Mark Johnston

Position: NSF Programme Manager

Mark worked as a journalist from 2000 to 2011, before heading overseas to study in New Zealand. After completing a degree in economics and politics, he worked for the New Zealand government’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, but decided to return to South Africa in 2016.

Mark is passionate about advancing youth skills development, and believes it is one of the key factors necessary to transform our country.

Academic Qualification: Bachelor of Arts Degree, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (2015)

Majors: Economics and Politics


Niki Alexander

Niki Alexander

Position: Programme Coordinator

Academic Qualification: Bachelor in Business Administration and Entrepreneurial Leadership, TSiBA (2011)

Other Qualification(s):

  • First Aid Level 1
  • Field Study Program in Social Entrepreneurship

Number of years with Educo Africa: 7 years

Niki is passionate about gender work, education and human development. She is deeply driven by the power and potential in the youth of South Africa, and is inspired to see how young leaders work to make a difference in their communities and take charge of their future.

Change starts with you

I always wanted to make a change, but I did not believe in myself and my ability. So, I would always complain about how things were not going the way they are supposed to be. Instead of trying to change the situation in my community, I would post a complaint on Facebook.

However, things started changing the day I met and invited Thembinkosi Matika to be my friend on Facebook. It was a few days after chatting with him that he commented on one of my post stating “that change starts with you before you can change the world”. I spent about a week trying to figure out what he meant by that, until he invited me to the community youth parliament and there I was inspired by My Honorable. He made me believe that I have the ability to change my community.

A week later, I attended the sessions at the Community Youth Parliament and I was again invited to join the Sihambela Phambili group for hiking trip. It was the most exciting and difficult experience. What made it exciting was that it was my first time to be involved in a hiking adventure. While climbing the mountain i had moments where I felt like quitting because hiking Table Mountain was difficult. I kept on going because I had a support structure that I believed in. The most valuable lesson I learnt from the hiking was that life is not an easy journey. You have to work hard because it pays off at the end of the day!

As of now, a day does not go by, without looking at ways in which to make my community a better place to stay. Apart from that, I am also studying accounting and I aim to have my own business .

My name is Anga Maki and you are currently looking at your future Social Entrepreneur, motivational speaker and Accountant. A special thanks to Thembinkosi Matika, the Community Youth Parliament and Educo Africa, for giving me the inspiration to be change that I want to be!

written by Anga Maki

anga @ table mountian

Inspired by a pair of shoes

In the mountains…

In the mountains Dumisa shared his story. In the shadow of our beloved and craggy mountains, this young Xhosa man risked sharing his pain – making himself vulnerable and in so doing strengthening a resolve to create positive impact for his community, his people.

A father who told his son to leave school to herd the cattle. A boy who believed in his intelligence, who ran from home to complete his education. A mother who quietly supported.

The boy moving towards man, excelling at school, at sport. The unfolding journey of becoming who he was born to be.

A particular memory. A new school term. Dumisa having no school shoes. Experience of shame. No shoes, what would his peers say, what would his teachers say? Of taking an old pair of trainers, painting them black.

“It was the best I could do. I had to have school shoes!”, the voice of Dumisa echoes in the mountain. “Every child should have school shoes.”

Living the story forward…

An email: “Hi Mark, I am starting a project to distribute school shoes to young girls at the school in my village. Can Educo help me?”

Dumisa wrote a letter, appealing for assistance, explaining why shoes were so important. “The first children to drop out of school are the girls. We need to make sure that they get an education.”

The letter went out. One of our international participants caught the story. Pam, a science teacher from Pennsylvania, shared the story with her church.

The unfolding of the story… well… in December Dumisa went home, and at a ceremony with the Elders of his community distributed over fifty pairs of shoes.

The story doesn’t end there. During this year, 2013, Dumisa has grown his project. Still with a central theme around ensuring school shoes are provided to children. He has now added a mentorship system to support the school learners in achieving success at school.

And I promise you, the story won’t end there either!

To add…

Dumisa is an example of potential lived in a young South African. I have yet to meet a young person who does not have this potential. Our society has to create increasing spaces to allow this potential to be lived.

