How to Spread it: Banking on young dreams

2014-11-09 15:00

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Education fund founder tells Lubabalo Ngcukana that ubuntu is all we have

Malizole “Banks” Gwaxula, the founder and senior ­adviser of Ubuntu Education Fund, a world-renowned NGO in Zwide, Port Elizabeth, believes there is nothing more meaningful in one’s society and life than to lend a helping hand and show ubuntu.

Gwaxula is nicknamed Banks after the great England international football goalkeeper Gordon Banks and for his own goalkeeping prowess. Born and bred in Zwide, an impoverished township about 20km east of Port Elizabeth, Gwaxula has spent almost his entire life helping those less fortunate to realise their dreams.

His role is no longer to stop goals but to make sure the most vulnerable in his community achieve theirs.

“Ubuntu – what other people refer to as humanity – is all we have as the human race. There is nothing that fulfils my heart more than to see a child smile. My goal is to effect positive change in their lives. Everybody deserves a chance in life and there should be nothing that stops people from being the best they can be,” says Gwaxula.

A former science teacher, he quit teaching to focus on the NGO, which was born from a friendly chat between patrons at a sheeben in New Brighton, a neighbouring ­township.

Then a chance meeting between Banks and Jacob Lief, an American ­citizen, co-founder and now CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, saw the start of a new era for him.

“I met Jacob in 1998. He was in the country to do some work for an NGO in Cape Town, but it turned out to be a scam, so he took a train to Port Elizabeth.

“During our conversation, it become clear we were both passionate about ­community development. I told him what I was doing to help children at my school and he was keen to lend a helping hand.”

Lief stayed with Gwaxula’s family in Zwide for the next seven months and helped out at Emfundweni Primary School, where Gwaxula taught. Then Lief went to the US and returned with R40?000, which was used to start the Ubuntu fund.

“Jacob had raised the money from the University of Pennsylvania. We sat down and decided to form an NGO, and because ubuntu had brought us together we decided we should call it the Ubuntu Education Fund to organise scholarships for vulnerable children.”

With the help of donors from around the world, the NGO now employs 60 people – who are paid industry-rated salaries with benefits – and has offices in the UK and the US, which focus on fundraising, while the Zwide site is its operational centre. The NGO has a state-of-the-art facility in the township with the R45?million main building designed to resemble a bird about to take off. Inside is one of its early childhood development centres created for children as young as two, a clinic with a dispensary, a kitchen, administration offices, a production studio and a youth development centre. There is also a flourishing vegetable garden.

The NGO has been in operation for 15 years and offers all its services free of charge. It has sponsored computer centres in more than 40 schools around Port Elizabeth, with each school getting between 30 and 35 computers, as well as training in computer literacy for their teachers.

“The issue of computers and assisting poor children further their education came up strongly and that’s where our initial focus was. But now we focus on also providing scholarship administration, health and family support,” says Gwaxula.

He counts as among his proudest moments a visit by former US president Bill Clinton, who came to give his support and show existing and potential donors where their money was going. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a patron of the fund.

Gwaxula was named Community Builder of the Year in 2007 and given the Citizen of the Eastern Cape Award in 2010. He has twice been nominated for Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, which falls under the legal supervision of the Swiss federal government.

But this is still not enough for Gwaxula. “I wish I could do more to help other people. Unfortunately, we can’t help all the people at the same time, but we must never stop trying. My mother taught me ubuntu. She would never pass a person without greeting them. Ubuntu is all we have.”

This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust and the African Grantmakers Network. To support a cause,


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