Although South Africans are known to have open hearts, it is primarily the poor living in major townships who benefit from charity drives rather than those living in what Moeletji Mapheto calls ‘the forgotten villages’. Coming from one of those forgotten villages herself, Moeletji set out to remedy this with the establishment of her NGO, Ga-Mphahlele Home-Coming
One of the drawbacks of growing up in a rural area is the lack of exposure to opportunities, Moeletji Mapheto muses – which is why she believes that ‘accounting found me’ rather than the other way around. ‘I studied maths and science at school because those were the subjects our teachers told us would get us far and applied to study accounting at university because I thought that’s what I should do.’
Although it wasn’t passion that led to Moeletji completing her CA(SA), she is profoundly grateful that she did, as the skills she acquired through her studies proved invaluable when she decided to set up Ga-Mphahlele Home-Coming. She especially appreciated the professionalism she learnt: the ability to articulate her thoughts and goals concisely and the drive to deliver on activities as promised. At the time a 25-year-old with little experience beyond articles, these qualities stood her in great stead. ‘Starting up my NGO was just my way of giving back to my community,’ she explains. She acknowledges that it would have been simpler to make a donation, but she wanted to contribute to the development of people living in her village.
Moeletji explains that her own experiences as a student moving into the corporate environment made her determined to smooth the path for anyone else who had grown up in similar circumstances. The first time she saw a boardroom was when she went for her very first job interview, she says, pointing out that this places all but the most confident at a disadvantage.
Mmabatho Mphahlele and Thabang Tema, both volunteers, starting a Ga-Mphahlele Home-Coming seedling production for the greenhouse to ensure a sustainable eco-system – seed production to farming and eventually selling the produce to the market.Hoping to help other youngsters feel more empowered, her first step as founder of Ga-Mphahlele Home-Coming was to visit Phauwe Secondary School (which has since closed) to ask the principal to recommend five pupils from each year whom she could mentor, with the total number of learners involved in the project representing her 25 years. She had decided that her initiative would last five years so that even if the older children weren’t able to take part for the duration, they would still benefit from her guidance. ‘As for the younger kids – my thinking was that by the time they were ready to matriculate, they should be on par with any other learner in South Africa,’ she says.
Moeletji wasn’t interested in simply providing advice and insight, though. She wanted to make a real, tangible difference, so she started by funding the construction of a library. She took care of practical details, too, like making sure that every learner studying maths and science had their own calculators (‘it’s impossible to learn properly if you are sharing,’ she says) and that girls were able to access sanitary pads so that they didn’t have to miss out on school. She also bought study guides so that learners had a more comprehensive understanding of subjects than that offered by textbooks and, perhaps most importantly, worked to expose them to different contexts and environments. Moeletji believes that this is one of the most powerful ways you can help broaden someone’s horizon, because if their world is limited to what’s around them, they will never be able to imagine any other possibilities. Her team took learners on excursions to see the SABC, manufacturing plants and other facilities a world apart from Ga-Mphahlele’s daily existence so that they could begin dreaming.
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop Moeletji from chasing her goal of supporting her community; on the contrary, it provided many other avenues for her to do just that. ‘Up until now I had concentrated on kids, but once lockdown was implemented and people started losing jobs, I realised that I had to shift my focus.’ To help families fend off hunger, the Ga-Mphahlele Home-Coming team delivered 1 700 food parcels to 30 villages. With this basic need taken care of, they turned their attention to keeping villagers safe from the virus itself, providing essentials like masks and sanitisers.
Moeletji says that she works hard to make sure that the NGO keeps evolving. Although her corporate work means that she isn’t able to maintain an on the ground presence during the week, she has learnt the art of delegating – and the team benefit from this approach, too, developing their own skills as they learn to balance the needs of beneficiaries with the challenges facing the organisation.
One of these challenges is donor fatigue, which is why Moeletji is constantly thinking up innovative ways of finding funding. Her most recent venture is helping community members set up their own food gardens so that they can farm their produce and sell the surplus to create a sustainable livelihood. ‘This project helps us make the most of one of Limpopo’s greatest assets: land,’ she says. But, while land may be plentiful in the province, water certainly isn’t – and so Ga-Mphahlele Home-Coming has donated 20 JoJo tanks, along with fencing to keep the farms secure.
Moeletji explains that sustainability is a major concern for the NGO. Although she understands that community members struggle with more immediate concerns, she’s also keenly aware that, ultimately, they don’t want handouts – they want to be able to look after their families themselves. ‘It’s hard to tell someone whose child doesn’t have a uniform that you’re not going to help with that, but when you explain that it’s because you are working towards something larger, they give their full support.’
Going forward, Ga-Mphahlele Home-Coming has partnered with Social Coding to provide solutions for online learning in areas where schools have been closed due to the pandemic, leaving students who lack access to data compromised. The NGO has been instrumental in developing a WhatsApp tutoring system that supplies data for students who are then tutored over the social media platform by unemployed members of the community who have passed Grade 12. This has the added benefit of providing an income for the tutors. In time, Moeletji hopes to roll out the programme to a larger number of schools and is working to launch a coding class, too.
The magic of community culture
Moeletji says that one of the best things about living in a rural area is the very real sense of community that binds people together. ‘My grandparents weren’t at all well off, but my grandmother’s house was always full because our neighbours knew they could turn to her if they needed something. She taught me that you can’t wait for a big moment before you do something to make a difference. I grew up thinking that you didn’t just talk about doing something to help the poor – you actively helped where you could.’