The Thembisa Story

It was 1987. Apartheid ruled and South Africa had become the pariah of the world. Economic sanctions were in full swing. What concerned us was the adverse way in which this was affecting ‘the little people’ working hard to give others a chance in life.

So, Stephen and I decided to explore the situation for ourselves. It was Easter 1988. We took leave and for a month travelled in South Africa – land of my birth. We visited those we knew and others we’d heard were doing something constructive for the poorest of the poor. Our eyes were opened wide. Minuscule funding was available within the country, and help from abroad virtually eliminated. Yet the caring dedicated persevered.

On our return flight it was Stephen, the Brit, who said: we’ve got to do something. And so the Thembisa adventure began. Back home in Oxford we soon discovered our role as catalysts. Many had a similar concern and in the twinkling of an eye we were joined by volunteers giving their time and talent to get Thembisa off the ground, and so it has continued from then until now.

Later in 1988, at home in Oxford, we held the first Thembisa fundraising Garden Party. The target £100, total raised £300. We were over the moon! This provided for a water tank to be built at a remote school in Zululand. In 2009, as Thembisa reached 21, a target of £10,000 was set to enable accommodation and a sports field to be built at a remote and needy orphanage in the Eastern Cape. We raised £15,500, all of which the Alexandria Haven could use! Wouldn’t you want a BIG extension if you looked after 50 children in your 3 bedroom bungalow?

Projects supported
Projects are all at the grassroots and as diverse as various buildings, clean water supply, employment opportunities, agricultural and assorted self help training schemes, micro-loan schemes, leadership training, social empowerment, handcrafts, nutrition, orphanages, and more. Yet this is but a drop in the ocean-of-need where the weak and the vulnerable frequently drown. As always 100% of all donations go to the projects. Administration expenses are raised separately through a membership scheme.

As a farm-girl, and then as a young adult, in South Africa, I was frequently overwhelmed and paralysed by the injustice and poverty in my Beloved Country. There is nothing I can do, but cry, I thought. How wrong I was. It took three decades to discover that, like the little boy who rescued, one by one, stranded starfish washed up on a lonely beach, there is always something that can be done.

You never know what will result from even the most modest help. Take Thembisa’s Patron, Desmond Tutu. He was once an anonymous, needy child. Then, one day Trevor Huddleston came into Desmond’s life with kindness and care. Now, tell me, how many people has Tutu positively influenced since that day?

To maintain the thrust needed to run a voluntary organisation dedicated team players are essential. Stephen and I are continually amazed by the efforts and commitment of Thembisa’s volunteers, and of those who contribute financially and in other ways. It is the combination of all those who those who freely give that gives a chance in life to some of the poorest in South Africa. To everyone who has helped in any way over the years, thank you so very much. You have made a difference.

Thembisa’s story is far from over. The Trustees ask: can you help Thembisa develop into the future? If your answer is yes please get in touch.

Siyabonga gakulu! (Zulu: thanks a million!)
Tonia Cope Bowley