I applaud Dumisa for the telling of his story, it took courage. And in his words and emotions there was never the vaguest expression of disrespect to his family. I honour him for this.

Dreams and vision can be seeding opportunities for bigger dreams, bigger visions. Rumour has it from the Sihambela Phambili community that plans are afoot to build a school in the Eastern Cape. And that, dear reader, is how we build a better world!


As is the norm of the majority of South African youth, Thembinkosi’s story is not an easy one. In the story of his childhood there is the stuff of poverty and trauma. The image of Thembinkosi as a teenager with his fist in the air, raging at the indignity of a childhood violated.

A few years ago Thembinkosi joined Educo Africa in the wild mountain spaces where we work.   “Before I went up to the mountains I knew what I wanted to do with my life but I had a lot of things that I needed to let go off. I had alot of anger in me that came from the things that I’ve been involved in growing up in the township. I was also angry at other people from my township that had surrendered to poverty and lost hope. Before I met Educo Afria I thought I felt like I was fighting a loosing battle. At the mountains I got a grip I got to realise that my problems are lighter compared to others and when I got back from the mountains I was ready to take on the world”

And Thembinkosi today is living his purpose. He is a member of Educo Africa’s Sihambela Phambili’s Leadership Team, he runs a weekly Open Mike Jam session for the youth of Mfuleni, he has designed and implemented a youth parliament equipping other youth leaders with the knowledge and skills to engage with the various government structures.

He is running a recycling enterprise creating livelihood for unemployed youth, Oh and one other thing, he runs his own urban agricultural project.

Thembinkosi is an inspirational man. One of many examples of young South African’s who are choosing to lead today. In his choice, building a stronger future for all South African’s.

A youtube  Clip of Thembinkosi discovering and living his potential:


cloak of mandela

Who wears the cloak of Mandela

Go to the mountains and the mountains will offer you a reflection of who you are. Oftentimes this reflection is very different to the masks we have created in defining our own reality. Oftentimes the mountains will reflect a truth that offers a new journey, a new realisation of who we were actually born to be.

A course starts, new faces, people. Spirit is light, smiles dance to hide anxiety. New voices –impressions formed. The first supper talk of men and women’s role, traditional Xhosa perspective – this was my first meeting of Sipho.Standing amongst a group of men making light of the power of women.

The first voice of Sipho was a voice of aloneness.“I don’t trust anyone. I am my own man.If I am to get anywhere in this world, it will be by myself. I don’t need other people.”It was a belief that he expressed repeatedly over the first day or so of the course. A defence worn as amour to protect himself from a hurtful and hard world.

Day three, early morning, cup of coffee in my hand. Sipho approaches, talks of how people always want to take.He works for stuff and then has to share with his family, all the time.How is he expected to get what he needs. Frustrated look on his face, “it is better to be alone, I will get things done for myself, don’t want to need anybody, don’t or can’t trust.”

But a second voice in Sipho started to be heard as the days passed. A voice that took hold in Sipho, witnessed by us all, that grew stronger with the passing of each day. It was first heard after the rock climbing activity. A sharing amongst the participants as to who offered us support and to whom did we offer support? We use the metaphor of Belayer, the person who keeps the climber safe on the rock face for people to express where they find support.

Sipho’s voice: “I have no one as my belay, as I have said before, I don’t trust people, it is better to do things on my own. But,” and now in a quieter voice, “I think I have offered my younger sister support, there was no money for her school in my family, so I paid for her – this was a good thing I think, the right thing to do.”

Ja, I thought to myself quietly – the guy who doesn’t care for others does indeed, what else is going to emerge?

And so on a hot autumn day, shaded in a small cave next to a river, a new voice of Sipho was brought to our community. This voice was received and blessed, echoed back to Sipho by the valleys, crags and cliffs of the beautiful Grootwinterhoek mountain range over the next five days.

When we had finished speaking of where we are supported back home, it was time to select a new group of leaders to take us to our overnight camp. Two women volunteered.We waited for a third to raise a hand. It took a while and then Sipho’s voice: “Ja, I will join this group.”

