This well-known NPO is situated on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal in Cottonlands near Verulam. Over the many years they’ve been working into the KZN province they’ve won many fans and have created a family and home base for plenty of young people who hail from incredibly difficult circumstances.
I first heard about LIV Village because of the branded rubber bracelets they use as a marketing tool. These became a popular fashion item somewhere around 2014 (in my circle of friends anyway). Initially I didn’t have a clue what this black wristband was all about. But I quickly learned that it was affiliated with an organisation that is doing good, helping children.
After my initial introduction to the Lungisisa Indlela Village I kept hearing about it. Plenty of people around Durban were somehow affiliated with it, I knew some friends who worked there, people who started mentoring some of the children there, and even heard of one guy who was studying LIV as part of his thesis. Even celebrities seemed to know about LIV (in particular rugby players).
Because they were so well-known already I hesitated a bit before making contact. Mainly because I believed that many people will know a part of their story which led me to wonder whether being featured on FoundNation would benefit them in any way. However, as I kept thinking about it, I realized that I really don’t have that clear of a picture of the work that they do at LIV.
I mean I knew they took a holistic approach to helping the youth…and that the goal was to provide them with a new family…and that sometimes OT and speech therapy services were on offer. But that was pretty much it.
Luckily, I have a friend who could put me in contact with Chester Koyana, the current General Manager of LIV. I did what I usually do and sent a loooong pitch via WhatsApp to Chester and hoped for the best! He replied within a day to let me know that they were keen to be involved. As I’d hoped Chester was able to meet with me that coming weekend. I was so excited!
Of course I was partly excited to see what everyone else is so excited about, but I was also excited because he seemed very willing to be involved, and very supportive of what I’m trying to do with FoundNation. So, on the agreed upon Saturday morning, as luck would have it his wife was actually visiting a friend of mine and I was able to follow her back to LIV all of the way. Cutting out the need for a GPS and making sure that I was well in time for our meeting!
Chester and Atie (his wife) were two incredibly hospitable people. As I arrived she showed me around, made me tea and asked more about me…not just related to this project, but more about where I’m from and what I do for a living. Chester and I walked across to his office as she left to attend a birthday party for one of the children.
As usual it was a Saturday but neither of them minded giving up their time to tell me more about the village. As I listened I was kind of blown away by the idea itself. It seemed super ambitious. To offer so many different forms of care to children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned…and to create a family for them. Well, it kind of seemed like a big ask.
As Chester and I spoke though I realised that they are aware of areas where they would still like to grow, but also that they must be doing something right! He told me about their first graduates who have left LIV and are now at universities around the country, pursuing different fields of study and I found myself actually tearing up a bit. I found it so overwhelming that the model actually was working, that children were growing up to become productive members of society.
I loved hearing more about how they integrate a child by getting him or her to stick close to the foster mom for the first while as each child’s trust is earned slowly. I loved the fact that they don’t just expect children to magically know that they are safe now! Counselling and medical care are also on offer, and the children are encouraged to get involved with sport.
As we sat in the office I could hear the happy noise of a young person singing just below us on the basketball court (which incidentally doubles up as the “community hall”). This is also the space where church is held. And church is not something that can be removed from the LIV way of life.
It was started by Tich and Joan Smith because of a vision he got from God. A vision to create a family that would enable children to be safe, to learn and to flourish. Located between the various buildings you will find a giant white cross. It serves as a constant reminder of why LIV exists…a reminder that there is a higher power out there who wants to see children put into families, who wants to see children grow up and succeed in life despite whatever circumstances they were born into.
Chester finishes off my tour of LIV by showing me one of the homes. It’s beautiful and neat, I respect their privacy and don’t take photos inside the home. But it makes me happy to see how colourful the house is, to see kids relaxing on a Saturday in front of the TV while their house mom is making sure that supper will be on the table later.
Leaving LIV I feel hopeful. It really touched me to see that an organisation is helping change the lives of over 160 children (with plans to help more and open more centres in other parts of the world in the pipeline too)! At some point, while Chester was telling me some of their success stories I found myself choking up, struggling to get the next question out.
I felt a bit awkward, apologising for the show of emotion and feeling slightly uncomfortable because I pretty much cried in front of my interviewee. But the thing is, and I had to think about this quite a bit to figure out why I teared up, those tears were not sad tears. They were the result of overwhelming emotion brought on by a realisation that things can change. That intervention in the lives of those who so desperately need it can work.
LIV relies on corporate funding…and so do most of the other organisations that I’ve encountered throughout this journey. It was good to see how corporate funding can actually make a difference. A bit of structure and planning really can channel funds into meaningful change!
So today I want to make an appeal to all my readers…if a story throughout this series touched your heart, and if you are able to donate funds or helpful items like paint or clothing, why don’t you get in touch with one of the organisations I’ve featured? Your small (or big) contribution could really help make someone’s life a lot easier!
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