NGOs: The untold story

Be careful of change, it can happen behind your back, right in front of your eyes – NGOs: The untold story

Steuart Pennington, South Africa’s most famous good news ambassador, believes NGOs are a source of some of the country’s best, but often untold, good news stories. Among these is local NGO Thandanani Children’s Foundation, quietly doing amazing things for children in the city

7aa5264d-5a8c-4f91-bc03-691d0b3d69f5In 2002, Steuart Pennington attended a farewell dinner party for a couple about to emigrate to Australia. Unsurprisingly, the conversation turned to how “bad” things were in South Africa. Pennington found himself in an argument with the doomsayers. He wanted to defend his country – put forward an alternative view – but lacked the facts and figures needed to do so.

It was a major turning point. The next day Steuart announced that he was going to produce a book called South Africa: the good news. And it sold 15,000 copies.

It was the beginning of what he calls the most fulfilling 14 years of his life during which he has consistently pursued what he refers to as an “informed narrative” and delivered over 570 talks in countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Zimbabwe. As CEO of SA – The Good News, he self-published another nine books, each containing about 30 contributions from a range of South Africans from all sectors – “And some contributions from myself,” admits Pennington.

For Pennington the NGO sector – made up of approximately 100,000 organisations – represents South Africa’s biggest untold good news story.

“People know what’s happening at the top (where the power is) and the bottom (where the worst case scenarios emerge and get disproportionate media coverage); it’s what’s happening in the middle layer that no-one is looking at – and that’s where the NGO sector and civil society operates.”

One of these untold stories, he believes, is that of Thandanani Children’s Foundation, the Pietermaritzburg based NGO founded in 1989 to support orphaned and other vulnerable children in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

One of these success stories is that of Xolani Mbuyisa who was orphaned at six and raised, along with some of his cousins, by his grandmother. Xolani’s grandmother, did everything in her power to assist the children. Even though there was not always food on the table, she insisted that the children attend school where Xolani excelled. When the boy was in high school, Thandanani became aware of the family’s plight and provided support via its Family Strengthening Project. As a result, Xolani’s grandmother was over time empowered to provide for the basic needs of her grandchildren and the family was able to exit the support programme.

dff3b67a-3a00-408e-ad39-faff4078c186“Several years later Thandanani heard that Xolani had finished matric, gained access to university and was busy completing a Bachelor of Science degree, but that he lacked funds for transport and was walking 20km a day just to attend his classes. Thandanani stepped in once again and provided Xolani with a monthly transport allowance.  Xolani has since completed his BSc, graduated top of his honours class, published an academic paper, and is currently finishing his master’s degree majoring in Physics.

According to Andrew Thandanani works with 450-500 families like Xolani’s each year.  This amounts to approximately 1,600 children and 1,400 adults annually. Since April 2010, the organisation has provided support to over 10,000 beneficiaries through its Family Strengthening Program and has provided health screening and testing services to over 55,000 people in the last five years.

The success of Thandanani is its capacity to build relationships – with its funders and with its beneficiaries, said Andrew.