On Monday and Tuesday, Mpilonhle had the privilege of welcoming Mzukisi Tony Gubesa, Grassroot Soccer Master Coach, to the Umkhanyakude District. Though only a short visit, Tony got a chance to re-connect with all of our peer educators that he helped to train as “Skillz Coaches” at a June workshop in Durban. He also got a chance to offer his continued support and to see for himself the excellent Skillz programme that Mpilonhle and our peer educators are developing. The entire Skillz team was thrilled to see him again, the rest of the Mpilonhle staff was happy to meet him for the first time, and all of us eagerly anticipate his already scheduled return at the end of January (unless we can persuade him to come back even earlier).
I think it is safe to say that for everyone involved, the visit was both productive and enjoyable. It is clear that Tony feels the same affection for Mpilonhle that we feel for him. He not only got a chance to support and personally familiarize himself with our unique implementation of Skillz, but also got a chance to visit one of our mobile health and computer units in action to better understand Mpilonhle’s core services and the other invaluable work that we do. He was genuinely impressed by the quality of our staff and the services they provide. Because we now think of Tony as part of the Mpilonhle family, we made sure he didn’t leave without his own official Mpilonhle shirt to proudly wear around the streets of Cape Town.
During his visit, the life orientation teachers at Mkhaliphi High School made certain that Tony understands how highly they regard Mpilonhle’s Skillz programme by explaining to him their recent decision to provide the local team of Skillz Coaches with their own small office at the school. Their exact words were that they want these peer educators to have “the dignity they deserve” as such valuable new members of the school community. And because it was raining heavily that day, the Coaches had to abandon their prepared activities (which required a lot of space to conduct) but, without missing a beat, re-arranged the chairs and tables in the classroom so they could stay inside and conduct an “unofficial session” with other activities from the Skillz curriculum.
At Silethukukhanya High School, Tony was equally impressed by what he discovered during our impromptu visit to Sfiso Jobe’s house (the team leader for this group of Skillz Coaches). We decided to walk together to Sfiso’s house to retrieve some registrations and surveys that I had neglected to inform him we needed to collect that day. When we arrived, despite the fact that Sfiso had no idea we would be collecting it that day, the stack of over 400 registrations and surveys was already neatly sorted by grade and class, clearly labeled and clipped together. We then noticed that there were only two things posted on the walls of the house (Sfiso is only 21, has very little money and lives alone). The first was a copy of the Skillz class schedules at Silethukukhanya, including the contact information for the life orientation teachers at the school, his team of Skillz Coaches, and the Skillz team at Mpilonhle (myself and Thokozani Hlophe). The second was a hand-written breakdown of the size and gender composition of every class his team was responsible for at the school.
It’s a significant understatement to say that our excellent Skillz Coaches take their roles and responsibilities very seriously. And we know that these and other experiences will mean that when Tony returns to Cape Town, he will continue to be the strong advocate for our programme that he has always been. We wish him a safe journey home.
The first major component of Mpilonhle’s new Community Sports Programme has officially launched. And the reviews are in: it’s a huge hit!
In partnership with Grassroot Soccer, Mpilonhle has introduced the “Skillz” programme in two pilot schools: Silehtukukhyana High School and Mkhaliphi High School. Grassroot Soccer’s Skillz curriculum creates simple but powerful connections between sports and life skills, particularly in relation to the stigma, prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It’s a physically active and innovative way of encouraging students to think about and discuss these important issues.
With the support of school administrators and teachers, Mpilonhle has adapted the Skillz programme for use in the Life Orientation periods of these two pilot schools. Our well-trained team of peer educators – 4 at each school – are now conducting Skillz sessions several times a week, covering all of Grades 8 and 9. Nearly 800 students are currently registered for and participating in the programme.
