Ubuntu provides world-class health and educational support to the orphaned and vulnerable children of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, ensuring that they can access higher education and employment. Ubuntu’s mission is simple, all-encompassing, and radical: to help raise township children by providing what all children deserve—everything.
“Ubuntu” is a Xhosa philosophy that implies human interconnectedness: I am because you are. As our patron, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, often says of this belief system, “It speaks to the very essence of being human. My humanity is caught up, inextricably bound up, in yours. A person is a person through a person.”
Ubuntu Education Fund is a grassroots organization that has developed a model for raising children in the disadvantaged townships of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Our story begins like many others—in a bar, a township shebeen where an idealistic white American teenager named Jacob Lief met a dedicated black South African teacher named Banks Gwaxula.
In 1999, Jacob and Banks spent six months walking around the townships, talking, listening and learning. They saw a community ravaged by AIDS, unemployment, poverty, violence, instability and apartheid’s legacy. They also saw bright-eyed children so eager to learn that they used hot stones to press their school uniforms. They saw grace and ambition despite daunting obstacles.
In response, Jacob and Banks founded Ubuntu, with their first office in a broom closet at Banks’s school. They raised the start-up capital with a raffle on the University of Pennsylvania campus, where Jacob studied.
Ubuntu has since surpassed all expectations. The organization, which started with a few thousand dollars spent on school supplies, now has an annual operating budget of seven million dollars; what began with two friends working out of a school closet now encompasses over 80 employees in offices on three continents. Today, Ubuntu has over 2,000 children on the pathway out of poverty, with 132 of our students on scholarships at university.
Over the last 13 years Ubuntu has built an integrated system of medical, health, educational, and social interventions to help orphaned or vulnerable children succeed in the worlds of higher education and employment. A network of community members and supporters has built Ubuntu into a blueprint for culturally appropriate, community-based development. Ubuntu has redefined the theory of “going to scale.” Rather than expand geographically, Ubuntu has drawn a seven-kilometer perimeter around a community of 400,000 people. Our story is about depth, not surface area.
Ubuntu Education Fund was founded on the dream of giving township children the same opportunities to succeed as someone who is born into privilege. We do what it takes to educate and keep each child healthy. We give them the same care that we would give our own children. This includes basic necessities that should be every child’s right: health care, a roof over his or her head, someone to talk to, books and pens and school uniforms, nutritious food, and the time to play, imagine, and enjoy being a kid. Ubuntu is transforming our communities. We are not one story, but many.