People often ask how and why The Wilson Foundation began focusing its work in South Africa. If you ask our founder, Trisha Wilson, she will tell you that when she first arrived in South Africa, it felt like home: the climate, the terrain, the people- all reminded her of Texas. The first time I went there, I understood what she meant. This is truly a special part of the world: a country rich in natural resources and beautiful, friendly people with a wonderful spirit. It is also a country that has suffered from a poor education system, staggering unemployment, a critical shortage of trained medical personnel, and thousands of children who have been left orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The community of Vaalwater, South Africa has a population of about 35,000, including the sprawling Leseding Township, and an additional farm population of about 10,000. Commerce in this region is mostly limited to agriculture and eco-tourism, with many game reserves located in the area. There are not many other ways for people to make a living, hence the high unemployment rate.
A child in Leseding Township, South Africa
Over the past several years we have found that by focusing our efforts in one specific geographic region we are able to see and monitor the difference we are making. Here in Vaalwater, we are the only US-based nonprofit that is funding programs on a year-round basis. Because we have board members who live in the local community, we are able to monitor the effectiveness of our grant dollars and, where needed, make corrections or adjustments.
We have had the privilege of working side-by-side with several community-based organizations from their very beginning. These organizations are focused on working with stakeholders to find solutions to community needs. The result has been stronger buy-in by the community, and their success is evidenced by the tremendous growth in their programs.
A reminder of the toll of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa
So again the question: why South Africa? Maybe it’s because it feels alot like home. But it’s also because it is a country that desperately needs us. Vaalwater is ‘off the grid’ to much of the world. Rural areas like that just aren’t known to most international aid organizations. So working here, we know without a doubt that we are making a difference, and that our sustained support is ‘changing lives, one child at a time.”
In my next posts I will share a bit about our most recent trip to South Africa and all we experienced during our time there.
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