know what it’s like not to have it.
My tip: Always think about tomorrow. Do not misuse you resources or spend money recklessly.

Words on a Wall

Posted: March 23, 2011 in articles

Lately I have been noticing what individuals and businesses have on their walls…

How?

How?

Most families I noticed have words hanging somewhere, or displayed on a shelf. Words like Love, Adore, Peace, Happiness. Businesses display words, often their values, in bold letters usually in the reception area. Motivational statements & quotes seem to catch the eye as you walk around.

It kinda makes sense I guess. I mean you wouldn’t hang the words hate or selfish or division on your wall now would you?

In many ways the words you display are almost ideals. We all want to feel or experience homes and businesses that revolve around the types of words that we put on our walls.

But thats the point. To often they are simply words on a wall!

Whats important is that the people who inhabit these spaces live out these words. That the couple express love, adoration and peace toward one another. That employees work with ‘care’, have ‘fun’ and display high levels of ‘passion’ and ‘go the extra mile’.

And there is the journey right there…

Words on a wall have a next stop. Within the hearts of people who are their custodians. The words on the wall need to end up as words which are believed and desired, aligned with, lived out & expressed in unique and interesting ways.

Then the words on the wall become words on our hearts which become words which reflect the experience we have and that others have of us.

That means they are not just words.

They are actions. They are a way of life. They are destinations within a never ending journey.

Imagine more words left the walls?

Imagine the words that surround you specifically left the walls?

How different would things be?

Words… get off the wall.

My BlackBerry crashed in the early hours of this morning…

If you could extract the ‘blackbox’ it may tell you it was that final app that I tried to download which overloaded it. Or it could have been 22 months of major expectations on its tiny frame, endlessly pushing buttons, checking tweets, updating my status, reading the news, accepting invites on linkedn, receiving mail, sending mail, pushing out texts, long BBM chats, continually receiving BBM group alerts, whats app conversations, checking the weather, managing my tasks, managing my apps – one for london tubes, one for reading the bible, one for finding out what song is on the radio, one for seeing which hotel rooms I can book in the city I am in, one for journalling and of course one for ‘checking in’ so that I can become the mayor. Then of course there was the endless internet browsing, the long nights plugged into 240volts, the GPS navigation and last but not least – phone calls.

And it crashes?!

So if one word had to describe my day without it it would be…

SPACE

I realised just how much I was allowing myself to be connected to.

This is not an anti BB or Iphone post! Fact is I love them both dearly.  And yes, I could just turn it off! In fact the major source of stress for me lately was deciding what to do on my upgrade. Today I have been dragging around my old nokia which has to have its battery taped in cause the back cover is warped. I was probably leaning toward the Iphone but this decision has become as important as how I should invest my money.

I said I would never check email after 5pm, but there was something alluring about that little yellow envelop sitting sitting staring at me. Often the top of the screen would be littered with all sorts of little notifications. People who I knew and some who I don’t offering conversation and insight.

I guess we choose what we will be connected to. Today the options seem limitless. Perhaps though all of these connections simply rob us of being connected to ourselves and what is important to us.

What really counts?

What could you be more connected to?

What do you need to disconnect from?

This crash is yielding questions which will influence my future.