Like many of you from all over the world, we are reeling from the effects of COVID-19. Suddenly the world has turned upside down and like so many, the world over, we are in crisis and our core focus has shifted.
As you can imagine all our fundraising events, including our biggest fundraiser Cash & Rocket, have been postponed or cancelled. Many local and foreign corporate donors have gone into lock down. We therefore have to shift our fundraising efforts entirely if we want to survive the year.
Our schools and universities have closed, and whilst the President has said that it is only until April 14th, we believe that this will probably continue until August. Universities are switching to online learning and those schools who have the resources are doing the same.
These are the major challenges that Sumbandila is currently facing:
- Our children do not have access to computers in their homes. Moreover, whilst Riverdale Country School (an American school) so kindly donated laptops and iPads to us, they are redundant in the villages where our children cannot afford Wi-Fi and often electricity is also too expensive. Yet another concern is, is that these devices are a security risk in their village homes.
- Our students all have mobile phones but data in this country is prohibitively expensive and there is no such thing as free Wi –Fi in their villages. Often there is inadequate signal for cell phones, even for text messages.
- They live in extremely cramped situations, where social distancing is impossible, and studying in private, or at night, is not an option.
- Our Residential students have had to leave the comfort of the Sumbandila hostel, where they are given three meals a day and go home to families that have meagre supplies and even water is a challenge in some homes.
- Many of our 129 university students have had to leave the comfort of the university residences and return home where they will face the same challenges.
- Our Saturday school and holiday school programmes have had to be cancelled. Not only were they critical academic support to 113 students, but they also provided familial support, food, recreation and fun.
- Many people have already lost their jobs and there are many more job losses to come. Our students, by definition, come from low income families so mercifully many of them survive on government grants but ironically it is those who were employed, that will suffer most.
- Most critically, we do not have adequate hospitals in the deep rural areas, and the old and the frail are most at risk.
- Unlike Western society, the grandmothers in particular, play a vital role in the survival of the village. In many homes the grandmothers are the primary caregivers for two or three generations of children and their meagre pensions are the sole income of the entire family.
What can Sumbandila do?
- We are setting up a toll free help line for our students.
- We are hoping to open the hostel as a “home” after 14th April, where children will get proper nutrition and Wi-Fi to continue their studies.
- We have two university hostels in Pretoria where students have access to Wi-Fi and can continue studying.
- We have and will continue to provide wood, food, water and sanitising kits to our students in the villages as long as our resources last.
- We have educated our students about the virus and asked them to be agents of support in their communities and homes. We have explained how important it is to protect their grandparents as best they can and have handed out a supply of vitamin C for those over 70.
- We have stocked up on hand sanitizer and tinned food.
- We will keep regularly in touch and do our best to assist academically, nutritionally but most importantly psychologically. Our children are frightened.
Like you, we are all waiting and watching, but there is so much fear and uncertainty. It is like a jail sentence with no known end.
Please help however you can, no matter how small the contribution. We have never needed you more than we do now.
We hope that you, and your families, are keeping safe during this difficult time.
Fondest regards and grateful thanks,
From Leigh and the Sumbandila Team