Music legend Jonathan Butler came back to his roots last week to visit the Lalela after-school programme at Sentinel Primary School.
Born in Belgravia, Athlone under the shadow of apartheid and raised in the teenybopper sensation of the ’70s, the singer-songwriter had forty American visitors in tow on an 11-day visit to celebrate turning 62 on Tuesday October 10. Butler relocated to America 38 years ago and for the past 11 years brings 30 to 50 Americans on a personal journey to see the spirit and love in this country.
One of the activities at the school involved a “wishing tree” where children paired with a visitor and shared their aspirations for the future. Each child, or helper, would write a wish on a leaf and attach it to a tree outside the hall. Last year, the children and visitors had left their hand prints on the entry wall as part of an art project, highlighting the importance of art in creating social cohesion.
Messages on the leaves ranged from wanting to be policemen to others wanting to be a lady soccer coach, a soccer player, lawyer, scientist, doctor and professional skate boarder to world peace.
One child’s message was “I wish I had my dad back”. He was Malawian and shot down in Imizamo Yethu (IY), according to Lalela programme manager Nwabisa Ndongeni.
She says the idea behind the programme is to bridge the divide between the communities of IY and Hangberg and to create a safe space for children after school.
“This is the time when they are most vulnerable to gangs, crime, animal abuse or shop-lifting. In these communities, children lack role models and this programme aims to fill that void. We also offer social skills, boosting self-esteem and cultivating friendship. The Lalela programme helps these children become more positive about themselves and their surroundings. Here, they see each other as individuals, transcending colour, while art becomes a tool for problem-solving,” says Ms Ndongeni.
Lalela executive director Firdous Hendricks says the non-profit organisation had started in Imizamo Yethu in 2011 at Sentinel Primary School was it’s first and had since spread to include 11 other communities.
Lalela, which takes its name from the Zulu word “to listen”, provides educational arts for youth from poor communities to spark creative thinking and awaken an entrepreneurial spirit.
Butler joined Lalela almost two years ago as its first global trustee. His wife Nadira Scruggs-Butler says her husband plays a crucial role in raising awareness worldwide about the organisation’s impactful work.
Shawn Ingwane, an alumni from Lalela who was volunteering at the visit, said the programme instilled him with a passion for art and provided a safe space for self-expression. It made him realise that he wanted to do art as a career. He is currently working with local not for profit community upliftment initiative Intle Art that supports aspiring, young artists from the area.
Bernadette Philpot from Maryland said it is her first visit to Cape Town and she is impressed with the beauty and the good work that people are doing.
As the children tucked into cupcakes after singing happy birthday to Butler he said he is immensely proud of the positive impact that the programme has had in these young lives. Lalela confirms God’s will of, educating kids to give back to the community in a meaningful way as pioneers, engineers or leaders. I am honoured to be on board, not just to speak about it but do something,” says Butler.