German boy's letter starts a chain of support for city family

2009-07-22 00:00

THE discovery of a message in a bottle in Germany has sparked a series of heart-warming events crossing continents.

Elisabeth Haberkorn, a German woman with family links to the South African Siya­bonga charity organisation, discovered the bottle while paddling on the Danau River in Germany in May.

It contained one euro and a letter from eight-year-old Oliver Golder, who was hoping to help a hungry child in Africa.

The letter reads:

Dear Child, I hope this bottle post will swim to Africa. My name is Oliver Golder and I am 8 years old. I am putting one € in the bottle, with it you can buy something to eat.

Fortunately for Oliver, Haber­korn’s daughter, Olga Paltier, is actively involved with the Siyabonga organisation, which finds and pairs sponsors with disadvantaged children in Edendale.

Rene Risch, the organisation’s project leader, received the bottle from Paltier while at a sponsorship meeting in Germany. “Because of him giving up his pocket money, we thought we’d help him realise his dream,” Risch toldThe Witness yesterday.

He spent the next few days phoning every Golder in the towns up-river on the Danau until he finally reached Oliver, who lives in Neuburg-Schrobenhausen near Munich, to tell him his money would reach a child in South Africa.

“Oliver was over the moon,” Risch said.

The money (the equivalent of R10) was used to buy a six-year-old girl from Edendale some bread and polony. The child, who is part of a family of 13 living on a monthly income of R1 200, was flabbergasted.

Risch described how, when the child was first asked whether she knew where Germany was, she pointed and said, “Fifty kilometres that way”.

Oliver’s family began official sponsorship of the child. Unfortunately, Oliver’s sister was diagnosed with leukaemia shortly after, so the Paltiers kindly took over the sponsorship. However, through Siyabonga, Oliver and his sister continue to correspond with and receive letters and pictures from the child. The contact has been a source of positivity for the family. “It was meant to be,” Risch commented, “I think it was tied up with his sister, giving her the strength to get better.”

This inspirational story has been featured in the German press, and has also resulted in Oliver’s school taking an interest in sponsoring children through the Siyabonga project.

“It’s just positive forces. The ripple effect of what this one bottle has had has been huge,” said Risch. Other schools in Germany have raised up to €13 000 for the organisation through events such as sponsored runs.

“This whole project has been so exciting, getting hold of both Oliver and [the child] and linking them up,” said Risch, “It’s been a win-win situation for everybody.”

Oliver was media shy and would not pose for photographs, even for the German press.

The Siyabonga organisation is a private sponsorship programme that currently facilitates the sponsorship of around 450 children. Whilst most support comes from Germany, nine children are currently being sponsored by South African families. Each sponsor donates a stipulated €35 a month for groceries and school fees, although many donate more. Each child and sponsor corresponds through letter-writing. For more information call 033 342 6348 or log on to their website at

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