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A Report From Volunteers: Toby & Charlie Milner

Toby and Charlie Milner, based in the USA, have been friends of Good Work Foundation (GWF) for many years. Although retired, Toby is a true education innovator (and spent her career as an education pioneer) and Charlie is a businessman and finance specialist.

Until recently Toby and Charlie spent multiple times every year on our digital learning campuses, sharing their many years of experience with our teams. We are very privileged to say that the Milners support GWF in their own capacity as well as through the Lillydale Literacy Project.

Written from their base in Massachusetts, what follows is the Milner’s 2020 end-of-year report to their community who follow their progress.

We can’t wait to have you back Toby & Charlie.


Dear Friends of the Lillydale Literacy Project:

For all of us our lives changed in 2020. Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll medically, economically and psychologically. Plans have been disrupted, if not dashed. The effectiveness of education at all levels has been drastically impaired. We hope you have been spared the worst of Covid as we have, but we know some of you have not. For you we send our thoughts and prayers.

Our friends in South Africa have not fared nearly as well as we have in the United States. Covid came into the country on jet planes from all over the world and forced two separate country-wide shut-downs. Schools were closed for months. Tourism, the major industry and employer in our area of operations, totally dried up. South Africa has neither the social safety nets nor the medical infrastructure that have mitigated the impact of Covid here.

Yet in this darkened world the Good Work Foundation provided a small glimmer of light. GWF adapted to the new environment. Courses for its adult students were converted for virtual instruction. All staff were retained, and for facilitators without learners, professional development was ramped up. In addition, GWF coordinated with its philanthropic partners to organize mobile food banks in the communities where it operates.

You might have expected this preamble to segue into a passionate appeal for donations. Well, its not. There is no envelope enclosed and this letter is shorter than in years past. Many of you have been with us since the beginning in 2000, and others have joined us along the way. We appreciate your generosity and can say with 100% confidence that you have made a difference. Thank you.

It seems like a decade ago, but we did go to South Africa in late January for a month. We came home feeling it had been one of our most productive trips and could not wait for our next planned trip in May. Our time was 100% devoted to the Good Work Foundation, Toby working with the Open Learning team who teach 4th through 12th grade learners, while Charlie spent time with the Bridging Academy for post-high school adults.

By our second day in country Toby was given her mission by Fumani Mathumbu, campus head of the Lillydale Digital Learning Campus. First, Fumani wanted Toby to teach the Open Learning facilitators how to incorporate math manipulatives into their instruction. Thanks to you, each campus has a set of manipulatives but the facilitators didn’t have the confidence to use them. After a workshop and a live demonstration with learners on each campus, manipulatives were seamlessly incorporated into daily maths instruction.

Fumani’s second request was more far reaching and had tremendous potential for expanding the Open Learning curriculum. Good Work has access to SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry based Learning Environment) which hosts a portfolio of teaching applications delivered on tablets. The SMILE platform contains dozens of applications that in turn contain scores of lessons. The content of SMILE was overwhelming and needed a seasoned professional to refine it down to an English and maths curriculum that the GWF facilitators could use. This Toby did using her understanding of both the academic proficiency of the learners and the capabilities of the facilitators to deliver the content. When she rolled out the curriculum at each campus, the excitement was palpable. For the first time in a while the OLA facilitators had new material to teach.

By the time we departed in February we knew that Good Work had filled a major position in its organization chart by hiring the Open Learning Program Manager. Finally the Open Learning team had an experienced educator as its full-time leader and champion to oversee Open Learning on all five GWF campuses. She joined Good Work in July and since then she and Toby have held a series of Zoom calls that covered a range of transition topics. We look forward to meeting her whenever we can get back to South Africa.

So, what are our plans for the future of the Lillydale Literacy Project? For as long as we are able and welcomed, we plan to return to South Africa as volunteers for Good Work once a year. In addition, we personally and the Project will continue to provide financial support to Good Work, specifically designated for underwriting the Open Learning program at the Lillydale Digital Learning Campus. Going forward this will be the only major expense of the Project. You are welcome to join us in this effort. Any contributions we receive henceforth will be dedicated for this purpose.

Since that first intrepid group of teachers trained in 2000 through the pandemic of 2020, there are too many highlights to recap here. We cannot adequately express our gratitude and appreciation to the hundreds of individuals, companies and organizations who have made it all possible.

A simple “Thank You” will have to suffice. Or, as our Shangaan friends would say, “Inkomu”.

We wish you a very happy holiday and better times in 2021.

Toby & Charlie Milner


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