How a Northwestern alum is empowering communities in South Africa: BTN LiveBIG

How a Northwestern alum is empowering communities in South Africa: BTN LiveBIG

When Northwestern University alum Nick Gravas left for a two-week vacation to South Africa, he had no idea that it would be the beginning of a life-changing journey.

Gravas, who graduated with a degree in political science in 2011, was going to visit his brother Chris, who was studying in Cape Town. Over the course of his stay, the brothers were afforded the opportunity to visit and help out at a local orphanage in the town of Khayelitsha.

Nick fell in love with the hope and promise alive in the children despite the abject poverty and poor conditions in which they lived. When it came time to return to the US, he made a decision would alter the course of his life: he had to stay in South Africa.

Living alongside his young charges, Nick was quickly appointed managing director of the orphanage, a position that allowed him to take stock of the needs of poor and abandoned children living in the country.

After completing his studies, Chris returned to South Africa to join Nick and help with the administration of the orphanage. The two realized that, despite government funding, the orphanage was still desperate for money to cover the children’s basic needs. So they decided to leverage their fundraising know-how, launching a Crowdrise campaign that generated well over its goal.

The experience left the brothers wondering what else they could do to help the myriad organizations providing aid to South Africa’s poorest communities. To that end, they launched Intsikelelo – which means “Blessing” in the Xhosa language – an organization whose 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.”

In addition to the orphanage where the brothers worked, Intsikelelo engages with community centers, children’s homes and after-school programs to help them improve their “organizational structure, operations and fundraising.”

One of the main goals of the organization is to remain sensitive to the need for communities to set their own goals through empowerment. That means providing assistance and access to resources without exerting undue influence.

One of the projects Intsikelelo is currently involved with is the construction of the Langbos Children’s Home, a center that is situated in an informal community in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. The center, which is being constructed using eco-friendly Superadobe by a local construction crew being paid a competitive wage and receiving valuable training, will get children off the street, where they are highly likely to become victims of crime, and into a shelter with running water and access to basic healthcare.

To learn more about Gravas, Intsikelelo and how you might be able to help, visit their website.

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