A sparkling future awaits ORT SA as it celebrates its diamond anniversary


ORT South Africa has its eyes firmly set on the future as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.

The cornerstone of a week of special events has been the launch of a formal fundraising campaign “モ the organisation’s first in 17 years “モ featuring the award-winning singer and national icon Johnny Clegg.

“We have always raised funds but we are embarking on a more strategic approach. Our target is to raise R 5.5 million, which would be on top of our existing operational income streams,” said ORT SA National Director Yehuda Kay.

The campaign title, Helping to Write the Next Chapter of ORT, is a nod to World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg, who wrote earlier this year, “Every day becomes the history we have made of it”ᆭ we must ask ourselves how will we write the next chapters What will each of us do to ensure that ORT not only continues to achieve but builds on its successes and reaches out to the growing number of people who need our help ”

And as ORT SA uses its diamond anniversary to take stock and chart the way forward, it has plenty of success to build on.
“I was unprepared for the sheer scale of what ORT South Africa is doing here,” said World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer, who is in the country for the first time in more than five years to celebrate the organisation’s anniversary and tour some of its projects in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
“Each year tens of thousands of people benefit from the skills training and job placements, business support and educational enhancement ORT provides. Meeting ORT South Africa’s devoted lay leadership, dynamic professionals and inspiring beneficiaries the message comes through clearly that education is much more than basic schooling; it’s about empowerment and support through which poverty can be tackled and meaningful lives built. It’s very good to see a 75-year-old organization so vibrant and relevant.”
While in South Africa, Mr Singer has visited ORT projects in the poverty-stricken townships, talking to students who are destined to beat chronic youth unemployment thanks to Geared to Life, through which they gain recognized vocational qualifications and experience, and meeting teachers whose abilities in maths, science and technology have been boosted by ORT SA’s Educator Empowerment Department.
He has also met some of the hundreds of beneficiaries, volunteers and supporters of ORT SA’s groundbreaking Jewish Entrepreneurial Training (ORT JET) programme, through which seasoned businesspeople and professionals mentor those struggling to make their own businesses a success.
The sophistication, as well as the scale, of ORT SA’s operations is all the more remarkable when one takes into account that for most of its existence the organization was devoted to fundraising and it made a valuable contribution to ORT operations worldwide.
“We did not want to cooperate with the Apartheid-era education system in South Africa,”? said National Executive Committee member Dorienne Levitt, who has been involved with ORT SA since 1983. “It was thanks to our then chairman [World ORT Secretary] Martin Behr that we became an operational organization 10 years ago; he was the one with the foresight and drive to employ our first national director and get us on the road.”?
The “symbiotic trust”? between ORT SA’s professionals and activist lay leadership has been at the core of the organisation’s astonishing growth in that decade. And its work for people of all ethno-religious backgrounds has attracted many new young supporters who like the idea of making an unabashed Jewish contribution to the development and success of the Rainbow Nation.
“These anniversary celebrations are not about looking back. There’s no point in doing that; what’s done is done,”? Ms Levitt said. “I think we will continue to develop and grow, sticking to the same mission and to the strengths we’ve developed and using the international expertise we can draw on. We won’t fade over the next 75 years. There’s a lot of work to do and we’re perfectly poised to do it.”?
Lydia Abels, the Director of ORT SA’s Cape branch, agreed. She introduced Mr Singer to local supporters at an awareness-raising event.
“People were impressed by what ORT is doing worldwide and excited by the possibility of doing something similar in South Africa,”? Ms Abels said. “Robert [Singer] showed pictures of [World ORT’s Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Science, Education, Cultural and Sports Campus in Kiryat Yam, Israel]”ᆭ Our townships and villages are much worse than that so if we can do even a portion of that here it would be marvelous.”?
ORT SA is carving out a distinctive place for itself among South African communal organizations and is about to re-launch its website with the ability to accept donations from overseas.
“There are many ex-pat South Africans who give to all sorts of things but not to regeneration in South Africa. Hopefully, they will see that ORT is doing amazing things and will want to support us,”? Ms Abels said.
Among new ORT SA projects is the formation of a Microsoft-accredited IT training academy. An initial group of 20 disabled people has already completed a 10-day course in basic computer skills.
“It’s very exciting, South Africa has never had an NGO-run IT training academy before,”? said Mr Kay. “It’s very important: you can’t get a job nowadays without computer literacy. So we have courses ranging from the very basic to advanced. And once our students are computer literate we can look at other skills and business training.”?
ORT SA is also introducing the Educator’s Assistant Learnership initiative, which gives students who have matriculated from high school but do not have the resources to study further to become teaching assistants in their alma mater. They will undertake administrative duties, help to maintain discipline in the sometimes large classes, institute after-school sports and cultural activities, and provide educational support for students. In addition, they will take a vocational qualification in project management.
“The experience will prepare them for the responsibilities of the working world while they are still in a familiar environment. Their confidence and self-worth are increased by having a job and earning a monthly stipend while they study toward a further qualification,”? Mr Kay said.
And there are plans to roll out the highly successful Learners of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow programme piloted at the Minerva School in Alexandra township. There, 19 teenagers who had been selected for Geared for Life took over responsibility for a vegetable garden which provides fresh food for the school’s kitchen.
“We’ve taken it a step further so that in addition to teaching agronomy they learn a range of other skills such as marketing and leadership and develop their self-discipline,”? Mr Kay said.
Literally, as well as figuratively, ORT SA is sowing the seeds of further success.