People who inspire: Michael Beckett

I was asked to do a short video interview about volunteerism and why it is important.  While prepping, I considered all the reasons why people don’t volunteer.  Typically it is because they don’t know where and how to get involved or they believe that they do not have the financial or other resources to volunteer.  And then Michael came to mind.  We met here on WP.  You can read more about the enormous challenge he undertook to raise a teenage boy virtually at Long-Distance Dad.  By virtually I mean from a different continent.   What impressed me most about this story is that Michael didn’t take the easy way out and just send money over to South Africa, he poured his heart and soul into this commitment that he had made to mentor Mtuseni from a teenager into a young man that any parent would be proud of. Michael has been more engaged in Mtuseni’s life than many fathers I know, who live here in South Africa. With their kids.  In the same house! He navigated our system from Boston, going as far as checking Maps to find dentists that Mtuseni would be able to reach by public transport.  He kept in touch with the Principle of the college Mtuseni attended, tracking his progress and guiding him through a very confusing and challenging time for any young person. Mtuseni is all grown up now and still needs his ‘dad’ to guide him and pick him up when he’s down and Michael is now involved in mentoring Mtuseni’s siblings.

He’s never said this to me but I think Michael must have been terrified some days.  He was dealing with a system totally unfamiliar to him, one that is not very user friendly. Just dealing with the emotional issues of raising a teenage boy would have made me run a mile.  10,000 miles. He could have pulled out any time but he has hung in there for the whole journey and his endurance and love are inspirational.

Many people say “I’m just one person, I can’t solve the world’s problems”.  Well, you don’t have to.  Michael Beckett didn’t set out to solve the world’s problems.  He set out to make a difference to one young man’s life and he did just that.



People who inspire: Women taking charge

Getting up on a Saturday morning and getting to a class may not be a big deal for some people.  For many, it involves a lot of sacrifices.  Finding that extra transport money to make, what is often, a very long trip to Sandton, may mean having to give up something.  And after a week of very long, hard working days, nothing would be nicer than to be able to lie in just a bit later before having to take on household chores and care for their families.  These are some of the women who, despite their personal challenges, have embraced the opportunity to become computer literate and take charge of their place in this new, rather daunting, digital age.


A Dollhouse full of memories

I moved to South Africa in 1986 to live with my dad.  Initially it was obvious that this traditional man’s man and ex-soldier was at a loss as to how to take care of a teenage girl.   He fumbled his way around the dual mom-dad role and I fumbled around being an awkward teenage girl in a place where I knew no-one else.  Eventually we found a comfortable place in each other’s presence, not demanding too much from one another and discovering just how much alike we were.

My dad did the cooking, which he was very good at, always consulting his hand written recipe book and making notes of what we needed to get from the Pick n Pay for his next dish.  I did try once to cook for us – it was slap* chips but I nearly burnt the place down when the oil caught fire.  My dad thought it was very funny and never let me near the stove again.

On Thursday evenings we would go off to Norwood Pick n Pay for late night shopping and dinner in the little restaurant at the back of the store.  That was when staying open until 8pm every day was not the norm.  It was a big deal for us … it was our ‘thing’.  We’d jump in the car when he got off work and head off down Louis Botha Avenue towards Norwood.  As we passed all the landmarks, my dad would point them out to me … every single time we went and every time felt like the first time he was telling me their stories every time was just as fascinating and exciting as the week before.

One of those places was the Dollhouse Roadhouse.  It was a favourite of my dad’s but he never took me there and I never asked why.  Whenever he gave people directions to this place or that, he would always say ‘just look out for the Dollhouse…’.  A bit like we do with McDonald’s today.

I drove along Louis Botha Avenue this past weekend.  It brought back all those happy memories of my beloved dad.  I took a photo of what remains of the Dollhouse.  I had heard it was being demolished but it is still standing, like a ageing monument to time and joy and life.

*South Africanism for hot fried chips that are usually thick and soggy and best had with salt and vinegar

The Dollhouse Roadhouse – April 2018
While Louis Botha Avenue is a very different place today it is still very much the same in that it is colourful, vibrant and diverse, full of foreigners creating their own opportunities and making a life for themselves
A vendor on Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove
An Avenue in Norwood which runs from Louis Botha to the Pick n Pay Hypermarket

People who inspire: Peter Mathebula


This is my colleague, Peter Mathebula.  He’s one of the techie guys who makes your techie woes disappear.  It’s a gift he has.  The other gift he has is the way he interacts and teaches learners at our pc training programme.

