Helping Horses Help Children: A Win-Win for Everyone

Horses helping people at Shumbashaba in Northern Johannesburg

When we lived in South Africa, I would take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life and sit on a little bench up on a hill overlooking the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg, the sun warming my skin, a slight breeze keeping the summer heat at bay, letting my mind drift while watching my kids' riding lessons. Here is why Shumbashaba stables might be great for you too.


Finding New Feet for Outgrown Shoes

This story about finding bare feet around the world to be paired - no pun intended - with outgrown but otherwise perfect shoes had me want to root through all our closets so that I could find new feet for all those extra shoes in our house. Read it, and you too will want to contribute to this movement that is living proof that one person can indeed change the world.


Volunteer Opportunities in Johannesburg

To help out future expats in South Africa, I have put together a collection of volunteer opportunities in and around Johannesburg. I don't claim it to be in any way complete as there is simply too much going on to mention it all. I just "assembled" all the outreach projects I was involved in or that were brought to my attention by friends.


The Story of Charity in Africa

One of the first questions prospective expats typically ask me is what kind of volunteer work might be available for them or their spouses. If you bear with me, I'll provide some answers. But first, my (evolving) views on charity. In a way, this is the African story. For decades, no, centuries, people from the West have descended on Africa to "do good." To help those less fortunate souls who can't "help themselves."


From the Horse’s Mouth

horses at Shumbashaba stables near Diepsloot, johannesburg

Hi. I'm Sparkie. I'm 11 years old and I live at a place called Shumbashaba Stables, out in the beautiful countryside to the North of Fourways in Johannesburg, South Africa. I'm average size and have big brown eyes, and my favorite food is carrots, though I've been known to chew on a jacket, too. Come visit me at Shumbashaba, halfway between Dainfern and the American School.


Pure Joy

Today is when we hand out our Help Portrait pictures to children of the Diepsloot Combined School. You can see their faces transform as they catch a glimpse of themselves. Pure joy radiating in all directions as if the sun has suddenly broken through clouds after a rain, drenching everything in its magnificent power. And then the urge to share it with their friends and see their pictures in return.


The Gift of a Picture

When you’re moving to South Africa, inevitably you will become involved in charity work. There is almost no way around it. There are myriad opportunities of how you might get involved, but one of the charities especially dear to my heart is Help Portrait, a worldwide organization of amateur photographers whose goal it is to bring the gift of a picture into underprivileged communities.


Horses, Horses, and More Horses

I loved that our girls did horseback riding in South Africa, in theory. In practice, those horse shows dragged on sooooo much! Apparently, what you do most of during a horse show is wait, unless you're walking from one end of the place to the other, because of course your two kids' events are spread out to the farthest possible reaches. 


Giving Hope at New Jerusalem

“There is a career path and there is a sacred path.”

I cannot get these words out of my mind. They were spoken to me by Anna Mojapelo, founder and director of New Jerusalem Children’s Home, when I visited the facilities of her orphanage and adjacent Montessori preschool a few weeks ago. A friend who volunteers there had introduced me to Anna, and I was busy poking my head into the nooks and crannies of the home – as many such places, it has grown by adding on a bit willy-nilly, so there are indeed a lot of nooks and crannies – and taking pictures while chatting with her about what she describes as her life’s calling.


You see, Anna used to work as a successful lawyer and businesswoman. As is often the case here in South Africa, her success brought with it a certain responsibility. Employees would come with their troubles and ask for help, and one day she found herself with a baby to care for. As word spread about her taking in this child, more of them appeared. She was soon juggling her day job with single-handedly taking care of close to a dozen babies – all of them troubled or sick. I cannot imagine how she managed this, and she herself admits that those were some dark and trying times.

But somehow she managed to struggle through many long nights, sustained by her unshakable belief, gave up her day job along the way, and decided to dedicate her life to these children and the many more to come. She bought some land and started building, recruited an impressive group of board members and donors, and continued to tend to the kids in her care. In the span of just ten years, she and her sister Phina have built New Jerusalem into what it is today: a sprawling home for almost 100 children with an adjacent Montessori preschool and a host of programs to strengthen the surrounding community. Thanks to partnering with medical providers and receiving anti-retroviral treatment – in a country whose government only fairly recently acknowledged the existence of an Aids epidemic – eighteen of their children who were born HIV positive are now HIV negative (note – this is just based on what Anna told me and not officially confirmed).

“It’s like a miracle,” says Anna. “It shows me that I’ve chosen the right course.”

What impressed me most on my visit to New Jerusalem was how neat and clean everything was. I got to peek into classrooms and watch as the Montessori children ate their snack. You could have eaten off the floor, and everything looked so inviting that, if I had preschool aged children, I would have asked for the enrollment papers. Anna tells me that in the early days nobody from the surrounding community wanted anything to do with her home, but this has all changed. New Jerusalem is now seen as a good place, something to be proud of. Children from all around flock to the preschool and space is running out, but Anna already has plans to build a new addition. She never quite stops, brimming with ideas to further integrate and strengthen the surrounding community through outreach programs and expand their international visibility to secure new funding.


While it all started with Anna’s dedication and hard work, the preschool is now a separate entity and run and funded by Orange Babies, a non-profit organization in the Netherlands. I was shown around by the principal, Marius van Dorp, who impressed me with his commitment to not only provide a loving environment for these kids, but to use the most effective teaching and learning methods to give them the best possible start in life. However, the need for new supplies is still great, and he would not let me leave without a long wish list, which I’ve added to the bottom of this post. Orange Babies has also been instrumental in reducing the HIV infection rate in the surrounding community by providing much-needed prenatal care and medication. Abandoned and abused children continue to find shelter at New Jerusalem, but the incidence of Aids has been greatly reduced.


Most striking, perhaps, is the image of 10-year old Aurora, the first born child of New Jerusalem. More than anybody, she embodies the hope Anna has been able to inspire in the downtrodden and abandoned.

“When I grow up I want to be a doctor,” says Aurora, “because they have saved my life and I also want to help and save other children.” Somehow, I’m sure that she will achieve her dream, because she was given that tiny seed of hope and opportunity ten years ago. And she will in turn work hard at building a better country and giving hope to others.


One person may not be able to change the world, but Anna Mojapelo has made the world a better place for the children of New Jerusalem. It makes you wonder: Which sacred path is each and every one of us meant to pursue?

New Jerusalem Website
Phone: 010 224 0460

Orange Babies Montessori Pre-School Wish List

  • Stationary (pencils, colored pencils, pens, markers, paint, paint brushes, glue, tape, 0paper, colored paper, scissors,