by Chris Grava
In 2012, my brother Nick Grava skipped his flight home from a two-week trip to Cape Town to help a struggling orphanage for 30 children in the township of Khayelitsha.
At the time, the conditions at the orphanage were shocking. The organization, known as the Home of Safety, could barely afford basic necessities like baby formula, diapers, and pay for caregivers. The children were left unsupervised with no one attending to their emotional and educational wellbeing. The Home was in desperate need of renovations, funding, and leadership. The problems seemed massive in scale, endless in number, and perhaps unsolvable.
But Nick had a different philosophy. He saw the scale of the problems as equal to the scale of the opportunity. And seeing this massive opportunity to help, Nick skipped his flight home, quit his job in financial services, and decided to stay in South Africa as long as necessary to help these children.
Nick quickly became part of the community in Khayelitsha, where he was given the name Intsikelelo, or "blessing" in Xhosa. He began spending every day at the Home, and soon he was officially brought on to the small team running the organization. From March 2013 - May 2015, he served as the Managing Director of the Home of Safety, where he personally saw to the children's needs by doing things like attending parent-teacher conferences at school, arranging medical check-ups, and bringing dozens of volunteers to the Home to provide individualized attention and academic tutoring. Nick also began helping the Home strengthen as an organization by recruiting a board of directors and introducing a system of accounting, while also connecting the Home with local sponsors who wanted to help.
Nick's experience quickly introduced our family to South Africa’s massive orphan crisis and its many complexities and challenges- and we wanted to help. I joined Nick for 10 weeks in the summer of 2013, and together we tried to solve as many problems at the Home as we could. We made a lot of progress, but the improvements at the Home were often overshadowed by the scale of the challenges facing these children and their communities, such as HIV, crime, and poverty. We came to realize that there were many local, community-driven efforts working to tackle these social issues, but they often struggled for the same reasons as the Home of Safety and would benefit from additional support. Meanwhile, we also found that many other families and communities back home in the U.S. and around the world wanted to help. This led us to found Intsikelelo in 2013 as a platform to help orphans and vulnerable children by developing and supporting community-driven initiatives in South Africa and connecting them to the people all over the world.
In 2014, when our registration as a 501(c)(3) was finally complete, we were able to launch publicly. We launched with a video and this website to share our story, and people all over the world responded: since starting Intsikelelo, over 1,000 people have gotten involved in our cause in some way- by donating, sharing, and even launching campaigns of their own.
Through this platform, we have helped the Home of Safety grow and develop into a better and more nurturing organization, while also taking on many new projects. We have helped launch an after-school program, Siluncedo Community Projects, to work directly with the children of the Home of Safety and to reach more children in the community. Most recently, we have expanded our efforts to the Eastern Cape, working with a childcare and community center in a severely undeveloped informal settlement named Langbos. Much of this work has been accomplished under the direction of our Program Manager Nokwanda Ndlovu.
In all of these projects, our goal is the same: to empower local, community-driven initiatives by working with them to improve their efforts and by connecting them to passionate people around the world who want to help. We believe that the best way to impact these communities is through their own community-driven efforts, and Intsikelelo is an opportunity to expand that community to a global scale.
Our mission is to improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa by developing and supporting community-driven initiatives and connecting them to the world.