S. Joshua Thomas, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy
Kliptown, one of the most severely impoverished townships in Soweto, South Africa, is also home to SKY, the Soweto Kliptown Youth Foundation—a small but remarkable grassroots community organization in the heart of the township. I have been partnering with SKY since my first visit in 2015.
Founded in 1987 by Bob Nameng, at the time just a teenager, SKY’s mission is to provide basic necessities for Kliptown youth. This includes everything from fresh meals; school uniforms and shoes; healthy social outlets like sports, drama, and dance; feminine hygiene products; safe spaces for children to recreate, relax, and do homework; and community improvement projects such as planting trees and a garden.
Academic Service-Learning projects in support of SKY have been a natural and effective way to integrate the University’s Vincentian mission and international focus with courses like Philosophy of the Human Person and Ethics. Coordinating closely with Mr. Nameng, a specific focus is identified each year.
An initial book drive collected more than 1,000 volumes to add to SKY’s library. However, given the costs and logistics of international shipping, subsequent projects have focused on fundraising. To date, more than $15,000 has been raised; these funds support a variety of projects, such as repairs to SKY’s library roof and the purchase of school uniforms, as well as their daily programs.
In 2017, a group of St. John’s students traveled to South Africa for a study abroad program, and spent two of the days during their trip working on a service project to prepare SKY’s facilities for the upcoming month-long celebration of its 30th anniversary. Students and community members worked in small teams, forming meaningful bonds despite the compressed timeframe.
Anelis Acevedo ’19BA, ’20MBA was initially drawn to the South Africa study abroad program because it was “a bit more global than just the run-of-the-mill, European-based study-abroad programs.” But it was the service at SKY that truly defined her South Africa experience.
“Our trip to SKY will be ingrained in my memory and in my heart forever,” she said. “Fundraising during the semester was one thing, but actually visiting on site and seeing our efforts benefit the community in real-time allowed me to fully immerse myself in the Vincentian mission of service—in a way that was totally new and meaningful for me, and I am sure many of my peers on the trip.”