Dear Youth: Why the Most Important Thing in London was South Africa

You know how they say reading the book is far better than watching the movie. That is exactly how I felt after my first overseas trip to London recently (by the way I am 26). I had watched so many British films and I had all these mental pictures. Almost none of it was right!

Let me start at the beginning (if there even is one to this story).

On the day before heading to London, Good Work Foundation (GWF) CEO, Kate Groch, asked that I go with the team to the Kruger National Park to represent GWF at a function and I was happy to do so. There was so much singing, dancing, South African tales and a genuine celebration of our country. The reason I talk about this day is because it later became important to my trip to London. Just before leaving home and plunging into the world of the unknown, I had a little reminder of who and where I come from at Kruger (our country’s most beautiful wilderness), and then off I went on my adventure.

“What are you looking forward to most Accolade?” people asked.

Just an experience of a world I know nothing about and, hopefully, I will come back inspired to continue working for my community, I answered.

When I finally landed in Heathrow, it was huge. It was busy, and most of all, it was amazing. I was welcomed by two familiar faces, Catriona Duncan and Ray Jones, who joined GWF as volunteers a year ago but now both of them have become part of the GWF family.

From there we took a train to London. I wanted to chat to Ray and Catriona so much but could not help looking out the window as the train swooshed past old and somewhat beautiful houses along the railway line. I had never seen so much green in my life either. It was 6:30am in London when I landed and all I wanted to do was drop my bags off and start exploring. And what was my first stop, amongst many? A visit to Nelson Mandela’s statue in central London!

Just as an aside – so much walking is done in England. So many people walk all the time and I often found myself standing and watching people walk past me.

The evening of my first day came and I couldn’t believe that it was 9:00pm and it was still light outside. Which brings me to an important part of my story: the main reason that I was in London. I was asked to represent GWF at the ArtAngels Africa 2017 fundraising event and auction, hosted by Ellerman House, Rhino Africa and Londolozi Game Reserve. The primary aim of the event was to raise funds to assist three South African non-profit organisations, two of which specialise in education technology. A number of prominent South African artists had donated their works to be auctioned off to benefit these organisations.

So why me? I am a rural South African woman who managed, by chance, to access private school education when I was growing up. The knock-on effect was a place in university, an internship with SANParks and now, my dream job in media, working for an NGO that works in the areas where I grew up. I wanted to tell this story in London. I wanted people to know that I am one of the “lucky ones” but that thousands of rural children are not going to be able to live their dream or benefit their community one day because they won’t have the skills or the luck I had.  In a fancy art gallery in one of the world’s most amazing cities, I wanted to be the voice for the young people of rural South Africa. The one that says: “There is talent here waiting to explode, it just needs a leg up!”

I was fortunate to also have the couple who had sponsored my primary and high school education come and listen to my story for the first time. Robert and Kate Croizat live in Spain, but they flew over to London so that we could have a moment to meet up once again. I don’t think Robert and Kate had ever realised how big an impact they have had on my life!

The night passed by in a flash and before I knew it, night two had arrived and we were in another room with 160 people for the actual auction. GWF Trustee, Boyd Varty, also told his story on the day and the reasons why he works for the land, the people and the wildlife of South Africa.

All in all, enough money was raised to deliver digital education to 10,000 rural children. I couldn’t believe it and I want to take a moment to acknowledge the artists with hearts that are supersize. Their art sold for thousands of dollars. These were works that the artists had spent weeks and months creating. Not for themselves, but for children who are going to benefit from education technology. To the all of the artists – you inspired me so much.

While in the UK, I visited art galleries, the Tower of London, museums, heritage sites and even the sea and the countryside. I sipped wine with some of the world’s most important businesspeople (and royalty) and I met up with old friends. I stayed in fancy hotels. I visited a pub. I ate ice-cream and I had a traditional roast lunch. But most important, I was able to act as an ambassador for South Africa’s rural rockstars. I was an emissary for Good Work Foundation and it made me burst with pride to be able to tell people what we are doing back home.

London is so much more than books and films give it credit to be. It is magical! I would like to say a huge thank you to Nicola Harris, David Ryan and the Rhino Africa team, Kate Groch, Shan and Boyd Varty, Ryan James, the Good Work Foundation Team, Catriona and Ray, and all the people behind the scenes that helped me through this journey. To Robert and Kate Croizat: thanks for believing in me when I was a “youth”! Now I have the opportunity to do the same.

Thank you very much.

This was shortly after landing in London and all my bags dropped off at the hotel and the exploration began.

This was shortly after landing in London and all my bags dropped off at the hotel and the exploration began.

I learned that the United Kingdom ranks second in the whole world for having the most historical architecture and i had the opportunity to see some of those as well as the Mandela statue and Mahatma Gandhi.

I learned that the United Kingdom ranks second in the whole world for having the most historical architecture and i had the opportunity to see some of those as well as the Mandela statue and Mahatma Gandhi.

I also enjoyed my very English breakfast in central London.

I also enjoyed my very English breakfast in central London.

The ArtAngels auction was very successful, and I also met some of the artists and to my surprise, two of them live very close to the village i come from.

The ArtAngels auction was very successful, and I also met some of the artists and to my surprise, two of them live very close to the village I come from.

Thank you very much on behalf of my family and community for the role played by Robert and Kate Croizat. From left to right: Kate Croizat, Accolade Ubisi and Robert Croizat.

Thank you very much on behalf of my family and community for the role played by Robert and Kate Croizat. From left to right: Kate Croizat, Accolade Ubisi and Robert Croizat.

A selfie moment just before the auctions started.

A selfie moment just before the auctions started.

A huge thank you to mu hosts and tour guides Catriona Duncan and Ray Jones.

A huge thank you to mu hosts and tour guides Catriona Duncan and Ray Jones.

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It was amazing to also have these two familiar faces and GWF ambassadors to help fly the GWF pink flag higher. Thank you Shan and Boyd Varty.

Written by Accolade Ubisi.

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