For the past five years, Peter has been giving up his time on Saturdays to empower people from disadvantaged communities with important PC skills.  He has a very special way with the kiddies that come to our programme, the majority of whom come from abusive homes and are now in places of safety.  These vulnerable children are absolutely crazy about this guy and follow him around all over.  He is also very popular with the adult learners who get great results in his classes. Needless to say, Peter provides very valuable technical support for the programme.

His personal journey to where is today is a moving and inspirational one and I hope that he will share it one day with all of you.

Peter teaching a kiddies class in 2014.  








People who inspire: Happiness Ndlovu


Her mother couldn’t have given her a better name. Despite the hardships and heartache she has endured, Happiness is always smiling and her enthusiasm for life bubbles over when she talks excitedly and hands out hugs to everyone she knows. When we met Happiness, she was a waitress at a small coffee shop, supporting herself and her teenage son on nothing but her tips. She was 35 at the time and when she heard about our community project she immediately signed up for the free computer courses which she passed with flying colours. Having proved to herself that she is capable of so much more, she embarked on putting herself through night school to get her matric certicate. Shortly after matriculating , Happiness was offered a position as an administrator at a large Sandton corporate where she is going from strength to strength. Her next goal is to do a business degree. Happiness’ message to other 30something single moms is that it is never too late to change your life through recognising opportunities and working hard.

Here’s some tips on starting and growing a community project – some things I learnt the hard way

There are few things in terms of volunteerism that I haven’t tried.  After having found something that I love and have worked on for the past eight years, I have learnt some valuable lessons about running a community project and a lot about me.

If you’re thinking about getting involved as a volunteer or starting your own project, here are some of the most important lessons that I have learnt that may help you on your journey.

Find your passion

It’s all very well having a great idea but you have to be truly passionate about it to avoid losing interest and to make it work. Your own values, talents and purpose need to be invested in the idea for it to flourish. Be clear about what you want to do and why you’re doing it.

It’s not about you

If you’re getting involved for recognition or reward, don’t.  You’re wasting your time and you’ll be disappointed. That’s where the passion comes in – you won’t care about anything but the bigger picture if you truly believe in what you are doing.

Also, you don’t have to like everyone who volunteers their time to the project. If they’re adding value, you have to suck it up and make it work.  People who have the right skills for your project and who are prepared to give up their time, are rare. They’re precious.

Things will go wrong

You will have a vision of exactly how things should go and chances are, in the beginning, they won’t go the way you planned.  You will receive lots of criticism.  Learn from it and don’t give up.  Use each setback as a lesson.  You’ll be surprised how creative you become in order to overcome challenges.

Just keep going

No matter how passionate you are about your project, there will be days when you won’t feel like putting in the effort or giving up your one day of the week late lie in, but when you do, you will be revitalised and have a great sense of satisfaction.

Do be afraid to try new things

Not getting things right the first time is not sin, it’s learning. When something’s not working, change it.  When new opportunities arise that fit in with the purpose of the project, try them out.  If they don’t work out, that’s ok.  If they do, what a win!

Keep it real

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Before you commit to the members of the community you are working with, make sure you have secured necessary funding or means to deliver.  Chances are that they are already vulnerable and you don’t want to lose their trust and disappoint them. The old adage ‘under promise and over deliver’ is your safest bet here.


Ask for help.  You will be pleasantly surprised how many people are looking to get involved in or donate to a good cause.  The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll so no.  If they do, that’s ok too, don’t judge or condemn.  Remember that people’s passions may lie elsewhere or they may be going through something and cannot commit time or money at that time.  If you get one person in a hundred that shares your vision and gets involved, that’s success.

Mind that ego

Even if you’re the one who started the project and nurtured and grew it, accept that there are people who know some things better than you and who have skills and ideas that you don’t.  Assign responsibilities to those best suited to certain tasks. Build a team, share the load with other volunteers that you trust.  Let them shine.  You’ll be delighted at how things grow when you let others in.

Know when to move on

When the time comes that you no longer feel the fire in your belly that was there the day you launched, move on. It happens and it’s fine. You’ll limit the possibilities if your heart and soul are no longer in it. Chances are, if you have built up a great team, there will be someone who will be ready to pick up where you left off and take the project to bigger and better things.

Weekly photo challenge: Face

This is Dora.  She is a domestic worker and has worked for me for over ten years.  A mother and grandmother, she works very hard to support a large number of her family who live in KwaZulu Natal.  Dora always has a smile on her face and funny stories to tell. I absolutely love the days that she comes in and ‘magically’ makes everything clean and pretty.  This post is in honour of the millions of women in this country that are working to support extended families and put grandchildren through school and university in the hope of giving them a better life.