How one Expat is Walking the Walk rather than Talking the Talk

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Although I very recently lampooned a fictional stereotypical expat called Charity Charity who is hopelessly devoted to helping all the causes, in reality I have a great deal of respect for the expats who go out and make a genuine difference to their host country.

Expat Leslie Randolph is someone who has done just that.  She is making an admirable contribution to South Africa through her involvement with Lawyers against Abuse.  Leslie is a fabulous individual, warm and kind and great fun to be around.  Here she shares her story and her passion for the cause she has been fighting for:

“I think many expats share an overwhelming desire to give back to their host country.  I know I did upon arriving in Johannesburg nearly three years ago.  I believe we have a responsibility to give back to the country that is hosting us and, if possible, to leave it better than how we found it.  In Johannesburg, the opportunity to give back is easy because the need is so incredibly overwhelming.  The challenge is to figure out where to give your time and talents and how to maximise your impact in the short amount of time you have in this home away from home.

Upon arriving I dove into it!  I was cleaning out my closets weekly, giving away toys my kids may (or may not) have been tired of playing with and donating them to any cause that tugged at my heartstrings.  And let’s be honest, they all did. I quickly signed up to volunteer at a local preschool in the township of Kya Sands and began doing puzzles weekly with the children.  On paper, I was an expat rock star, but in reality I was failing the children I was supposed to be helping and myself.  Volunteering eventually became a box to check weekly versus a passion, and while I was physically with the kids each week I wasn’t emotionally present.  While some volunteers are completely altruistic, I am not. I wanted to find a cause and project that impacted me as much as I impacted it.

I finished out the year at my preschool, and as the kids graduated, so did I.  I told myself to take my time to find a cause that I was truly passionate about so that volunteering wouldn’t feel like an obligation, but a privilege.  Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Lawyers against Abuse (LvA), a non-profit organisation that provides free legal services and trauma counselling to victims of gender-based violence (GBV).

If you’ve lived in South Africa for any amount of time, you know that GBV is endemic, but you might not fully comprehend the magnitude of this crisis.  Continue reading

Thokozani: A Happy Place

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There is a great deal of poverty in South Africa and some expats choose to use their time here to do what they can to contribute to improving and empowering local communities through a variety of volunteer programs, fundraisers and initiatives.  All in all there are some fantastic expat projects going on. Today’s guest post is written by expat Mona Brantley with input from Annabel Newell. Mona currently heads up the Friends of Diepsloot volunteer team that has invested an enormous amount of time and love in Thokozani Preschool over the last few years to great effect.  Over to Mona…..

Where is your happy place? Have you found a place in your current location that makes you smile, where only good memories are made? For me and many other Joburg expats that happy place literally is Thokozani (a Zulu word for “a place or state of happiness”).

Four years ago, in April of 2012, Laurence Braeckman, a Belgian expat, went into Diespsloot township to look at schools, day cares, and preschools. When she discovered Gogo and Thokozani, she knew she had found her happy place.

Gogo (Zulu for grandmother because no one calls her by her name Miss Lizah) had already been running Thokozani for six years, primarily as a day care and a place of safety for the very young children of Diepsloot.

The facilities then were very basic. They were making food for 200 kids on a two gas hob cooker in a kitchen that doubled as the office. The children sat and ate on the floor. They practiced writing letters on the backs of their classmates. The classrooms were little more than shacks: hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The food, though made with love and care, was not nutritious enough for growing children. While the kids were safe and in a loving environment, so much more could be done, and Laurence and her cohorts set to work. Continue reading