How far does one go?

One of the issues which seems to go hand-in-hand with living in South Africa is to what extent does one help the less fortunate people that are all around us? I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I think it’s great that my children grow up realising that there are needy people out there and not everyone has everything that they need, never mind want. A friend was telling me the other day about an incident that happened with her 5 year old daughter. They’d been challenged by their church to go and give their left-overs from their Christmas meal to homeless people. She was a little concerned about how her children would react but they dutifully put everything into a container and drove down the road (with her 2 kids and her sister’s two that live in the UK). They hadn’t gone very far before they’d found some worthy recipients. She says now whenever there are leftovers her daughter tells her to get the container because they need to go and give it to the people again. So all in all a very positive experience. She also related aboout when she lived in the UK and they went and handed out Mar.ks and Spen.cers sandwiches to homeless people who would then complain that they didn’t want Smoked Salmon AGAIN!! Just goes to show.

Anyway, so I generally feel quite guilty about all that we have. A small bit is thanks to the fact that both Chris and I did well at school and University and used all of the opportunities that we were given. A lot of it is thanks to our good fortune of being born to middle class parents. I look at our helper, Joyce and gardner, Dinki. Both are intelligent people, honest, hardworking and yet mostly due to circumstances beyond their control their lives will always be a relative battle. I am younger than both of them and yet they work for me.

Joyce has 3 sons. One works at Co.ke and is paid a minimum wage I’m sure. He would love to be a lawyer but he’s about 26 now and not sure what the chances are of that happening. The middle son failed matric a few years ago but he still wrote the “old” matric, not OBE so it’s difficult for him to go back and rewrite subjects. He has been at college the last 2 years but when it comes to exam times he does a disappearing act (to his mother’s enormous distress). The youngest son wrote matric in 2009 and passed. One of only 2 to get a matric exemption (entrance into university) in his entire class of over 200. The thing is that he failed maths but what he really wants to study is engineering of sorts (at a college). I think he needs to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his abilities. I mean he came in the top 1% of his class. Granted his class performed poorly but who knows what their teachers were like, had their Maths teacher even passed Maths, etc. You cannot ignore the fact that he got 14% for Maths and thus has absolutely no Maths grounding or basic grasp of the subject. I do believe it is not a reflection on his ability, just his circumstances. Joyce only started working for us in October 2009 otherwise we would have done our utmost to make sure her sons could have attended better schools.

I feel it is our responsibility to help out with their tertiary education. I am a bit concerned at their dedication though. We did pay for them to enroll at college last year and they pretended to their mom that they were going but didn’t attend and the registration money was wasted. Joyce was absolutely heartbroken when she found out what they’d done. They said it was because they were told to do courses that they didn’t want to??? This year they are apparently keen, the one who failed Matric wrote a test and passed and can now do a marketing course (I have serious doubts on one’s chances of finding a job with just a marketing course behind your name but I’ll keep quiet). The younger one has enrolled for an engineering course which from what I can understand is a very practical course (fixing cars, fitting and turning, etc.) and being based in PE with all the automotive firms around I trust that after 3 years (I think that’s how long the course is) he will be able to find a job.

We have agreed to pay their tuition fees but not their bus fare (the one can walk to college and the other not) or any other related costs. They also need to pass their exams if they want us to continue to pay the fees. It comes to R15 000 a year which isn’t too bad but we do already pay Joyce a good salary, I pay her bus fare, give her taxi money on the day she leaves early to go to her bible study and buy her groceries twice a month so I’m a bit scared to add up her total “package” that she gets from us, I think I’d be shocked. The thing is that we have more than enough and I can’t bear to think that her children aren’t getting an education, the only thing that could possibly break the “poverty cycle” for their family, while my children have cupboards full of toys and the chance of the best education available to us, it just wouldn’t feel right. I hope they will take this opportunity and not waste it. All 3 sons speak very good English which I hope will also be an advantage when the time comes for them to find jobs.

What’s quite remarkable is how attitudes can differ and why I know that some people will always get further in life than others. In Cape Town we had Cynthia that helped us twice a week. Joyce is great and I get on well with her but Cynthia was just on another level. She was incredible and I still miss lots, she works for my brother so we do keep in touch. Born to the right parents, she could literally have done anything. Instead she fell pregnant young and had to leave school. Her only son managed to pass Matric at a township school and got in to study electrical engineering at the Technikon in Cape Town. He passed every year and went on to do his honours or whatever they call the 4th year. He organised a student loan for himself and we were never asked to contribute a single cent. He now has a good job in Cape Town and has already been promoted. I know he will go very far in life. At Christmas time I always bought him clothes and we gave him our old laptop at one stage. He always phoned personally to thank us for everything. Joyce’s boys send their thanks via Joyce but it isn’t quite the same as a personal call. Frightening about Cynthia and her son though is that they lived in a nice brick house in Khayalitsha that Cynthia inherited from her mother. Some of Khanyiso’s fellow matriculants at his school also passed matric but didn’t go on to study further. They spent their days sitting around getting up to mischief and were obviously jealous of his achievements and began to threaten him. They had to move in with family that lived elsewhere for a while just so Khanyiso would be safe. How sad is that? I just always knew that he would make a success of his life, without any help from anyone. Joyce’s sons have a bit more of an expectant attitude and I’m not quite sure whether they have the motivation when it comes to having to sit down and study. I hope they prove me wrong.

There is obviously other stuff that we could do with the money (like putting it towards our own childrens’ education) but I have to have faith that we will never have to worry about that. The program I watched on William Buffett had a profound effect on me. He believes that we are very much a product of the society we grow up in. It is up to those that have been more fortunate with their lot in life to try and improve the lives of others that weren’t as lucky. As I said before, I really hope that these boys attend their classes, study hard, pass their exams and that there will be jobs for them when the time comes.

This post has taken me so long to finish that lots more has happened, all good stuff.

I’ll have to update tonight if I get a chance.

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