Isipho binds Atlanta UUs to African village
'The impact of Isipho on us has been massive. Our whole family is different.'
On the flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, Isipho began to take shape. Without even having heard of the new venture, Sheri Lynch—at home, anticipating the return of her husband and only child—was appointed executive director. Sheri is a professional organizer and has a background in nonprofit management. For years, she ran camps for children recovering from serious burns. Tom and Miranda were counting on her experience and her skills. Tom began preparing to tackle the marketing and public relations for Isipho. He has worked as a corporate marketing and advertising executive in Atlanta for decades. The family began to hold regular business meetings to run the nonprofit. They based their new organization on the First Principle of Unitarian Universalism—"to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person." Their goal was to raise money to supply the people of Inzinga with farm tools, fencing, and seeds to help them plant community gardens. They also wanted to provide greater educational opportunities for the children there. "We knew that they did not need a handout, something that replaces their poverty with dependence," says Miranda. "They needed a hand up. Just a little help getting started." The Lynches began a long process of educating themselves on how to find the right tools and seeds for the village. They contacted Cedara Agricultural College in KwaZulu-Natal to learn what kinds of crops Inzinga could support and what kind of training the college could provide. They set their sights on a year of fundraising so they could return to Inzinga in 2009 with tools, money, and training. The Lynches began to tap all their friends and family for donations. Miranda told her story to their church, the UU Congregation of Atlanta, and hosted a fundraising dinner there. The family hosted a wine-tasting party. Donations began to mount. By June, they totaled $13,000, and the Lynches were ready to return to Inzinga with their gifts. Miranda met with the chief of staff of the humanitarian organization care, based in Atlanta, and the family spoke with experts from the Heifer Project, the Hunger Project, and even people running local farmers’ markets. In August 2009, Tom and Miranda returned to Inzinga. Sheri stepped for the first time into the world that had so captivated her daughter and husband. They arrived with gardening tools, seeds, and fencing materials. The Lynches purchased materials in South Africa to keep the money within the local economy. Some of the donated funds went to providing training in sustenance gardening at Cedara College for twenty villagers. The Lynches and the villagers rolled up their sleeves and began to hoe the brown earth. Together, they planted 500 square yards of community gardens and forty family gardens. Nonjabulo became the manager of Isipho in the village, working with the Department of Agriculture in South Africa and with the Lynches in Atlanta. One community garden planted at a kindergarten produced vegetables to sell, raising money to buy books. The proceeds of those first crops provide a glimpse of the self-sustainability that Isipho and the villagers are looking for. "If we're still doing this in Inzinga ten years from now, we will have failed,” says Tom. "Ideally, we'll show up in Inzinga five or six years from now, and they won’t need us. Then we'll go across the valley to another village."
"To give is to dish out for oneself." It's a Zulu phrase that has come true for the Lynches. After starting Isipho, Tom left his corporate marketing career and started a new business, Worthwhile Wine Co., which imports South African wines produced by wineries that are involved in a number of sustainable practices. He also favors companies in the Black Enterprise Empowerment program, which provides equity, training, and opportunity to black South Africans who were disadvantaged during apartheid. As Tom switched careers, Miranda switched schools. She enrolled in the Ben Franklin Academy, a school with a half-day academic schedule combined with a work program, which allows her to go to school in the mornings and work on Isipho in the afternoons. "The impact of Isipho on us has been massive," says Tom. "Our whole family is different.” The Lynches have each evolved into their own role in Isipho. Tom and Miranda like the large, conceptual ideas. Sheri works out the details. Miranda blogs about Isipho and about the experience of being a teenage entrepreneur working with her parents. Annual visits to Africa have become highlights of each year. In 2009, the Atlanta Business Chronicle named Miranda one of its "20 under 20" leaders of the year.
In April 2010, Nonjabulo came to America for the first time. She became the second person in her village ever to visit America and the first in her family to ride in a plane. “When I am here, I am in my second home,” she says. Nonjabulo is a soft-spoken woman of 28 with a ready smile. She visited the Lynches’ church and addressed the students at Miranda’s school. She helped host the first major Isipho fundraiser, Celebrating Hope 2010, a dinner and auction that netted just over $10,000. The money will go a long way toward establishing more gardens in Inzinga and training more families in farming them. At the dinner, Nonjabulo swallowed her shyness and addressed the audience from the stage. Describing the impact of Isipho, she paused, smiled widely, and said, “Everything is wow!” She has watched the village change as she has helped to implement the Isipho vision. She sees a future for Inzinga as an independent village that can raise crops and sell them to buy the things they need. Despite creating and developing Isipho during a crippling recession in the United States, the Lynches are determined to move forward. Many international relief organizations have pulled up stakes from South Africa. Even with the devastating poverty and hunger in areas such as KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is the most prosperous country in Africa. Yet the gap between its rich and its poor is among the world’s greatest. So each August, the Lynches will return to plant and to visit with their second family. This year’s trip coincides with Nonjabulo’s wedding. When talk turns to wedding planning, Miranda sounds less like a nonprofit entrepreneur and more like the fifteen-year-old she is. “Zulu weddings are incredible!” she says, her big eyes opening wider. “It’s like a three-day party. It’ll be awesome!”
Excerpted with permission from Social Action Heroes: Unitarian Universalists Who Are Changing the World, ©2011 by Michelle Bates Deakin (Skinner House Books, 2011). See sidebar for links to related resources.Comments powered by Disqus