The first Skillz sessions were held at Silethukukhanya on 31 August, with Mkhaliphi following one week later on 8 September. The response of teachers and administrators has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers have quickly recognized the value of the Skillz culture and curriculum, and they have expressed appreciation for both the enthusiasm and professionalism of Mpilonhle’s peer educators who are leading the sessions. Limited by time and resources, we are already asking interested Life Orientation educators in the higher grades to be patient as we develop a strategy for expanding the programme into their classes.
But for sure, the most positive response has come from the students. The important health and life skills topics covered by the Skillz curriculum are serious in nature and are handled appropriately. However, due to the soccer-inspired, physically active method of curriculum delivery, Skillz is also a whole lot of fun. Students are fully engaged in the sessions and truly enjoy the activities.
There is perhaps no better evidence of the positive student response than that provided by the students in Grade 8B at Silethukukhanya. Their life orientation period is immediately after lunch break and several of the students were late arriving at the soccer field for the start of class. In addition, the class is very large, so registration took longer than expected. As a result, time was short and the peer educators were forced to wrap-up class just as the enthusiasm was building for the boisterous, primary activities of Session 1. The life orientation teacher explained to the class that they had unfortunately run out of time, and they needed to move on to their next period.
So how did the students respond? They organized a spontaneous sit-in and refused to leave the soccer field!
Now, Mpilonhle certainly doesn’t want to encourage students disobeying their teachers. But, to be totally honest, the spirit of the moment and clear message communicated by their sit-in was inspiring; a true testament of how much they were enjoying the programme. Soon enough, the peer educators made clear that they would pick up right where they left off when they come back at the same time next week – and every week after that for the next several months. Assured that they wouldn’t be missing out on anything, the students slowly stood up and moved on to their next period.
We are very excited about the future of the Skillz programme and our partnership with Grassroot Soccer.
Top : OneSight team, Masibonisane Principal, Mpilonhle staff
Second : A learner being examined by OneSight doctor
Third : Eye examination by the auto refractor machine
Fourth : Community members after they got their prescription glasses
Fifth : Learners from Ezifundeni who got their glasses
Task: In eight days time provide eye screening and eye glasses to 15,000 persons in rural South Africa……and we did it! We; One sight, Mpilonhle, SA Department of Health, and Oprah’s Angels Network. What an adventure – and it feels oh soo rewarding.
It was one of Mpilonhle’s guardian angel Greg Sherkin (from Oprahs’ team) who made the intial link between One Sight and Mpilonhle. We had mentioned to Greg before that in the schools we served in rural KwaZulu Natal hardly any of the learners are wearing glasses. This was statistically impossible. As usual with Greg, this comment didn’t fall on deaf ears. A few months later he turned up with David from One Sight and persuaded him that we were worth a try as brokers for this very rewarding task.
Then the ground work started; informing and requesting the approval of the “authorizing environment” to implement the project. South Africa likes to refer to them as “steakholders” – a term from the corporate world but unfortunately very relevant for KwaZulu Natal.
Our authorizing environment involved every aspect of government; from the national government, provincial government, local government, to the traditional government and community leaders. Under the able leadership of Sabello – appointed by the the Oprah’s Winfrey foundation - we managed to get all our ducks in a row (with help of Thuli our head of clinical services). Not to forget Anastasia and Gugu who skillfully mobilized the traditional authorities, community leaders and school governing boards without insulting anyone. We owe all of them a great deal for our success.
Implementation of the program itself was that next challenge. A collaboration of many different cultures . First there was the corporate culture; focus oriented, getting the job done in the most efficient way at high speed with the least possible cost. A take it or leave it no nonsense attitude. No offense, we - the NGO culture – could do well every now and then with a lick of the corporate world.
Then we had our One sight and Mpilonhle volunteers! A group of nicer people are not available on this planet. Committed, excited, devoted to the cause, easy to please, grateful for the experience and with a sense of true privilege for being in a position to do good. The best side of man kind.
