South Africa weathered the dark period of apartheid and emerged into the hope of the new democracy under the leadership of a group of enlightened leaders: Chief Lutuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Desmond Tutu, and of course, Nelson Mandela. These men understood the importance of education: even as many were imprisoned on Robben Island, the ANC top brass continued their studies, reading books and smuggled newspapers by night and discussing politics, history, and language as they toiled in the lime quarry by day.
Mandela’s interest began when he was still a boy. His father, a councilor to a local chief, died, and the high royal court of the Xhosa tribe sent for him. The Xhosa king had similar plans in mind for Nelson. After his initiation ceremony, Mandela’s adopted father sent him to a Christian boarding school and later to college. Mandela writes of one of his peers who was not so lucky:
“When I left Clarkebury, I lost track of Mathona. She was a day scholar, and her parents did not have the means to send her for further education. She was an extraordinarily clever and gifted person, whose potential was limited because of her family’s meager resources. This was an all too typical South African story. It was lack of ability that limited people, but lack of opportunity.” (Long Walk to Freedom, 35)
Over seventy years later, I see the same tragedy in the South African schools where I teach: each grade 7 maths class I teach consists of 38 students. Between both classes, I have nine textbooks. As sad as it is, I cannot help but laugh sometimes as my students complete their sums, crammed two to a seat; there just are not enough seats for everyone. They tell me about their hopes for the future – to be a pilot, or a doctor, or a scientist, or a teacher. Heartbreaking confessions: most of these kids – some quite capable and clever – will never attain these dreams simply because their school system does not adequately prepare them for university. Many cannot afford maize meal for dinner, much less tens of thousands of Rand in university tuition.
Under the guidance of Mandela and his colleagues – leaders who placed a premium on education – South Africa emerged from apartheid as a political and economic leader in Africa. Today it needs a new generation of educated and enlightened leaders to continue this development.
In March, I will be traveling to the province of Mpumalanga, where I will (attempt to) run a half-marathon through the kopjes outside Kruger National Park. I realize the personal folly of this endeavor, but that’s beside the point. I am running to support the KLM Foundation (http://www.klm-foundation.org), an organization founded by two Peace Corps Volunteers that served in South Africa.
Through a rigorous four-tier application process, the KLM Foundation selects one needy but highly qualified student to attend Uplands College, an excellent independent high school in Mpumalanga. Funds raised from the Longtom Marathon will go towards paying this child’s tuition. I am reminded of a parable:
Walking down the beach one day, a man was alarmed to find hundreds of starfish stranded on the beach by an unusually low tide. He saw another man in the distance, pausing every step or so to throw a starfish back into the ocean.
The first man caught up to the man throwing the starfish back in the ocean. “What are you doing?” he asked.
The second man seemed surprised. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m throwing these starfish back in the ocean. They’re stranded on the beach.”
“But sir,” the first man countered, “What a waste of time. There’s hundreds of them! You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The second man threw another starfish back in the ocean and smiled. “Sure made a difference to that one.”
I am asking you, my readers, to help support me the KLM Foundation as they work to give one young South African the opportunity for an excellent education. If you are willing and able, please donate at http://www.klm-foundation.org. Your contributions – in any amount – will go towards helping a young South African attain the knowledge and skills that South Africa’s next generation of leaders will need. Even a contribution of five or ten dollars helps.
You can also mail a check payable to Kgwale Le Mollo (US) to: KLM Foundation (US) / c/o Bowen Hsu / 461 So. Bonita Avenue / Pasadena, CA 91107.
If you donate, please put my name in the white box where it asks what Longtom runner you would like to sponsor. Thank you so much for your support: it will make a difference.