Season’s greetings from the Liggett’s in South Africa
We have spent nine years of our lives working in the south of KwaZulu Natal province – working alongside local people to build a better future for people in poor and marginalised rural communities stuck in a cycle of violence and destruction. This involves changing the course of life for individuals through providing educational and vocational opportunities as well as a chance to deal with the demons from their past and to rebuild their inner selves. It also involves societal transformation in terms of ensuring that people in rural areas have access to schooling and health services, that their legal rights are not ignored and that they have a way earning an income to provide for their families.
At the core of our work is the conviction that the best solutions come from within rural communities. We have therefore never started or initated any of the projects we have been involved in – they are all initiated by the community – including the organisation we have devoted most of our nine years to developing – the Network Action Group or NAG.
We also learnt early on from many of our excellent community development mentors that our skills are best used indirectly in the community – largely that means stuck behind a computer screen or in meetings with staff and partners. We have been and still are involved in many grassroots community projects, and our legacurry family have been a key partner in many of them:
- Masakhane Community Care
- Mbalenhle Creche
- Siyathuthuka Creche
- Woza Entokozweni Creche
- Bonakele Creche
- Sibambiqhaza Resource Centre
- SIyathuthuka Ezimpandeni Creche
- WowZulu KwaNzimakwe
- Siyamthanda Womens Shelter
- Dweshula Orphan Drop In Centre
Amongst others. NAG has grown immensely in the past five years as Brian has put his fulltime energies into it with Maria also supporting the growth of the organisation and its impact. We now have a NAG staff team of 11 fulltime staff, 4 part time staff and 80 young interns! We are making waves in social change in rural communities – and are involved in influencing government policy at a national level and advising university researchers about the realities of rural community development on a regular basis.
Ultimately all our work is about creating a better life for the next generation of South Africans born in tribal villages that currently have limited chance to the kind of life they pass by in the suburbs from the window of their public transport minibus. More and more this has pulled us into supporting rural preschools who are reaching the children in the most vital stage of development and brain growth – 0-5 years. If we want to really transform the trajectory of the next generation this has to be the key focus area according to the Harvard Neuroscientists!
We have lived in the tribal village of KwaNzimakwe now for more than five years and although Ezra is the one closest to being fluent in the language – his parents know enough to get by and we have built genuine friendships with our close neighbours and colleagues – something which is very hard to do in a country that still has huge racial and class divides. This year we also celebrate that Maria received permanent residency in South Africa something that most of you know has been a long struggle. The only thing that now remains is for Brian and Ezra to travel to the embassy in Dublin to apply for residency through Maria’s permit.
A large part of our role here in KwaNzimakwe has always been and continues to be mentoring and supporting young people. Before Ezra was born we were doing that though evening bible studies and you have been praying with us for young people such as; Siyanda (who sadly passed away in 2013), Msho, Sphindile, Veli, Vero, Jae, Nelly, Phumla, Ricky, Sizwe….
Many of these young people have gone on to work for the betterment of the community and still play a big part of our lives in different ways. Sphindile continues to be the reliable rock at NAG. Since returning from YWAM in Rostrevor she has managed to get her driver’s licence as well as saving up to extend the house for her family. Many of you including Nathan on his visit here in 2015 have met Phumla at Masakhane and have heard her share the important work that the organisation does for children and families in KwaNzimakwe. Phumla has recently left Masakhane to pursue her studies but has been replaced by another of the steadfast and passionate young people who we have worked with for a long time called Veli. Vero worked as a volunteer for NAG for many years but has now been recruited as the supervisor by one of the pre-schools in KwaNzimakwe where she used to volunteer. Jae has finished her studies as a teacher while her sister Nelly is pursuing her dream as a social entrepreneur. Nelly is one of the key people heading up a rural craft and tourism project that we have been putting a lot of time into mentoring in the last year. She has even moved in to our guest cottage and we have really enjoyed having her so close by. This project is very special to us as it is the first time we work with our immediate neighbours in KwaNzimkawe. We are working together with an organisation from Durban called Africa Ignite to develop ways for high quality craft products to be produced in Kwanzimakwe and sold both in South Africa but even internationally. Attracting tourists to Kwanzimakwe and giving them a true cultural South African experience is another aim. The welcome centre from which tourists will be taken on walks to visit traditional zulu homesteads is currently under construction just a stone’s throw from our house.
April 2017 will mark 8 years since we moved here permanently and all the growth and development and impact at NAG has required a lot of work but also has been very dependent on Brian during this period. We have been looking at how to fix that for a couple of years now – with different prospective managers being recruited but not really working out or easing the workload on us significantly. The NAG board and Brian have now over the last few months succeeded in finding someone they believe will take NAG forward in this next stage. Nozuko Majola an experienced manager with work experience from charities as well as government sector work has been appointed as the NAG executive director from 1st January 2017. Brian will stay on as a director but freed up from more of the day to day management responsibilities to focus on new projects and partnerships.
Part of Brian’s new role will involve supporting the development of Impande Foundation – NAG’s sister charity which is currently running well in Norway and have supported infrastructure development of 12 NAG member organisations to add to the 10 Legacurry & Friends projects listed above. We hope to launch Impande UK in 2017 and would be keen to hear from people who would like to be involved to make that happen (feel free to email me if your keen email@example.com) . This will become the channel for everyone to continue to support grassroots organisations in rural south africa. Direct giving from people in the UK to grassroots organisations with no Admin costs either in the UK or South Africa (NAG does all of the ground work here without taking any admin fee from Impande). It’s a great way to see your money make a real difference on the ground and you can come visit the project you supported! Maria’s best friend from Sweden Hanna and her south african husband Russell can host you at their newly opened B&B which is 15 mins away from us!
Working cross-culturally is always quite intense and eight years has been a long stretch. We may have been on short holidays or 3 week trips home to Northern Ireland and Sweden, but with many family and people to see there is not much rest involved. We hope now with a new leader at NAG that we will be able to take an extended break next year after the baby is born – back in Sweden and Northern Ireland for a few months – possibly July to September. A time to really unwind and refresh (hmm maybe more like nappy changing, sleepless nights and being vomited on!) ahead of a new season of attempting to build transformational community in rural south africa.
We are excited to see what the New Year has in store and are waiting in anticipation for the arrival of Ezra’s sibling in June. Thank you all so much for the amazing prayer support especially over the last 12 challenging months. Please continue to pray with us for:
- A safe continued pregnancy and delivery.
- Ezra as he grows and develops into an adventurous young zulu cattle herding boy!
- That the final Visa applications for Brian and Ezra will go smoothly
- Continued strengthened relationships with our neighbours and for deepened conversations about faith and spirituality.
- Wisdom and clear vision for the leadership at NAG.
- Increased faith and moral maturity among the young people we work with.
- Successful development of the craft and tourism project in KwaNzimakwe.