The spirit of Nelson Mandela lives on in the work of a favourite charity, Afrika Tikkun, dedicated to helping the disadvantaged

As the first anniversary of his death approaches, Nelson Mandela will be remembered not only for his political activism but for his extensive charity work.

Mandela was known for speaking out about inequality, becoming an advocate for a variety of worldwide social and human-rights organisations, among them Afrika Tikkun. Indeed, according to the organisation’s UK director Jennifer Miles, it was Madiba himself who asked to be involved with the social development organisation.

Today, the charity runs six centres of excellence in some of South Africa’s most deprived townships, looking after more than 17,000 beneficiaries. At its inception 20 years ago, however, it was a series of small ad hoc projects. The aim then, as it is today, was to help children from some of the least-developed areas in South Africa through the early parts of their lives, from cradle to career.

Bertie and Mandela

Bertie Lubner who helped to establish Africa Tikkun. with patron-in-chief Nelson Mandela, who called the charity ‘the miracle..’

Their programme is run holistically and divided into three stages: Early Childhood Development (ECD), Child and Youth Development (CYD) and Skills and Entrepreneurial Development (SED).

The charity was set up by South Africa’s then-chief rabbi, Cyril Harris, and Jewish businessman and philanthropist Bertie Lubner in 1994, the year Mandela came to power.

The name derives from the mitzvah of tikkun olam, which literally means ‘repairing the world’. Shortly after, Mandela was invited to view the project’s work in action. “He called it the miracle,” says Miles. So impressed was the then-president that he contacted Lubner the following day and asked if he could become the charity’s patron in chief. Needless to say, his request was accepted immediately and with considerable delight.

Four of the centres are located in the Gauteng region outside Johannesburg, while the other two are in the Western Cape. With a set up similar to a creche, the ECD stage is aimed ultimately at preparing young children for school. It aims to support those aged under six with basic literacy, numeracy and social skills, while also ensuring their nutritional and health needs are met.

Says Miles: “Children with empty tummies aren’t going to be able to learn, as they can’t concentrate. We also make sure the children receive the necessary jabs and other primary healthcare they need.”

The CYD phase supports youngsters throughout their schooling careers, which, Miles says, “involves everything from sports programmes to arts-based programmes to educational support programmes. We have fantastic libraries at our centres that we encourage children to use and our staff members can support them. There are also computers in the libraries so the children can start to develop the skills which are obviously more and more important in the technological world we live in. At that stage, we also think about the long term and what careers will be most suitable.”

Far more detailed and focused careers guidance is offered in the SED programme, which is aimed at school-leavers up to the age of 25.

“For one child, that might mean supporting him or her to get a grant for tertiary education and making sure he or she gets the most out of it, or helping someone go into an office job or start a company,”

Miles says. “Ultimately, if children are in work, they will bring themselves and the community that surrounds them out of poverty. Our goal is to help the community to help itself.” What makes Afrika Tikkun special is that its approach is holistic. Children and their families are supported not just through the early years, schooling and careers advice, but through the effort that also goes into making sure they are healthy, well-fed and are safe within their home environments.

Miles says: “There are charities which do incredible work but often they go in for just one of those phases. We do the whole thing so we can really monitor and assess the kids and we can make sure they have everything they need all the way through. We ensure the child as a whole develops.

“We work in some really, really tough places and our centres are run by the community. All the jobs within the centres are done by people within the communities. We have 600 staff, which is really exciting because it means we are actually taking the change we advocate for through our children into the community by empowering them to help make that change.”

The UK arm of the charity was set up in 2003 to raise funds for the projects. Its main corporate donor is Belron, the umbrella company which owns Autoglass. Belron’s CEO is Gary Lubner – Bertie’s nephew – and he sits on the charity’s board. Each year Belron runs a triathlon, which is open to the public and benefits Afrika Tikkun.

Lubner says: “Afrika Tikkun is a South African charity which my family co-founded to help kids who have HIV or whose parents have died of Aids. We have pre-school crèches, schooling, after-school clubs, computer clubs and other facilities. Apartheid’s shocking legacy of impoverishment was exacerbated by the Aids epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Afrika Tikkun is a way for me to help to end that and give back to the country I love.”

Prior to his death, Mandela echoed that sentiment by praising the organisation for its ability to “reach our disadvantaged population at a grassroots level”. He added: “It provides both physical help, as well as hope and dignity to the recipients.”

Fundraisers are encouraged to support the charity through individual events such as 10k runs or other challenges, while there are also lots of volunteering opportunities for anyone keen to help out in both the UK and in South Africa. Most of the trustees of the charity’s UK arm are Jewish and a large proportion of its fund raising is done within the community, though it points out it is always striving to raise its profile and attract more supporters.

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Relaxation time during a programme break at one of the six centres run by Africa Tikkun, which was established 20 years ago.

The founders established the charity to ensure the Jewish community became actively involved in addressing the crises faced by young children and the elderly who were left significantly deprived by apartheid South Africa.

Bertie Lubner’s son Marc took control of the organisation in 2007 and set out to infuse Jewish leadership and values into the running of it. Indeed, while the six community centres are run by local community managers, each bears a mezuzah on its front door.

Says Marc Lubner: “While Afrika Tikkun is not a faith-based organisation, the spirit of Godliness is enshrined into the core values of the charity and its work. “Afrika Tikkun is regarded as an important role player in both private and public circles and it presents itself unashamedly as being Jewish-led, despite the fact it employs people of all races and religions across all levels of the organisational structure.”

The charity will also always remember its late patron-in-chief; although they have not been finalised, Afrika Tikkun is planning numerous events in the UK and around the world to commemorate the anniversary of Mandela’s death.

To find out more about the forthcoming events and the work of Afrika Tikkun, visit www.afrikatikkun.org