Our hosts – the Principals and teachers of the high schools we work in – as usual gave their honored guests a true sample of what Zulu hospitality means. Mdungandlovu went a bit overboard with there lunch consisting of cow head and intestines – and our staff was so happy with the amazing amount of leftovers! The High School kids were as usual a mix of the very behaved learners – those that make you proud - and the naughty to very naughty kids – happily in the minority.
Then there was the community, as traditional as they come in Zululand. Mainly Gogos, Mkhulus and their grand children. The generation in between – the missing fathers especially – either working far away from home or deceased. How I wished I had time to sit with each and every one of them and listen to their stories. It made me determined to put more effort in my Zulu.
And “us”. The NGO guys. We were the “good guys” as we like to see ourselves. In contradiction to our corporate counterparts we managed to make the task as challenging as it possibly could be with a “working till the job is done for as long as it takes” attitude because what mattered is the community, how they feel, what they think and by all means .. how not to make them upset or offend them. Maybe this concept was the most difficult part of our collaboration to understand. The entitlement of the corporate world “hey we come here to do good and you better appreciate it!” versus the entitlement of the community “ hey, arent’ you lucky that we allow you to come and visit us in our community ….. and what do you really want from us in the first place”.
And then last but not least the South African Department of Health. This group of people proved any negative stereotype we might possible have about government officials wrong. An example of true collaboration between government and NGO’s and hopelfully the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with Mpilonhle.
Rather then staying put in one place for 8 days, and bring everyone to the eye clinic, we conviced our corporate friends to go for it the more challenging option. We won’t bring Moses to the mountain, we will bring the mountain to Moses. Not only would it be better for the community who’s households are scattered all over this beautiful remote countryside, but it would be more exciting for the one sight volunteers as well since they come from all over the world on their free time to be part of this experience. Somehow a win win situation – at least that is what we thought. We convinced our partners that we will cover 16 sites in 8 days time, splitting up the team and moving the equipment and eyesight large stock of glasses each day to the next location. We would have our generators if the electricity fails.
It was a rocky start that first day, we lost half of the members of the one sight team because they followed the wrong car, the keys of the mobile units where the materials were stored was gone missing, the community was lining up in the sun, and our One Sight leader Melissa was clearly thinking aloud – “this is madness”. But our Mpilonhle team stayed calm and slowely but surely – true, a bit disorganized – we all worked together and despite the many pleas of One sight to send the continuous arrival stream of community members home (which we “said” we were doing) we managed to see 1500 persons on day one. It was nearly dark when we finished, and on our drive way back home we were rewarded with the most beautiful sunset on the rolling hills of this province. I think it even melted a bit the heart of our corporate culture. Of course – by that time – theOne Sight volunteers were already talking about a life changing experience – and it truly was, for all of us.
With every single day all the cultures grew closer, I think we even started to appreciate and understand each other. And on day eight like the intstruments in an orchestra, we all knew our script and all these cultures managed to play together in perfect harmony.
Mpilonhle would arrive first, and – thanks to the advice from team two on how to become more efficient – we discussed our roles and responsabilities for the day. Sne as leader of the registration team for the community would find a convenient spot to do just that. Khanya and her team were responsible for the snelling charts – the pre testing of every persons’ eyes. Among their many tasks, Siyabonga and Sifuso were in charge of “electricity” . Find it, no matter where it’s hiding. And they always managed to do so, with extension wires, plugs here a generators there….. Three of the health counselors would start with preparing and registering the learners and after they finished would help out with registration, snelling charts or the distribution of the t-shirts.
Our 2 nurses Sibahle and Bhegeni, and three of our health counselors would continue providing the Mpilonhle clinical and VCT services while Dudu and Longile would take care of health education in between their registration duties.
The t-shirts were a story by itself. They were 10,000 first class quality garments donated to us by Brooks Brothers. They originated as an order of Stanford for a fancy golf event – no not the university, but a Madov type crook called Stanford who through his ponzi scheme deprived thousands of honest people from their money. My husband, who is blessed with higher morals then most, wanted to ship them back on the first available transportation mode, but I managed to convince him that at least the guy did something good by giving these T-shirts to our KwaZulu Natal community – even though he most probably didn’t pay for them. But hey, who cares.
