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Adopting a School in Soweto, South Africa

Updated: May 1

Jennifer and I always dreamed of making a difference in the world. In 1997, we visited Africa, a spellbinding continent with amazing people whose generous spirit and love of life despite their limited means inspired us to start there. We teamed up with my company Novo Nordisk's colleagues in the U.S. and South Africa and our dream grew to become a big rewarding project.

Jennifer was a teacher, so we felt passionate about helping a school in need. we learned about Ebuhleni Primary School in Soweto, South Africa, located in a neighborhood of dusty streets, simple homes and air thick with the haze from the open fires used for cooking. Ebuhleni has a dedicated staff and has won numerous academic and athletic awards. However, they lack many of the things we take for granted in U.S. schools- a desk for each student, a library with current titles and a complete encyclopedia set, and an athletic field clear of rocks and other debris.

Before our first visit to the school, I turned to my work colleagues at Novo Nordisk in California to raise money to build a new sports court and the school's first computer lab. My company valued social responsibility, so my co-workers were happy to help.

With donations in hand, we traveled to Ebuhleni. The students and staff's gratitude for our contribution was very humbling. We read to the students and told them about where we lived; the world beyond their neighborhood was a mystery to them. Think about the cartoon or storybook characters kids in you know and love - to our surprise, none of them were familiar to the kids at Ebuhleni. Jennifer said they seemed much happier and joyful then kids in California, teaching us both that happiness is not a product of material possessions.

When we returned home, we wanted to continue to support the school, so I reached out to my company office in South Africa to explore their interest in supporting the school. They enthusiastically embraced the idea and on Nelson Mandela Day, a national holiday dedicated to community service, 50 South African Novo Nordisk volunteers traveled to the school to donate food and clothing, help with painting and maintenance of the school grounds, to plant a food garden, and spend time the children.

Our relationship with the school in Soweto is special and continues to grow. Jennifer's second grade class in the U.S. became pen pals with the South African students-including a young girl named Angel who confidently told us that she dreams of becoming a doctor. We've since introduced her to three women who are doctors in the U.S. who write to her frequently, encouraging her to pursue her dreams. And thanks to those who supported us on this project, Angle's dream and those of her classmates may one day come true.

How can you adopt a school? The best way is to make contacts while you are traveling. Befriend your local guides and ask them if there are schools in the area you can help. If you're on a volunteer trip and go to a school, get the principal's contact information. What's App is a free and easy way to stay in touch with new friends from abroad. Ask the principal while you're there what ongoing needs they have. When you return, reach out to to your networks and ask them to contribute. You can use Western Union or Wise (online transfer service) to get them the money you raise.

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