Greetings to you all! I write to you now not from South Africa, but from the US, where I have returned to live. I will miss Africa terribly, but it is good to be home! Please be assured that I am still very much involved with our projects in South Africa, and will continue to monitor and report to you on the progress of the Josh Groban Foundation's work on behalf of orphaned and vulnerable children there. Our partnership with Noah (Nurturing Orphans of AIDS for Humanity), the wonderful South African organization that is overseeing the operation of Siyawela along with 111 other Arks serving over 33,000 children, enables us keep very close track of how things are progressing. As an official sponsor of the Ark, the Foundation is now an active participant in Siyawela's ongoing budgeting, planning and evaluation process. Noah has done groundbreaking work in developing this model to most effectively tackle the huge, unprecedented challenge of providing for the millions of orphaned children trying to survive in the wake of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
I am very pleased to be able to report to you now on the next phase of our involvement with Siyawela Ark, along with exciting new plans that will bring support and services to even more South African children. All of this is made possible only through your extraordinary and continuing generosity. The remarkable "Raise 27" campaign in honor of Josh's 27th birthday raised over $43,000 (my goodness - what will happen when Josh turns 43?), and that money is enabling JGF to fund substantial and much-needed improvements to the facilities and programming at Siyawela. As Lindy said, you are making it possible for us to check off every item on our current wish list!
Siyawela (formerly Zamimpilo) has been doing its wonderful work in a very spartan and under-equipped building. Our last round of improvements was made when there were 86 children at the center, and now there are 726! 90 pre-schoolers spend the entire day there, and 400 school-age children come for a daily meal, counseling and activities. With a clear mandate to improve the facilities, we worked with Noah staff and local contractors to develop a renovation plan, and your funding is enabling us to proceed!!
The main features of this plan are:
1. Expanding the kitchen space, including creation of a pass-through window and a new canopied outdoor dining area adjacent to the building which will free up the interior space for other uses.
2. Expanding the tiny office space.
3. Enclosing a pre-school activity area within the interior
4. Creating and outfitting a library within the interior space.
5. Moving toilet facilities to the shower building.
6. Erecting a new building (made of a shipping container) which will house a computer center. JGF will also fund the computers and furnishings.
7. Upgrading the small out-building used as a staff area.
8. Upgrading and enlarging the JGF-funded playground structure.
9. Constructing an outdoor basketball court.
In addition, JGF is providing the funding to staff and implement an innovative program of peer education and mentorship for the teenagers at the Ark, which has proven very effective in helping with life skills, career orientation, gender issues and AIDS prevention. The Vhutshilo Program was developed by Charles Deutsch of Harvard, and you can read more about it at: www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/charles-deutsch/.
Here is more important news! In addition to these exciting developments at Siyawela, your support has also enabled the Foundation to expand its sponsorship to an additional, previously sponsorless Noah Ark. This smaller Ark has a very large name! It is Sivulele Noah Entukusweni, which roughly translated means "open happiness" in Zulu. Here's pronunciation help…See-voo-lay-lee….Noah….En-too-koo-sway-nee. Entukusweni is located in a rural community of 25,000 people, about 20 minutes outside of Durban. It serves less than half the number of children at Siyawela, in a facility comprised of three converted shipping containers which are located next to the local elementary school. One container is a kitchen where the daily meal is prepared, one is a preschool activity center, and the third is used for bereavement counseling. The Ark currently uses the school's toilet and water facilities since it does not have its own. The Josh Groban Foundation's initial donations to Entukusweni will go towards toilet facilities, a water tank, and a metal canopy to be erected between the three containers to provide shaded outdoor activity and dining space for the children.
I've set up a new Picturetrail album so that you can view photos taken on my most recent visit to the Arks in March. You'll see photos taken at Entukusweni, as well Siyawela photos that show the 'before' version of areas that will undergo renovation. Go to www.picturetrail.com, and enter member name "africandrea". The album is entitled "Siyawela & Entukusweni, March 2008".
In addition, I'd encourage you to visit the Noah website at www.noahorphans.org.za .
There are references to Siyawela and the Josh Groban Foundation in the 'Noah Gallery KZN' and 'Noah Newsletter'sections. Noah is continually working to add new programming and services to the Arks, and visiting their website is a great way to keep track of new developments!
As always and more than ever, I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish for the kids in this corner of the world. This is really major stuff, and none of it could be happening without all of you. Everything we are able to do- from the amazing Grobanite blankets to funding bereavement counseling and bricks for renewed and improved buildings - sends these brave children a very clear and healing message from their friends far away…
"you are loved".