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Stretching the borders of family

Many children in South Africa without reliable adult role models, now have online access to trained and trusted mentors from around the globe – thanks to Infinite Family.

Amy Conrad Stokes (CNN 2011 top 10 hero) developed the idea of mentoring children in Africa when she and her husband travelled to Johannesburg in 2003 to adopt a son. At the time, webcasting technology was just beginning to take off in the private sector and after connecting the right dots, it led to the first mentoring lab in Berea, Johannesburg in 2006.

Now almost 500 children as young as eight and up to the age of 23, have been mentored by vetted and trusted adults from all over the world. They ‘meet’ on a weekly basis and the benefits from their exchange extends far beyond inter personal relationship building. Thanks to the process of supervised co-browsing on the internet, video chats and content sharing, the children soon show improvements in academic performance, language and writing skills as well as acquiring computer and technical skills that will be invaluable in their future work place.

To prepare mentors for the task, they must undertake six hours of online training, focussing on differences in culture, HIV and AIDS, dealing with death, as well as many other subjects they may encounter. Children can also capture their feelings in a blog format and it is deeply moving to hear their hopes, dreams, fears and hurts. Allowing the children to express their innermost thoughts in a safe environment is very therapeutic and healing whilst allowing mentors to determine what a child’s needs are.

In addition to the existing labs in Soweto, Berea, Alan Manor, and Tau Rapulana School in Bodibe (Northwest province), a new generation lab was launched in July in Alexandra, Johannesburg. The newly designed labs have a low environmental impact (LEI) and will be almost entirely “off the grid,” with hopes to adapt to solar panel energy resources shortly.

“The model is rooted in personal, sustained relationships, making it innovative and enduring. We have proven over the past five years that distance mentoring of South African students works. It is effective, sustainable, and valuable,” says Stokes

Infinite Family website

Image 1: A rendering of the new low impact computer labs recently launched
Image 2: Mentoring in action, children 0f various ages benefit from adult guidance
Image 3: Infinite Family aims to connect people through space and time
Image 4: Amy Stokes with (from left): Dana Gold, Lesley Yaniv, the Infinite Family Video Mentor who nominated Amy and Katy Keck, Infinite Family Board Chair
(Images courtesy of Infinite Family)

Sub-edited by Suzi Lidquist

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