A difficult hike, long and rocky uphills. The group got tired, there were tears, angry mutterings of frustration, feet with blisters, backs sore from heavy backpacks. And all the while Sipho leading. Considering each and every team member, how to draw on their strengths, challenge weakness, draw team spirit into a powerful united whole, that brought us over the final saddle and down into the night’s campsite.

I was in awe. I had witnessed a leadership skill so rich, so enabling, from the very participant who declared himself a fierce loner, an individual who stated that he did not trust.

The next morning we gathered in our first morning circle to give feedback to the leaders of the previous day. As I listen to the group’s feedback I find myself contemplating on a phrase brought to me by my elder and friend Howard Goodman: “This work of Educo Africa it is really about creating the Mandela legacy.” As I muse on this in reflecting on what I had witnessed in Sipho the previous day, I hear Jasien speak: “You know, to be honest,Sipho came to speak to Ishmail and I about how to lead.He was scared, maybe almost in tears – not sure that he could do this thing, I mean guide the group, support and lead to our destination. I told him not to worry man.You know what we call Sipho at Tsiba?We call him Nelson – yes after Mandela – he is that kind of man. And look at how we got here.” He turns to look at Sipho. “You are that kind of leader Sipho. I look up to you.”

So days pass. I watch Sipho.He smiles more, seems to take delight in offering to assist, introduces a rich humour that keeps us in laughter. Maybe without conscious intent he continues to serve the group, binding, strengthening and supporting.

The day of the peak climb, there is Sipho, walking next to an older woman in our group, holding her hand as we struggle up a fierce incline. ‘Mandela legacy’ does not seem right.That great man’s legacy is his own gift. I start to imagine a cloak, created from a fabric stitched from all the qualities of our first President, Nelson Mandela. I see that cloak worn around Sipho’s shoulders as he moves his life forward – Sipho is living a new potential, a stronger reality – in spite of all he has to face.

One evening with the setting sun, the group moves out, alone for a twelve hour solo. A night to reflect, forgive and ask for forgiveness, a night to dream their song – their future. As with all the people, Sipho returns the next morning and shares a story that is heart rendering. We now understand why he has struggled to trust, why he would rather have walked alone. Sipho’s story is his story and not to be shared by any other than him. But the final image he presents is that of a dream just before he woke up. A dream of Sipho playing with his dogs – an image of joy and belonging.

Our last night together, final check-in, before we move to course closure. The simple question asked, “How are you?”

Sipho: “I am a new born man, I go home changed – my heart is open. I will go home tomorrow and walk into my brother’s house, and no matter what the conflict, the problems, I will lift my arms and shout,‘I am home.Come and greet me.’ ”

So, the cloak of Mandela.A young man comes to the mountain.Through pain and hurt his voice shouts, “Leave me alone!” And now he leaves, returning to the same challenges and hardship, but with a new song in his heart – a song that holds the rhythm of community, that invites trust. A song forSipho,a man who knows he can lead. For me he is wearing the cloak of Mandela – inviting the future for this country that is already being lived in our young people.

Slowly and with Digidy 2012

Slowly and with Digidy

If you were walking in the depths of the Cedarberg Mountains a few weeks back, you might have come across a group of people sitting under a tree, discussing the events of the day. It has been quite a day; many hours have been spent rock climbing and abseiling.

At the time one could sense the tension, the doubt and the fear amongst the participants. Equally present was the sense of accomplishment, joy, mastery and support amongst the group as this difficult feat was accomplished.

The smell of the evening meal drifts across to where the group is sitting.

The pace of the discussion slows down as if to settle into the tempo of the setting sun. Ken, one of the Educo staff members, points to the mountains and with a voice that reflects the variety of countries in which he has lived, draws the group’s attention to the changing hues in the mountains lying behind us. Johnny, sitting on a log opposite him, points to a leather pouch hanging around Ken’s neck and asks: “What is that?” “it’s my Pa waw ka,” replies Ken.

“A what?” asks Sammy, his eyes showing equal amounts of fascination and confusion.

“A Pa waw ka,” repeats Ken, “it comes from the Shawnee Indians.”

