Women making a difference
We profile women who are making a difference in their communities.
Last week we asked you, our readers, if you knew of any inspiring women who are making a difference in their communities. You offered suggestions and we contacted them to find out more about the work they do and the challenges they face.
Name: Anna Brom-Olivier, Founding Director of Anna Foundation
You started Anna Foundation in 1995, what led you to this organisation?
I was doing my teaching practical at a farm school in Mpumalanga. I was struck by the needs of the children in this school: the lack of school desks, the lack of educational and sports resources and the total absence of reading material. I approached Exclusive Books who donated a box of brand new books to me. This became my “library in a box” which I took to the school each day. The children would come to me during breaks to listen to me read. I also started running with the children after school and then entered a group of children in a local race in the nearby town. After that so many children wanted to join my running team that I made a rule: To run you must first read. From there was born the idea for the 3 R’s: Reading, Running and Righting. The Right-ing part was added to teach the children life skills and values. I am a strong believer in the holistic development of a child, which is why I believe that a healthy body will build a healthy mind. Although my teaching practical was only five weeks, I ended up staying at that school for one and a half years! That is when the Anna Foundation was started.
What have been the challenges since you’ve started?
In the beginning my greatest challenge was to get others to believe in what I was doing. It took about two years of piloting my ideas before I managed to get my first donor on board! The hard work put into getting the programmes working was well worth it as now our product speaks for itself.
There are two main challenges we face now. The first is the dismal educational system offered to so many South African children. The majority of the children with whom we work fall into a category of children needing remedial support (learners with barriers). In fact, these are not children with learning barriers, but are children who have not had the support they need from formal schooling. This is particularly true when we speak of numeracy standards. Our staff are continuously trying to ‘teach’ basic numeracy to learners of all grades. Because we have limited time during the afternoons, our greatest challenge is how to help these children educationally when so much is lacking from their formal school day.
The other main challenge is the social environment from which the children come. Physical abuse, emotional abuse and/or neglect, alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment, poverty and lack of parental guidance are all challenges common to these children. Sometimes the children are just hungry and tired. All of these issues create challenges that need to be addressed before we can sit down to work or play sports or talk about life skills issues in the broader picture.
The nature of your work must be very difficult, what keeps you motivated?
I don’t think the work is difficult. This is not a sacrifice. I chose this line of work because this is where my passion lies. I was raised as a child to be mindful of others and so knowing that the work I do each day makes a real difference to people’s lives is a privilege.
What is your biggest dream you have for your foundation?
I would like the Anna Foundation to make a sustainable and life-long difference to children in all rural pockets of the Western Cape. It is easy enough to replicate our programmes in many areas but the real challenge lies in making a sustainable difference. By sustainable I mean altering the children’s educational levels so that they can get through school and function in society at a level that offers them future prospects in employment. Sustainable intervention means offering them a new outlook for their futures and building self-worth of all children so that they can reach for their dreams. This is not a farfetched vision as every child has the right to dignity and self-worth.
Do you have any support from other organisations or government?
We have been funded by the Department of Agriculture since 2010, but unfortunately this funding will not be renewed in 2013 due to their budget cuts. Our other main funder is the Douglas Murray Trust who has loyally supported our programmes since 2008. The Distell Foundation is another funder that believes strongly in our work and is always happy to support where it can. We receive ad hoc donations from corporate companies and private donors which all add up.
This year we have started offering informal workshops to other organisations or lay persons who are interested in starting their own projects similar to what the Anna Foundation offers. This is our way of giving back and trying to help many more children indirectly through other organisations.
How can other people get involved?
We are always in need of people to help work individually with younger learners. This does, however, require a commitment on the volunteers side as this intervention needs to be structured and regular. We can always use the support of retired teachers or training teacher students. If you have less time but still want to be involved, we often look for people to be support runners at our fun runs or to participate in our bike programmes. During holiday time we always need volunteers to help out with our arts and crafts or drama activities. Otherwise, help us by raising funds through running a race or climbing a mountain or hosting a dinner party! It all adds up.
How would you like to grow the foundation?
We have just started expanding our services to other rural areas in need. Our 3 R’s Programme has been tried and tested for three years and we are now going to offer this to other communities. This means working with stakeholders to find suitable target groups, venues and women to train. We have started doing this in Robertson and Barrydale. My vision is to offer our programmes to many more communities and train local women to implement the programme. Each year we refine our services to ensure that the programme adheres to the needs of the communities and our training offered is appropriate to the women. We also aim to offer our programmes, along with training, to other organisations so that they can provide a similar service within their communities. The challenge for us will be to ensure that the quality of our programmes remains intact.
What message do you have for other South Africans who would like to make a difference?
You should never underestimate the contribution you can make to another person’s life by simply believing in them. I have worked with many children who have changed their attitude, learnt to read, won medals for running or who were just much happier, simply because I believed they could. If you believe in the child they learn to believe in themselves. From there they can build a positive self worth. If you can help a child in this way I truly believe you have given that child a life-long gift.
To find out more about Anna Foundation visit www.annafoundation.com.