American Chris Grava first became away for South Africa’s orphan epidemic while studying abroad in 2012. With nearly four million orphaned children living in desperate poverty, that’s almost the population of Los Angeles. Half of these kids lost one or both parents to AIDS. When Grava’s brother Nick came to visit the pair saw an opportunity to help a struggling orphanage, and cancelled their return flights to stay and work in the community.
Fast forward to 2014, and Nick and Chris found their own nonprofit – called Intsikelelo, meaning “blessing” in the local language – working tirelessly to save the region’s abandoned, and often forgotten, children. Using a method of aid that empowers local, community-driven initiatives, they hope to create a sustainable infrastructure for their efforts. Their most recent effort is to raise $80,000 to build a new orphanage in Langbos, an informal settlement described as “the poorest of the poor” and lacking in even the most basic amenities such as running water or electricity.
With a design that incorporates sustainability – including rainwater harvesting and renewable energy – the goal is to teach local craftspeople new skills, create jobs, and instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in the community.
“There’s a certain base level of support that every child needs in life, but unfortunately many children lack,” Grava said. “This home for vulnerable children will help provide that basic foundation they need to grow and develop into successful adults. We hope that the way we’ve approached this project and the emphasis we’ve put on community involvement will create ripples of impact in the greater Langbos community. The orphanage also balances traditional building methods with modern sustainable design, and we hope this sets a positive example for development work that is culturally considerate while also tackling challenges in new and creative ways.”
Intsikelelo’s efforts and unique methodology haven’t gone unnoticed by the locals.
"Intsikelelo is different from other organizations because they work very closely with us in the community," explains Nomthandazo Pipe, the Headmistress of the Langbos orphanage. “Before this project, they went door to door to every home in the entire Langbos community, speaking with hundreds of people to learn more about the challenges facing their families and this community. Even the design of the orphanage is inspired by Langbos, and it’s also going to create jobs in the community for the builders and caregivers. Intsikelelo is our partner in helping these children and bringing more opportunities to all of our community."
To learn more, and see how you can help, watch the videos above.