by Chris Grava
In the fall of 2012, my brother Nick planned a 2 week trip to visit me at the end of my semester abroad at the University of Cape Town. After graduating from Northwestern University, where he studied Political Science and Psychology, and after spending two years working in financial services, my brother was looking for something new. My brother had reached the point where he could no longer settle with spending his time and energy working on something that didn’t seem like it really mattered in the grand scheme of things. He needed an opportunity that was challenging beyond a physical or mental level, fulfilling beyond a financial level, and meaningful beyond a personal level.
He found that and a lot more when he came across a struggling foster home for orphans and vulnerable children in a local township outside of Cape Town. Quite simply, the conditions were shocking. The foster home could barely afford basic necessities like baby formula, diapers, and pay for caregivers. It was in desperate need of renovations, funding, and leadership. The problems seemed massive in scale, endless in number, and perhaps unsolvable.
But Nick had a different philosophy. He saw the scale of the problems as equal to the scale of the opportunity. And seeing this massive opportunity to help, Nick skipped his flight home and decided to stay in South Africa as long as necessary to solve these problems.
In the two years since, a lot has happened. I went back to South Africa for 10 weeks in the summer of 2013 to work with Nick and the foster home. By then, Nick had worked his way into the position of Managing Director of the foster home, and earned his way into the heart of the local community, who nicknamed him, "Intsikelelo," which is Xhosa for "blessing."
Together, we tried to list out every problem facing the Home and potential steps to solve them. We established partnerships with charities, corporations, and various departments of the South African government, and began slowly making our way through the list. But the satisfaction of solving problems and making improvements at the Home was often overshadowed by the realization of even greater or more intricate problems left ahead. As the quote goes, “I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.”
These realizations in the summer of 2013 are what drove us to start our own US based nonprofit, Intsikelelo, to help step up our efforts in South Africa. Over the past year, my family has worked together to bring this idea to life, and we have traveled multiple times as a family back to visit Nick and the kids. We believe there is a massive opportunity to form connections between our friends, families, and communities in the US and these children and communities in South Africa. Through volunteering, fundraising, and idea sharing, we hope to leverage the power and potential of our world back home with the world we have become a part of in Khayelitsha. This link can help solve problems and make an impact in these children’s lives that would never happen otherwise. It can also give people at home the opportunity to effectively do something meaningful and make a legitimate impact through a transparent channel.
I hope that other people see this opportunity too. Please feel free to reach out to my family or me so we can come up with a way to get you involved, whether that is through sharing your perspective, making a donation, or planning a trip to come see this other world first hand. Thank you.