Darkness descends on the camp as Ken tells us of the Story of Tecumseh, the great Shawnee Chief, the pa waw ka and the rites of passage which each Shawnee youth had to complete; about diving into an icy river over a two-month period; the walk from the village to the river and back, at a pace which was “slow and with dignity”; and the search, on the final dive down to the river bed, to retrieve a power-piece, which symbolised the ‘fire in the belly’ — the inner strength that had been cultivated through these rites of passage. Once acquired, it would serve as a reminder in the difficult times that might follow.

Ken draws the story to a close and for some minutes them is a period of reverent silence as the young people relive this story in their minds. Finally Johnny asks: “Ken, how can we get a Pa waw ka?”

“By earning it,” Ken replies.

A month has passed and the students participating on the first part of the programme have returned and are now well into the second and final part of the course. In this time they have learnt numerous wilderness skills and have supported each other when things got tough. They have been angry with one another, and resolved their anger. There has been laughter, and there have been tears. A sense of community has supported the students through the challenges that the wilderness has provided. “Slowly and with dignity” has become the motto of the group.

The youngsters constantly refer to the story of Tecumseh. ‘Are we going to earn our Pa waw ka?”, the most frequent question asked after,’ When are we going to eat?” The story has become a symbol for their experience.

The youngsters know the story — who Tecumseh’s brother was, his stepfather, the name of the great river into which he dived, and the fact that his powerpiece was a rare crystal.

We return from a two-day hike. A storm has been moving in. Every member of the group is soaked, but before we can get dry, tents need to be pitched. This is our last night together. In the late afternoon the boys gather in the small kitchen area and are shown how to make the pa waw ka’s (leather pouches). There is excitement amidst the concentration. The pa waw kas need to soak overnight and will be ready for the final ceremony in the morning. The students have done well, we have hiked in miserable weather, yet the spirit in the group is high. There is fire in the belly.

The storm hits us at about 11:30 that night, some two hours after we have all climbed into our tents. The tents are flattened by the gale-force wind. All of us move into the tiny kitchen. Even though some of the guys are a bit grumpy, space is shared. Israel swops his place with Sammy who is afraid he might fall off the table which has now become a bed. Clinton comes back outside to offer assistance to the staff, who are busy saving the tents. Through the night rain and wind force their way into the small building.

Morning, wet and grey, greets us. There is work to be done and the students get to it — tents packed, pots cleaned, order slowly taking form amidst the debris of the previous night’s storm. “When are we going to get our Pa waw ka’s?”, I am asked, over and over again. When the time is right the group begins the walk to the river. “I’m not going to swim,” says a voice filled with anxiety.

I hear Sammy’s laugh. “We must walk ‘slowly and with digidy”.

We reach the river and sit in a circle on a sandbank. The weather has cleared slightly; blue sky can be seen through the clouds. The group’s excitement and noise quietens of its own accord. They are not too sure of what is going to happen, but they know this is the moment they’ve been working towards. This is the occasion. Ken, who carries the spirit of the Shawnee nation both in his blood and in his soul, talks to the young people that surround him: “You are fine men, and I call you men because you have behaved in a way that reflects the best qualities of men in this time we have spent together”

Each boy is gifted with a small crystal, a gift from us with a message of the strengths we have seen shine in his personality during the time we have spent together.

And beside us there is the river. Ken turns to the group: “You have truly earned your Pa waw ka. If you so desire, I invite you to do as Tecumseh did, and meet the river.”

And I remember this — Johnny standing, stripping to his shorts, and (maybe not slowly but certainly with dignity) running to the pool and diving into its depths with the grace of an athlete. I remember as Johnny emerges, his clenched fist raised in triumph, the huge smile and the bellow of victory. And I remember the words spoken: “This is a day in my life that I will never forget.”



I have a photograph on my screensaver, it is of Jacqueline and our two children, taken somewhere in the Cedarberg. She looks beautiful as mother, our children younger than they are now. I have watched her mother for over twelve years, through cities and mountains; times of laughter and tears. Always she is mother.

With the rising sun I watch Tumi return from her nights solo. She is an older participant in this group. Mother of two children. Awhile later we sit in sacred circle and listen to her story of mother.

