Our Story

Strengthening Literacy in a Rural South African School 

Eileen and Larry Kugler took a trip to South Africa with multicultural educators in 2006. What they found was an overwhelming optimism about the future in this 20 year-old democracy, rising up from the brutal decades of Apartheid.

At the same time, they saw the harsh reality. Education for Blacks, some 90% of the country, had been substandard for years. Teachers themselves had been trained under systems that prepared them to teach students to be laborers and nothing more.

Eileen and Larry felt they wanted to contribute in some way With Larry’s background as a teacher and administrator, and Eileen’s work in family engagement, they hoped to offer training for teachers and families in a volunteer visit. They realized that they needed some help in finding the right place to volunteer. That led them to an international organization that matches individuals with specific places that need their skills--

People and Places:Responsible Volunteering is based in the UK, but places volunteers all around the world. Their commitment to sustainable, ethical volunteering has earned them several awards. With People and Places, it’s all about partnering with the community to make a sustainable difference, not  just creating opportunities for the volunteers to “feel good” (although that is certainly part of it!).

Eileen and Larry began making plans to go to South Africa, and their daughter Sara,  a literacy specialist, said, “If you’re going, so am I!” So the three worked with People and Places to find the right match.

People and Places connected them with their partner on the ground in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Paul Miedema of Calabash Tours. Paul works with a cluster of schools in the city of Port Elizabeth, along the southeastern coast. He told us of a school with a strong principal who was asking for volunteers. It was in a township in rural area about an hour north of Port Elizabeth. Since many volunteers are women traveling alone, Calabash had a hard time placing anyone in this rural area. But since we were traveling a a family, would we consider it?  Although this was not how we envisioned it, we said, if that’s where we are needed, that’s where we’ll go.

Next question for us: Do you want to stay with a family in the township? We were sent a face of a smiling family looking forward to our visit. So again, we were all in.

And thus began our journey. What we didn’t know: We would fall in love with the family, the teachers, the students and the entire township; and we would return often. Sara has returned twice, once with her husband and best friend. Larry and Eileen have been back five times for a total of 15 weeks. Friends and educators Randi and Steve Adleberg came with the Kuglers in 2015.

Over the years, many of their friends and colleagues have sought to support their efforts. To provide a place for tax-deductible contributions from U.S. citizens, the Kuglers set up The Kugler Education Fund at South Africa Partners. Donations to that fund are used for projects to improve literacy at this wonderful school.

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