Although Gugu and I were the teamleaders of the Mpilonhle team, the honors for the true dirigent of our symphony has to go to Quinton. First he skillfully trained the learner volunteers – brought to them by Gugu assigned by the school principal. I don’t know whether we should call it “trained” or “threathened with no T-shirt if they misbehave, or are lazy, or quit their post of duty before the task is done”. The learners called him a “slave driver” but I could see the twinkle in their eyes following his orders and the sense of accomplishment when Quinton at the end of the day with the help of a learner volunteer called their names from his list with the awards.
During Quinton’s early morning training of the volunteers, Gugu and myself negotiated with the School Principals, Melissa and Mark the rooms we would occupy and “the flow”. How to “herd” people efficiently and orderly from one room to the other. Once decided, Quinton invaded with his army of learner volunteers. The consoles with the eye glasses were taken out of the units and into the appropriate classrooms. There they would be placed according to the numbers the consoles were given on the appropriate desks. Other learner volunteers were assigned to the One Sight volunteers who were creating appropriate niches and workingspaces with desks, tape and chairs.
The department of health nurses always arrived in time to set up their “eye delation space”. It was the stage between the Mpilonhle -run snelling chart and the first visit to the One Sight eye doctor.
So by the time the One Sight team was set up, the first customers were there to be taken care off.
Another challenge was the transport of eye glasses to the other site, because they had to get their stock from our end. Mike – our visionary leader – had developed a state of the art IT system with Ipods and the lot that finally functioned at its best on the last day. In between we did managed through good old transport of paperwork between sites.
I could not end my story without thanking those drivers. Because they drove and drove and drove and drove. When all the cultures were safely back where they belonged in the evening, our drivers were moving the mobile units between the sites – sometimes up to 1:00 AM in the morning. They truly diserve the largest applause.
On Thursday night – the last day of the event – we all were exhausted, but how can you bring closure to such an intense experience without a South African Braai and good music. So Mpilonhle had a party at La Colline with our Department of Health palls – because that is what they were by then. Thanks to Gugu – who litteraly went and fetched them – we managed to get some of the One Sight Team members to join in. It was an experience of a life time that we wanted to share with them.
As for myself, to the Mpilonhle staff, Mpilonhle volunteers, Department of Health Representatives, the One Sight volunteers and staff, the high schools and their principals and most of all the Kwazulu Natal Community and their leaders, I want to say thank you for your commitment, and your hard work. I am sure we made a difference to this community in KwaZulu Natal.
And yes, Melissa, David, George and Gina. We love you very much and truly hope you will come back.
September 6, 2009
Excellence too good for developing countries?
I heard it from Dr. Mohammad Yunus himself, creator of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Developing countries should use the latest innovative technologies and approaches to meet their goals and implement their programs. At the time it was the use of cell phones in rural areas. Seems common sense now 20 years later.
But some of our PEPFAR funders question whether excellence is the right approach, and quote the same example we heard so many times over the past year; …..one of their grantees had developed innovative adolescent friendly clinics which had proven too ambitious for duplication and a dumbed down version had to be implemented waisting all the PEPFAR funding for this intervention.
Mpilonhle seems to be falling in that same category of doubt….. are we too efficient and too high tech. Can South Africa handle such an approach yet is the question. With all respect to PEPFAR and the wonderful work they do in South Africa, I have a very difficult time with this so called dilemma. One example that “went wrong” – for reasons that I think are worth exploring - seems to overshadow the so many examples that went right.
Mpilonhle has proven that centres of excellence can be done in rural South Africa with a local workforce. Why not learn from us rather then finding us “too 21st century!” It is all about management and raising expectations…and South Africa is oh so ready for it.