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Nanga Vhutshilo: Choosing Life

By Maryem Sáder – Emzingo.

At Nanga we believe that struggling communities will progress only when their most vulnerable children –those severely impacted by poverty, disease, or poor family circumstances– are able to succeed. We use a sophisticated, theory-based approach to make this happen.” –  Ma Sibongile, Founder and Director of Nanga Vhutshilo.

Inspired by her own only child’s story, Ma Sibongile founded Nanga Vhutshilo (Choose life) in April 2006 with a clear mission: to empower orphans, vulnerable and HIV/AIDS affected children and their families to become self-sufficient, educated, and healthy adults.

Today, after eleven years of hard work, Nanga provides high-quality early development curriculum and accompanying programs to children in one of Soweto’s most vulnerable communities, where they hire a staff of 51 employees and offer more than 8,000 meals every month.

After a long collaboration with the organization through our different programs in South Africa, we have enjoyed a long conversation with Founder and Director, Ma Sibongile about her passion and thoughts on responsible leadership.

What was the motivation behind Nanga Vhutshilo?

My only child’s bravery to openly share his status about HIV to me has been my inspiration. He altruistically published his story in national newspaper to inspire others, despite discrimination and strong stigma against this disease. Lucky Mazibuko was diagnosed HIV positive 23 years ago. However, it took him 3 years to share his burden. At the moment he shared his anguish with me, all I could think was “What kind of mother am I that my son doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his agony with me?”. So, this was the turning point for me to realize the huge gap between parent and child communication that required immediate action. Moreover, my son’s courage and strength inspired me to share my story as a mother among my Soweto community. I’ve shared my struggle by visiting friends and families. During my visits, I had noticed many young children at home alone or with unprepared caregiver’s supervision. These situations made me see how big the demand was for children to be educated and not to be home without learning anything. For this reason, I created Nanga Vhutshilo (NV) more than 10 years ago.

Are there any achievements you’d like to particularly highlight?

I have four achievements that I would love to describe. First, we are able to ensure nutritional daily meals for 300 orphans and disadvantaged school children up to 22 years old, which is essential for a child’s cognitive function development in school. Nevertheless, it is a solid long term result, that I am able to see after so many years of hard work. I’m ecstatic to share that 31 NV children graduated from college as of today.

Second, Nanga has employed fifty one disadvantaged youth and adults. It is wonderful to see them growing as persons and moving on to bigger and better things. Moreover, I’m grateful to see them inspire and give hope to our children as positive role models to follow.

Third, our 300 children feel they are in a safe environment, by knowing that someone is watching after them and empowering them to dream big, take risks, work hard, and achieve their goals.

At last, I strongly believe everything starts within the core family and we shouldn’t blind ourselves for the surroundings of a child. I’ve focused on helping the community through family values and education. After ten years, we have more than 140 parents participating in our weekly support group with open discussion of numerous topics including sexual education, STDs and HIV/AIDS prevention for both, parents and children. We also provide child care at home and offer family financial planning, helping to generate open dialog and create stronger family bonds.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration is an element that I nourish every day through my family’s support, which is essential to keep me inspired and passionate to help my community. When I have a difficult day, my son and his family understand me and provide support and love without words. Their dedication to keep me inspired towards my dream, it is what makes me get up every morning to achieve my goal.

The path that I chose it is not a smooth path, there are many setbacks. However, it is gratifying, because I can see small and significant growth every single day. So, when I see young children demonstrating drive and success in their lives, it gives me boost to keep pursuing my dream.

To you, what makes a responsible leader?

Values are the most important quality that a leader can have. So, dedication to my beliefs on developing my team and truly embracing a cause is the most important quality of a responsible leader. My motto as a leader is “Lead from behind”, so I can empower my leaders and inspire them on how to lead others.

Any good advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

My advice is to know who you are and follow you instinct. Knowing yourself is critical to succeed in personal and professional life. Self-awareness is a lifetime process, but to create impact is important to take risks and, you are only able to take risks if you know your strengths and weakness so that you can learn to use in your advantage.

***Nanga Vhutshilo has been nominated for the March 2017 Emzingo Leadershift Award. Learn more about the work being done by Nanga Vhutshilo by visiting their website

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