Christel House is a non-profit organisation with a single mission: to break the cycle of poverty. The school offers no-fee scholarships to students from some of Cape Town’s poorest neighbourhoods and supports them for 18 years (Grade R to Grade 12 and five years after matric) through character-based and career-focused education.

Positive social transformation drives Adri Marais as she actively works towards leaving the world in a better place than how she found it. As the CEO of Christel House, Adri puts her childhood love of working on projects to good use as they give children vital opportunities to succeed in life.

Adri discusses the challenges we need to overcome in South Africa.

“Overtly the challenges are extreme unemployment, corruption and a shrinking economy, but I attribute that to two major challenges that I believe are the drivers of our struggles. Firstly, the extreme wealth gap between the rich and the poor (we stubbornly remain the country with the highest GINI index in the world) will continue to stand in our way of moving towards a more harmonious society and secondly, the fact that our different demographic groups don’t really know each other prevents us from constructive dialogue, innovation problem solving, effectively working together and unlocking all the opportunities our country holds.”

“Harmony is when people live well together, enjoy each other, don’t fight, and when the atmosphere is nice and there is flow. This energy is personal and if you start with self, the rest follows.”

“In South Africa, we struggle to find harmony because we can’t even begin to enjoy each other, trust each other and have flow if we do not know each other (in academic terms one would say we do not recognise the value of each other’s social capital).  Admittedly, this is difficult as the Apartheid architecture divided us personally and geographically in ways that will take generations to change.

Every one of us can actively move away from disharmony by leaning into harmony. You can do this by seeking out the good stories. Believing first in the good of others, to understand and only then to be understood, and trying to understand, get to know, and simply LIKE people who are not like you. I remain surprised that, as people, we are drawn to the ugly stories, we see this in the newspaper every day.

Looking for and consciously creating harmony will literally carve new neural pathways in our brains and we must practice enjoying each other, seeing the worth in each other and not jumping to assumptions and conclusions. We must do this until these pathways become the brain’s default.”

Christel House is geared towards changing our communities and integrating our social landscape.

“Our reason for existence is to engage in the process of change. Christel House creates change by giving 1000 children from Cape Town’s poorest communities the opportunity to get the best education, healthcare and nutrition, family assistance, career guidance and job placement there is available to them. We also expose them to the world they will be economically active in and integrate character building into the curriculum. This month our theme word is “tolerance”.

The main criterion for admission to Christel House is not evidence of talent – but evidence of poverty, one measure of which is a maximum income of R1,500 per household member per month. Poverty touches every aspect of a child’s life, determines their future and almost always leaves them trapped in a spiral of unemployment and continued deprivation. This is where Christel House steps in to help impoverished children become self-sufficient members of society. We help children from poor communities work towards the future we know they deserve.”

Perseverance and a change in our governance strategy are necessary for the betterment of South Africa.

“We will struggle to gain traction on harmony if we have millions of empty stomachs. The way forward has to start with the political will to kill corruption so that the latent seeds that have been planted over the years can germinate. And that is challenging. I do believe that it starts with being able to truly see and value each other, our different talents and ways of offering ourselves to the world. I am not convinced that South African Big Business, the Parastatals or the Government Departments have done nearly enough to break down the invisible barriers to true integration.”

There is hope; together, we can be the change.

“We have to bridge the divide between us and start to know and befriend those who are different to us.  Next time you connect with someone who is different to you – look them in the eye, smile, ask them how they are doing, and then continue from there. We will lose hope unless we do this together, all of us.”

Find out more about Christel House, get involved or donate via there website here: www.sa.christelhouse.org.