Hannah Webb, the daughter of long-term sponsors Susie and Rob, has just returned from 5 weeks volunteering in Ingwavuma at the school and the orphanage which is home to several of our sponsored children. She describes her experience and what she learned about the value of the Zoe Trust.
In September I emailed Tanya Murphy and said that I would love to help with the Zoe Trust in any way I could. Tanya replied offering me an opportunity to travel to Ingwavuma in South Africa and volunteer in Khethani Christian School in order to learn more about the Zoe Trust and its work. I knew that after the privilege of my upbringing and education it would be a life-changing trip and I leapt at the chance, hardly believing my luck in having been offered it. My parents have been close to Tanya’s family for many years, my Dad having met Tanya while they were still at school. My family has also sponsored a child (who is now a lovely young man) through the Zoe Trust since its founding in 2010.
So, a few months later, here I am! I’ve been here in Ingwavuma for a month in the summer before my final year in secondary school, and I wish I could stay longer. I’ve been working at Khethani as a teaching assistant in Grade 2, visiting the Ekukhanyeni orphanage, getting to know the students here who are supported by the Zoe Trust and learning from Emily about our wonderful charity. It’s been busy, eye-opening and I can’t wait to come back.
This trip is a big moment in my life as I’d never travelled alone before and had never been to Africa. Needless to say, I was a mixture of elated and nervous when I arrived in the tiny Richard’s Bay airport almost 24 hours after waving goodbye to my family in London. I had actually made it! Emily met me with a hug and a ‘welcome to Africa’ which instantly made me feel very excited to be here. I would be living with her and her cousins, the Principal and Head of Foundation Phase at Khethani. After a four hour drive (not too long of a journey according to my new South African mindset) we arrived at their beautiful house in the dark. I lugged my suitcase to my room, was introduced to the laws of water conservation and quickly went to sleep assured that I would be woken for school at 6am the following morning. The next day we arrived at Khethani and I was immediately drawn into the friendly and loving atmosphere. I met the other teachers, got acquainted with new pronunciations, sat back and absorbed, knowing I was already learning a lot.
I have absolutely loved Khethani. The students (aged 5-15) are supported throughout the day by excellent and dedicated staff from all around the world. The children sing joyously as they walk into their classrooms each morning and are continuously encouraged to work hard through a system of merits and demerits. It is clear to me that Khethani is a school which is dedicated to continual growth, with leaders who acknowledge and address all areas of potential improvement. One of the ways in which this is most clear is the attention paid to each child’s individual pastoral and academic needs, as the school acknowledges (what is not usual in South Africa) that there is no such thing as a “normal” learner.
The effect of the school’s support is clear in our Zoe Trust children who, despite often coping with very challenging home lives, are able to flourish at school as they beam and laugh and learn as much as any of their peers. It has been an honour to get to know them, and to see for myself the difference we are making both in their daily and future lives. It is not unusual for these children to find themselves in a situation where nothing is stable in their home lives, where nothing feels secure. But the Zoe Trust gives these children far more than money, more even than an education; Khethani is a constancy. It is a place where they matter, are valued and rewarded. A sense of self-worth: this is what we are working to build into the very core of our children, so that no matter what their lives look like after they’ve left Khethani and even left The Zoe Trust, they know that they can aim high.
How do we do it? It starts from the fact that the foundation of our Trust is the relationships which form within it. Each child has a personal relationship with their mentor and their sponsors and gain infinitely from them. I have seen how these connections enable kids to flourish as they are, for example, motivated to do well according to their specific passions. They are not allowed to passively receive their education but are encouraged and supported to get the very best out of their learning. As any parent will tell you, all children are different and what is brilliant about the Zoe Trust is the acknowledgement and respect of this diversity. Mentors can act either with parents or in a parental role for our kids, differing the emphasis according to each situation. I have seen for myself the potential irrelevance of monetary support in education if students are lacking the love and security all children need to feel. But the Zoe Trust, through our structure of mentors and our emphasis on maintaining a relationship with each child, truly does continue to change lives for the better.
Then, each child has a relationship with their sponsors. As sponsors you may well feel that your kids are a million miles away from your daily life. You may not, but my parents have certainly experienced feeling distant at times from the boy we sponsor, Lethu. But I recently went to visit him in his home in Ingwavuma and it was an incredible experience for me. As he played me a song on the guitar we had helped pay for I looked around the room and saw photographs of myself as a twelve-year-old with my family. We had sent them to him when we started sponsoring him, and he had kept the pictures in his room for five years. I was so moved. Your presence in your children’s lives goes so much further than currency – it makes them feel connected, cared for and opens their minds to a whole world of possibilities.
I have absolutely loved being here in Ingwavuma and I plan to return in 2018 during my gap year. In the meantime, I am so happy to be getting more involved with the Zoe Trust, taking on our four youngest students at Khethani and overseeing their wonderful journeys as they grow and learn in love.