“I lay in my sleeping bag, afraid of the aloneness, of this wild place. I knew that the night would take me to a place that I feared and yet had to know. I lay in my sleeping bag and in this was back in my mother’s uterus. I was graced to be born – and in my birth my mother died.

“I was so fortunate, I was adopted by a woman who loved me deeply. Loved me as mother. In this I grew well and I grew strong.

“And then it was my turn to mother. One day sometime ago I walked down an aisle to a man who was to become my husband. A short time passed and I was pregnant. And I longed for a child who would look as I do. For a time when someone would pass in the street and say, “Haai Ma this child looks just like you.” And this is what happened, my son does look like me and people do say this thing. My heart is happy. I am indeed blessed for the love of the mother who raised me, for the love I have as mother. One day soon, I will adopt a child. I am a mother.”

The group sits, somewhere in the depth of the Grootwinterhoek mountains, voices call into the valleys and peaks honouring mother.

“Yes we were poor, but my mother never let us know hunger.”

“She was beaten so badly by my father, one day my brother and I could take it no longer that we fought against him – why wouldn’t we, she loved us.

“One day she spoke to me on my own. ‘Be strong, be your best, you have enough courage to do well in this life. She is dead now, but I remember her words and always try to act as she asked.

“If I think of the person who has supported me more than any other it is my mother.”

I sit with my backside on the soft earth, my back resting against my backpack. Think of Jacqueline, who on this morning is rushing through the million tasks before taking Emma and James to school. I think of my own mother, her gifting me with an unfathomable love for the wild places of the Earth.

There is really nothing profound to add. A particular course in the mountains – a collective voice found in a small group of people bringing forth stories and memories that honoured women who birth, raise and love so deeply – Mother.

A few days later I return to Cape Town. Jacqueline and the children are waiting for me at the Educo office. Children run, laughing arms calling for hugs. J leans against the bakkie watching. Strong children, strong mother.

Joannes story

Jo-Annes story

Jo-Anne* had been raped when she was four, then again when she was nine. The first time by an uncle, the second whilst walking home, this time by a group of men.

I don’t know the details of Jo-Anne’s life; her profile indicated that she was in the institution for manslaughter. Jo-Anne entered into my life for ten brief days during our first Youth at Risk course for female adolescent offenders. This is about her celebration.

Jo-Anne, we were told by staff, was highly anxious in the proximity of men. “Don’t go too close to her,” they warned, adding “do not attempt any physical contact.”

In the first two days of the programme, Jo-Anne was slightly withdrawn from the group. She was close to Amanda, one of the youth workers, but for the rest she seemed to keep pretty much to herself.

Shakes, an Educo instructor, quietly entered Jo-Anne’s world as “Brother”, and with great gentleness and wisdom threaded his way through her terror of men. His trustworthiness allowed Jo-Anne to somehow see and connect with an image of woman in her being, perhaps for the first time ever.

The fire burned; the group now in their second to last night sat grouped around the flames. Conversation, games and some laughter, eyes focused on the dance of the fire. I sat to one side, aware of the group, but happy not to engage. I reached for my guitar and settled into a rhythmic chord sequence, allowing my mind to wander over the day that had just passed.

Jo-Anne moved from the kitchen area and stood quietly in the centre of the room, still apart from the rest of the group. She stood there a while, listening to the sound of the guitar, then placing the dish cloth on the counter, she slowly started to move, her body pulling into the music. Dancing with her back to the group, she was before us in all her beauty, not dancing to entertain us, but dancing in celebration and recognition of that which was woman, that which was her essential self. There was no sense of time. She moved and flowed, graceful and sensual, a being of great mystery. The group’s concentration shifted from the fire to the dance. No one spoke, yet all were part of this ceremony and honoured its depths. The dance continued. Spontaneously, someone would stand and join Jo-Anne, in another moment several would be dancing with her, in yet another she would be alone. Young women joined, danced, and returned to the fire.

In celebration of her womanhood.

The course is over now, the follow-up meeting at the institution completed, reports and assessments written and filed; life moves on.

And for this young woman, Jo-Anne, may the dance continue….

