A burst of applause fills a club in New York City as Jacob Lief, Founder and President, steps toward a microphone near a cobalt blue stage. He is greeted with a hug by Kevin Bacon.
Just a week earlier in London, Senegalese guitarist Baaba Maal passionately strums on his guitar to the delight of some 200 Ubuntu supporters. Such scenes would have been nearly impossible to imagine 10 years ago.
Before there were high profile events, there were two men, Jacob and Banks, drinking beers in a tavern in Port Elizabeth. They spoke about the difficulties in health and education for the children of Port Elizabeth. And then they did something about it.
In 1999, they drew a circle on a map representing the 7 KM area around Port Elizabeth that would become the focal point of the Ubuntu Education Fund’s efforts. Fundraising began with a raffle at a University in Philadelphia in 1999 that raised $400 for school supplies. This year, the 10th anniversary galas in London and New York raised more than one million dollars.
However, the formula for success has not simply been raising money. As Jacob says, “you cannot change a child’s life with a cup of soup”. Rather, Ubuntu utilizes a comprehensive approach, offering a full-range of services to stabilize the often chaotic lives of vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth.
Fourteen year old Keynote speaker Lungi Ngceza best described how Ubuntu’s compassionate intervention changed her life in. Her counselor Sis Fezeka, “…made sure that our basic needs were provided. We had no money. She made sure we were safe by putting a special lock on our door, making sure the windows were not broken and we had curtains. She made sure we had enough food to eat everyday. She even taught us how to cook. Because of Ubuntu, I could go to school. They gave me a school uniform.”
Beyond the medical, psycho-social, and education services, Ubuntu has created a system that prepares children for university and ultimately for the world of work. With over 125 students accepted to top South African universities, our approach is clearly working.
The size of the organization belies the notion that bigger is more effective. With a hardworking staff of over 80 people dispersed over three continents, our coordinated efforts have proven that success can happen in a clearly defined geographical area. While it may take a lot of money to change a child’s life, how that money is allocated is what distinguishes Ubuntu. What we have done so well, is create a system in which the needs of Port Elizabeth are defined by those who live within the 7KM circle. After 10 years, and helping some 40,000 people, Ubuntu Education Fund continues to embody a promise made between two unlikely friends.
To learn more about Ubuntu’s galas, check our website for videos of our events, including speeches from Jacob Lief, Chairman Dan Osono, and the rest of the inspiring keynote address by Lungi Ngceza.