So much can be understood about a person or group if we go back to the beginning, back to that person’s roots.
O Grace Land was born out of a concern and a hope – to form an organisation that will help vulnerable young women to stand on their own. We spoke to Philani Zama, founder and managing director of O Grace Land, to find out the very first moments where O Grace Land was breathed into life.
We asked Philani Zama ten questions:
Q1. Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to becoming O Grace Land founder
I grew up as a farm boy in KZN, went to Pinetown Boys High and ended up studying Economics and Accounting at an FET College. There was trouble with finances at home so I left college and I came down to Cape Town where life was very tough. One day I got into a conversation with an old man who saw something in me (that I never saw in myself) and gave me an opportunity to become a Corporate Finance researcher. Funny thing is he never asked for a single qualification. I worked in his company for a few years before I felt drawn to work in NPO’s with communities.
Q2.What is the moment where opening a girl’s home first entered your thoughts?
The funny thing about God is that he puts you at the right place at the right time to meet different people so you can step into his purpose. I worked with a man called Solomon Madikane in his organisation, Realistic. It was at that time that I fell in love with youth – I was interacting with youth who were coming out of prisons. Through that I found my rightful place. I felt that God had put me in that specific moment so I could realise that I am meant to serve youth.
Q3. When did you feel O Grace Land take its first breaths?
For me it was literally a conversation with our now-Chairman Oupa Majola, who was my mentor; it was a telephone conversation back in in 2010. At the time he believed in me while O Grace Land was just in my head. I pitched my idea of a girl’s home to him and he said “Lets do this”. At that moment, for me, it was done, it was happening.
Q4. Tell us about the name, O Grace Land
One day I woke up and had an “aha” moment and I said “I will call it “O Grace Land”. It was later that I knew what it was all about. I realised that the ‘O’ was in honour of Oupa Majola, the man who had first believed in the vision of O Grace Land. I realised weeks later that my whole life in Cape Town has been a preview of God’s grace in my life. Although God’s grace is all around us it also take people to help share his grace with us. Finally the word ‘land’ is a place – a small place for now, but it represents its hoped-for impact on the nation and hopefully an impact globally, far and wide.
Q5. You’re a 26-year-old Zulu man, why do you feel called to help youth and female youth?
When you talk about Zulu men – the perception is that we are hard and don’t express feelings, so I want to break that mould. I want to show that men have nurturing instincts, that we are protectors. As men we are there to make sure women are protected – and to look after women, not because they can’t look after themselves, but we have a gap to fill, because there is such abuse against women. There are no better people who can step up and protect women and children than men, who were always called by God to take up that role. I also want to encourage my peers, young men and say “You don’t need to be old to start taking responsibility to start caring for women and children”.
Q6. What of your own unique talents do you bring to running O Grace Land?
What I bring to O Grace Land is my experience in…
– working with youth – I have over 6 years of experience working with Baphumelele Children’s Homes in Khayelitsha as a Programme Manager and with SA-Yes, the mentoring NPO. I learned about youth themselves and working in the sector;
– corporate finance – I think about a bigger picture and how other funders and partners can get involved;
– and the business side. I’m very business minded and I want to make sure O Grace Land is self-sustainable and runs as a business.
Q7. Who are your mentors? Who has supported and lead you in this journey?
I love to draw people close to me and without an official name to it, its a mentoring relationship. I’m inquisitive, I like learning – so I learn from everyone. I believe that you cannot re-invent the wheel and its so wise to learn from the mistakes of others and to apply their wisdom to your life. The O Grace Land board have been excellent mentors to me: our Treasurer, Nelisiwe keeps me accountable, Elijah offers me advice on many issues and of course our Chairman, Oupa Majola has been a solid rock. Outside of that there is the CEO of Argon, Mothobi Seseli who has been a great mentor, really walking with me, offering his wisdom. And there is a big brother, Jerome Nzama who has been there every step of the way.
Q8. How will O Grace Land express the value of independence and self-sustainability?
I love to read and I have learned lessons – the first thing you need in order to help youth is
1. relationship – rapport and trust are the very start of things;
2. then you can model things for them and show them what independence looks like in your own life.
I don’t want to create a secondary children’s home but a place where youth come in and go out with the knowledge, skills and tools that they need to be sustainable and independent in the world.
Q9. What is your vision for O Grace Land?
My vision of for an O Grace Land girl to walk out of O Grace Land, with a sense of her own identity. She is able to say ” this is who I am” and that is unshakeable. I want to see growth in her, especially in her emotional intelligence – that she has processed enough of her own story and history to be able to separate out the facts of an issue from her emotions. I would like to see her independent (either working or as a student). We will also partner with existing NPO’s like School of Hope and Leap schools.
Overall I long to see the O Grace Land woman impacting society, giving back and spiritually intact. We long for O Grace Land to be a place where a girl can explore her faith and spirituality freely, so that a true relationship with God could develop.
Finally I have big dreams for O Grace Land – that its impact would spread all over the nation and even globally – why not open places like this far and wide?
Q.10 What is next for O Grace Land?
In three words its “Renovation” “Programme” and “People”. We are right in the middle of the renovation of the building – today the plumbers are here putting in pipes and the new ceilings have been added in the kitchen. A team of men has also been fixing the beautiful windows and those are finally going in this week. Then next we are finalising programmes and staff – as we see funding start to come in as people start to share the vision of O Grace Land.
We also want to have a Cheese & Wine celebration near the end of the 2016. We will invite all donors to come and see what they have been part of (literally) building. We’re excited to share this dream, this concern and hope with many people, partners and mentors.