The last time I went on a De Beers-sponsored trip of Southern Africa was nine years ago. At that time, there were plenty of talk about things like ore ratios but not much about the company’s charitable works.
As we all know, the image of the company (and industry) has taken a knock or two since then, so this time social issues are dominant. On my first work day here, me and the members of my group were taken to two undeniably worthy projects, both of which receive major funding from De Beers.
First up was a moving visit to CIDA City Campus, basically a free university for poor students. The visit was full of inspirational stories from the students there, all of whom were articulate, enthusiastic and proud of their school and their accomplishments. One student told us that when she first arrived at CIDA from a poor village she didn’t know what a computer was. Today, she is likely to be a JAVA programmer (and I don’t know what that is.) Another told of growing up in “a shack.” Since coming to the school, he has made enough money to buy a house for his family.
The school has deservedly received a lot of support, not just from De Beers but from people like Oprah Winfrey, who is donating money for a dorm. Let me say, by the end of the morning, I was willing to give all my money to the school, and I don’t have quite as much as Oprah. It is also, I’m glad to say, one of the first beneficiaries of Russell Simmons’ Diamond Empowerment Fund. (Simmons visited the school on his tour last year, and the Fund’s executive director is on this trip.) An excellent background article on this school can be found here.
CIDA City Campus points the way to the country’s future. For the problems in its present, we were taken to the African Children’s Feeding Scheme, which feed some 1,800 poor children with peanut butter sandwhiches and hot food.
I have pictures of all this stuff, but I can’t seem to upload them given the strange quirks of the jckonline blog tool. But trust me it was all very gratifying to see, especially since the day before, we took a visit to Soweto, where we saw some truly grim scenes. In my next post, I will talk about the diamond side of things.