by Michelle Bagley

For the love of SA

Continuing the work of Amy Biehl

The Amy Biehl Foundation continues to work toward a better South Africa
Amy Biehl Foundation

For 20 years, the Amy Biehl Foundation has been working toward a better South Africa. August will mark 20 years since the death of Amy Biehl, and will be an appropriate date to reflect on the past two decades in South Africa, and look toward the next two.

Biehl was an American on a Fulbright fellowship, studying at the University of the Western Cape, whose love for South Africa and its people was unequivocal. She tirelessly worked with influential political figures including the ANC, to improve women’s rights and work toward a common goal of a free and democratic South Africa.  

At 26, Amy’s life was tragically cut short in an act of political mob violence in Gugulethu.  

She was a truly inspirational young woman, who saw an injustice in the world and took action to try to make a difference.

Rather than place blame for their daughter’s death, Linda and Peter Biehl wanted to understand why such things were happening in South Africa, and see how they could prevent them from happening in the future.

In 1998, the four young men convicted of Amy’s murder were granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Determined to honour Amy’s love of the country and her belief in the truth and reconciliation process, Amy’s parents supported amnesty for the men. 

Some believe that Amy’s death strongly influenced the turning point in the political climate of South Africa. Her story helps us consider how far our country has come, and that we still have much more to achieve.  

We can all learn a great lesson from Biehl’s parents, who took on the responsibility that their daughter felt for our country, and chose to forgive to bring about positive change. 

The Amy Biehl Foundation was founded in 1997. More than 2 500 children attend its programmes today, which are designed to give them an alternative to the negative influences within their communities, as well as supplement the shortcomings of the educational system.  

Education is the backbone of our nation: Without an educated population, we cannot move forward. Only 48% of South African children who started school in 2001 wrote their Grade 12 final exams in 2011. 

Youth who drop out of school are likely to end up involved in crime and drugs, thus continuing the cycle of a high crime rate and poverty. The school dropout rate needs to be drastically decreased for the future development of the country.  

Encouraging youth to yearn for knowledge, and showing them positive role models is one way. The Amy Biehl Foundation has found great success in offering after-school care to a number of schools in challenged and vulnerable areas, providing educational and cultural activities that stimulate the creative side of the brain. Many programmes are not available during the course of the school day, such as drama, music and dance, which interest youth and keep them in class.  

These programmes also offer other areas of learning, for example, a child who plays a musical instrument is more likely to be better in other subjects and will be better disciplined. 

Other programmes include literacy, numeracy, sport, creative arts and HIV/Aids peer education and prevention. Youth are shown excellent role models such as facilitators, co-ordinators, volunteers and peer educators.  

The introduction of the Annual National Assessments in 2011 has helped to highlight the weaknesses that exist in schools today, and allow for interventions that will improve results. So far, findings have revealed that teaching is poor, leading to low performance. 

In the World Economic Forum’s 2012–2013 World Competitiveness Report, which evaluated the quality of educational systems, South Africa was ranked 133 out of 142 countries. This stresses the importance of the work we need to do to get our education system up to standard; after all, everyone has a right to a good education.  

With the global economy struggling, it is easy for us to forget what is truly important. We are all feeling the pinch, but what about those who struggle simply to survive?

Sadly, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. We need to work together to rectify this. 

Corporate social investment (CSI) has been, and continues to be, a huge step in the right direction. Not only does it play a pivotal role in the future equality of our country, but it also has huge benefits for the companies investing.  

They can align the money they spend on CSI with their company’s core objectives. This ensures they are investing in areas about which they are passionate and enables potential customers to relate to them. By simply living and working in South Africa, it is our ethical duty to support the previously disadvantaged of our society; we should all start to see it as a privilege to do so. As they are able to govern the projects in which they invest, companies can ensure the work is being carried out to the best possible standard. 

We all have a role to play in making our country a better place. As President Jacob Zuma said, “government alone cannot solve the challenges faced by the country but, working together, solutions are possible”.

Over the past 20 years, we have achieved a democracy, a constitution that is widely regarded as one of the most liberal, better women’s rights, and much more. 

Now let us work together to ensure equality, better education, less crime and reduced poverty in the next 20 years. 

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