*Jo-Anne is not her real name

Its a kak story

It was a k** storie

When I first started making compost, I took delight in throwing peelings from our vegetables and fruit into the compost bin. For months I was frustrated by the transition of fresh fruit and vegetables into a slimy, sour morass. It was only after a visit from a friend of mine who is a horticulturist that I learned that compost is only formed through the addition of a solid and frequent addition of horse or cow manure. Then you get solid compost, and from this you can create a vegetable garden – the cycle ne’.

How does this relate to mountains and young people?

Some context:

Context One

On all our programmes we practice a “leave no trace” ethic. Essentially what goes in leaves with you. For young people from city environments this oftentimes creates a degree of shock and disbelief.

We introduce them to our good friend Dug, a lightweight shovel and provide them with ziplock bags to store the usedtoilet paper.

It is all part of the process.

Context Two:

Any group who joins us in the mountains is invited to bring the fullness of their own unique story. Most often people shed the defences and scales of persona; allow the wild space to enter their soul, to heal, to transform and to clarify a way forward. This is a courageous journey, one we hold in awe. On occasion we get a group, who walk with us who chose rather to stay protected and defended. Their defence is one of “everything is cool, we have it all together.” Yeah right!

This is a story about a latter group;the “we are all together and can speak volumes about harmony and honesty etc” type of group.

Reuben and Linda are running the final wilderness programme for a group of students from a tertiary education institute. These young people are the final students of a larger group, who have who specifically asked for our wilderness programme to develop their leadership ability.

These young people however, are complacent, a sense from the facilitators of not being fully engaged. This group use plenty of words pertaining to trust, respect, “show-up”, integrity and the like. Yet under the surface it would seem that darker and smellier stuff is lurking.

But time in the mountains, will bring its own maverick to the party – mountains willteach on subjects that are not always within the expectation of the student or ours for that matter.

Morning after a twelve hour solo, participants have been in the mountains, alone from sunset to sunrise. They are walking back, a time to tell stories, bring trauma from the past to a place of rest, equanimity.

After breakfast they gather in a cleared area adjacent to the tents. Linda notices what appeared to be a newly built cairn of rocks, possibly symbolic, she had thought. Closer inspection reveals a different truth.

This is not carefully arranged pile of rocks, no, someone has dropped a pile of sh*t and bog roll then covered the fragrant package with stones. Not exactly creating an ambience conducive to process work or narrative therapy.

The conversation that followed went something like this:

Reuben: “Uh guys, who has done this?”

No response

Linda: “So let’s allow this person to clear the mess then we can move on.”

No movement

Linda again: “Hey – are we not a truthful group, did you guys not say that you are friends who stand together, work together, support each other. Are we not standing around a pile of human faeces that belongs to one of this very same group?”

Reuben: “Ok so let’s go around the circle, and repeat after me, I do solemnly swear that I did not leave this deposit so help me God.”

Twelve iterations of this follow.

No confession, no honesty – compost in the making!

According to Reuben and Linda, things got pretty emotional, blame and accusations follow, two participants reduced to tears, blamed victimised – no one takes responsibility – I promise this wasn’t me.

And then there was silence, only the wind through the Fynbos. A voice, quiet from one participant: “Hey guys, we don’t trust each other, we do lie – we aren’t so cool together.”

Linda’s voice: “Maybe that is as good as it gets for now, our truth in this moment – question is how do we move forward?”

The two participants who are to lead the day, stitch the group together, a little humour, buckets of care, participants are fragile – I thought we were ok. Thought we were friends, it seemed so cool, what does that pile of sh*t in the middle of our circle mean to who we are, to who I am. (And of course who did it in the first place?How do we really trust each other again?)

The course continued to its closure, less pretence, more quietness, rawness – vulnerability. The participants depart from the mountain with confusion in their eyes.

One young woman’s last words to Reuben: “you just can’t pretend in these mountains, can you?”

When we take people to the mountains we don’t walk as teachers, the mountain is the teacher – we can only guide, gently and truthfully. Even around an illicit pile of faeces. The mountains however, will reflect truth and bring us lessons that will test us and grow us. No matter how much we smile or speak subtle words of ambiguity.