In the presence of greatness

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Over the past two days I have been on a road trip of discovery.

A group of colleagues from the Community Chest and Unogwaja Challenge embarked on a journey of epic, some might say crazy, proportions in the early morning hours of Sunday the 17th. The 10 hour road trip was filled with conversation, food, thoughts and music but I personally was filled with a sense of anxious anticipation.

Why? We were to be the guests in the home of Prof. Jonathan Jansen.  A man of great integrity, intelligence and wisdom. I felt incredibly underprepared to meet him. I was feeling anxious about trying to ensure that I represented both Community Chest and the Unogwaja Challenge appropriately. I was anxious about what I could say that would come across as interesting and engaging.  I was also anxious as we had had no chance to “freshen up” after our long road trip, and we were somewhat unkempt and frazzled looking.

I had needn’t have been so concerned. We were welcomed with a friendly smile, contagious laughter and a sense of informality. We sat and introduced ourselves, here my anxieties were founded, as I, in my attempts so come across as an erudite conversationalist, became tongue tired and flustered.

Thankfully, over dinner I had the opportunity to rectify this impression. Sitting with the incredibly enthusiastic, interesting, challenging, thought provoking and funny Dean of Students of UFS, Mr Rudi Buys, gave us all an opportunity to reflect on Community Chest, Unogwaja Challenge, our personal journeys and explore possible future collaborations.

Sitting in Prof. Jansen’s home, listening to guests pause their conversations; just to make sure that nothing of profundity was missed, made me very aware of being in the presence of greatness.


The following day we all witnessed John McInroy weaving his magic amongst the girls at Eunice High School.

The inspiring stories of ShoOops! and the Unogwaja Challenge were, as always, entertaining shared and passionately retold. I am not sure, however that the girls were able to absorb more than the fact that there was a twinkly eyed, young male talking to them. Every statement made was reciprocated with excited, rather high-pitched giggles.

Witnessing John Mcinroy tell of his journey , his passion for inspiring others to dream, dream big and follow their hearts again made me aware of being in the presence of greatness.


Our next port of call was Lebone Village. We were connected with Lebone by an Unogwaja Challenge, 2015 applicant Steven Iffland. I will forever be indebted to Steven for introducing Lebone Village into my life.  Before the journey, just from a few brief visits to their website, I was excited by what I saw and read. But nothing could really prepare me for the visceral experience which was our visit to Lebone. We were greeted by Avril and other staff members with out- stretched arms and pulled into hugs normally reserved for the return of long lost family and friends. The love emanating from Lebone was already palpable.

The stories of seemingly hopeless situations being turned into unbelievable success stories seemed almost endless. The passion and pride with which these stories were retold was a recurring theme.

When Lucretia showed us around the ECD centre, you could see her chest fill with pride whilst telling us about their star pupils and the outstanding progress of all of their Pre-Grade R and Grade R learners. Diana, Ronaldo, Micheal Deegan, Dani and I all instinctively interacted with these enthusiastic children. I had to fight back tears as I could not imagine how my son of the same age would be able to cope, especially emotionally, without me. How these beautiful and innocent children would be able to survive without the love, affection, kind-heartedness, dedication, commitment and unerring care of the teachers and staff at Lebone Village is unfathomable.


Between Avril, Anri, Lucretia, Willem and Lulu, we were shown around this truly remarkable village, which it is, not only in name. On site they have an administration block, a hostel for the children who live at Lebone on a permanent basis. The ECD Centre has three classrooms, a playground, a hall, ablution block and an indoor play area. We also met three UFS students which were facilitating Kiddie Kineteic, a child centred form of Biokinetics which is used to identify and rectify any gross motor skill deficiencies.  Two of the students are undertaking a research project to identify if there is a marked difference in fine motor skills development between children at Lebone and children in more affluent ECD settings and the implementation strategy to rectify these discrepancies.

The 17 hectare property also includes a dining hall with adjacent kitchen, food preparation area, storage fridges and most impressively a bakery. The lady working in the bakery was shy and efficient in equal measures. Without a word, she rolled numerous perfectly formed balls of bread dough and placed them in perfectly symmetrical rows.

In an attempt to be as self-sufficient as possible Willem has, with the help of KFC Add Hope contributions, established two “Tunnels of Hope” in which seedlings are grown into a huge variety of fruit and vegetables. There is also a large portion of cultivated land used to grow other crops. The orchard is well established and, by all accounts, very productive. The children are lucky enough to be able to pick fruit from the trees in summer.  What wonderful, tactile memories that experience must be producing.


Humility prevented the outward expression of pride, but Willem was enthusiastic in the retelling of the story of the establishment of the Skills centre, where welding, carpentry and beading is taught to assist with the future entrepreneurial endeavours of local residents. A prime example of the success of the skills and self-sustainability programmes can be seen right at their front door, which is crafted out of trees off the Lebone land, and skills developed in the carpentry workshop!

There are other projects, in collaboration with a Guatemalan designer, in the pipeline which will provide employment for a number of people and serve as a point of attraction for people to visit Lebone and I guarantee, that once people have experienced the power of Lebone, they will forever be connected in whatever form most appropriate for their lives, to this very special of special places.

I have ever been in the presence of people to whom nothing is too much effort, where others so truly come before self, where whilst outwardly ticking stereotype checklists, every stereotype is shattered. Once again I was in the presence of greatness.

My two day journey of discovery to Bloemfontein has turned into what I envision as a lifelong association with Lebone Village and UFS. I discovered that people are more that their public appearance and personas. That people, regardless of status and situation, are just “normal” people. We all share a humanness which is inextricable linked to our innate desire to have meaningful connections with other people, again regardless of status or situation.

As a group, the Community Chest and Unogwaja teams, went on a communal journey of fact finding and networking. As an individual, I went on a journey of 2000km to a point of realisation that greatness comes in many forms and is expressed in many actions. Greatness is bestowed on some, earned by others and unrealised by most.  I realised that I am, in fact in the presence of greatness every day.

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