In a township deep within South Africa, a group of children are smiling and running free.
They don’t have families, they’re poor and facing countless obstacles, but they’re still smiling. They’re dancing, too -- even swinging through the air!
The children live at an orphanage in Khayelitsha, an impoverished area of Cape Town considered the largest and fastest growing township in the entire country. Run by Chris Grava, a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University, and his brother Nick, the managing director, the orphanage is funded by a nonprofit in the US known as Intsikelelo (which means “blessing” in Xhosa).
The brothers founded the organization as a means of creating an infrastructure, and to give hope to a community they stumbled upon a couple years ago while searching for something greater in their own lives.
“I was studying abroad in Cape Town, and extended my stay for a month at the end of my semester to keep traveling. That's when Nick came essentially to visit me,” Chris tells Ellen’s Good News. “He was feeling very down, not satisfied at his job, and meanwhile I’m having such an incredible time seeing South Africa. I said 'Come here and see what happens. It will shake up your world'” -- and that it did.
Nick ended up staying indefinitely to work at the orphanage, and Chris soon joined the charge to create a more solid home for the youth. For a place housing around 30 kids, there was little to no infrastructure holding it together.
The brothers set up a system of accounting and management; they made contracts with all the staff and began recruiting volunteers to help with the children’s academic, medical and psychological needs. Currently, all the teenage girls at the orphanage are rape victims, a third of the children have HIV or AIDS, and all come from traumatic backgrounds.
“We bring in 6 to 10 volunteers on a daily basis to tutor them in school,” Chris comments. “We also work to bring counselors from Cape Town to work with the kids.”
Most importantly, the Gravas found a way to rally donations and sponsorships by establishing a nonprofit organization that could officially fund the center. After nearly a year of laying the groundwork, Instikelelo became official just a couple weeks ago, and it’s already creating a splash.
In less than a day since the Crowdfunding page launched, Chris and Nick have raised $7,000 for the orphanage -- the largest donation in its 10-year history.
The video Chris posted of his recent encounter with the children has accrued over 100,000 hits on YouTube in less than a week. It’s not surprising when you see how happy the children are to be there.
“You see all these organizations and charities, and every time they talk about orphans, it’s sad and miserable,” Chris points out. “Meanwhile, you get there, and it’s so much different. It’s like that every day. The kids are so pumped to see you and happy. It takes nothing to blow their mind. I’ll play the guitar for them and I’m not that good at all, and they’ll dance so intensely… it’s a party.”
He adds, “From the outside perspective, these kids have been reduced to one word which is orphan. That is so harsh. Nobody wants to be reduced to one word, even if it’s positive. They’re as complex as you or me.”
For this reason and so many more, Chris and Nick know their mission has only begun, and it's as worthwhile as any other. Chris points out the value of helping even the smallest endeavor if it means a life is saved.
“It’s the biggest difference, you could ever make,” Chris points out. “It’s radically changing an individual’s life. It might seem like a small impact from a great distance, but when you’re there and you’re dealing with these kids, they’ve become like family to us. If you think about your family and how you go out of your way to help them, it’s a huge difference. It’s about a teenage girl going home safe at night… there’s been so much feedback online asking me why I’m helping them. It’s because I have the opportunity. No other opportunity jumped out at me where I could change someone’s life.”