By Chandrea Serebro
Although Shane Bassin is every bit as remarkable as his CV, one that could give even the most accomplished person a run for his money, he is still just a normal teenager who likes a good comedy series and having a laugh with friends. As KDHS Linksfield’s representative on the Johannesburg Mini Council for 2011-2012, it was the time in his life, he says, “when I was first empowered to help others in an official capacity”. But it’s not a title or official position that makes Shane so successful at changing the lives of others and changing the world. It’s, quite simply, in his genes.
“Ever since I was a little boy I have been helping people through my mother who runs many outreach projects and who has devoted her life to the service of others. I remember accompanying her to various AIDS children’s homes at four years old, holding, playing with, and comforting dying AIDS babies. From age 10, I started accompanying my mother and a group of other physiotherapists to rural South Africa where we would travel for hours over dirt-roads up the mountains to locate profoundly cerebral palsy children with the aim of providing therapy. I later was part of an interfaith programme between Jewish and Muslim students at Baragwanath Hospital where, every Friday, we would come together to bring a smile to those hundreds of babies and children who were overlooked at the hospital. We brought much joy and cheer. But my childhood opened my eyes to a life and reality that few others have ever seen. I was exposed to the intolerance and inequality that many people face.” But he is still just a normal teenager, who describes himself as liking positive people with good attitudes who build others up and who enjoys helping others. And then some – because Shane’s helping others has not only changed the world of so many individuals, but quite literally, the world.
The programme that would “change [his] life forever”, however, was when he was enrolled for The Presidents Award (TPA) for Youth Empowerment (internationally known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award) by a Muslim associate. “I was recommended by the regional director of the award to join the Gauteng Presidents Award Youth Committee – somehow he felt I had what it took. The committee was made up of elected representatives ranging from the best private schools right down to township kids. Together we shared one vision: to help empower and unite youth. I served on the committee from 2014-2016 and was then honoured to have been voted chairman of the committee. This year, chairing the committee has been very successful. I not only reached my target that I set to raise, but I did a huge amount by way of organising a youth leadership and humanitarian summit for at-risk youth. This included youth from correctional facilities/prisons, children’s homes, underprivileged schools, and more. The aim: to motivate young adults to become changemakers in their communities.” Shane initiated #Mad4Pads, sanitary pads collection from schools and shopping centres across Gauteng, raising over 11 000 pads that were distributed to needy girls.
“The part I love about the award is that it does not matter who you are or what your past is, everyone is equal. Meeting and socialising with hardened youth offenders is normal. There was one project where the main attraction for me was the chance to join forces with inmates from a maximum-security prison and, together, transform the surrounding communities. I was not allowed to attend this trip, but after begging the leader of the trip every day, she finally allowed me to go. I loved it so much that I returned the next year too.”
“TPA has opened so many doors for me and it has shaped me into the man I am. In May 2016, I received an award from Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex. At the ceremony, I was asked to share my award story, as well as be the personal usher to Prince Edward.”
“Being a teenager, growing up as I did with the influences that I had, I had many unanswered questions about so much. In Grade 10, I decided to go to Dharamsala, India (home of HH Dalai Llama and the Tibetan community living in exile) on a youth volunteer/self-empowering trip. Part of the programme was teaching them English. I loved the interpretations of the Tibetan monks.”
In 2015 Shane was selected to be a delegate on the Gordon Institute of Business Science Spirit of the Youth programme for 2016. This is GIBS’s (University of Pretoria’s prestigious business school) leadership programme that equips over 100 Grade 11 and matric delegates with skills needed to move our country forward. He was also selected to be a youth ambassador for the CEO SleepOut 2016. “Being one of five school ambassadors, my role was to promote the event and encourage as many schools to participate as possible and be part of marketing and branding for the event and media reports. On the night, I accompanied the other ambassadors like Kevin Richie and Yusuf Abramjee to different venues.”
Shane was chosen as one of six young people who were featured by Rooi Rose magazine in August 2016 in their feature entitled Youth Making a Difference in their communities, and he was recently selected to be part of the Junior Board of Directors (JBoD) for HDI, a youth marketing agency that works with big corporations, a board that helps organise client events and be the voice of the youth to major companies. Shane recently introduced the selling of Bottle2Build waters at school. With its unique shape of a brick, when those empty bottles are returned, they are used as bricks to build classrooms in underprivileged areas. “We have recently just completed our first Bottle2Build grade R classroom in Soweto.”
Ultimately, Shane would like to become a “Human Rights campaigner, fighting for dignity and humanity at the UN”, and it’s probably safe to say that it won’t be long before we see him there, still a “vegetarian for humanitarian reasons”, enjoying the travel that comes with the job because, despite all the accolades and achievements, he is just a normal guy doing good.
It’s not every day you get the opportunity to look at yourself, and the world, with a magnifying glass and see a space where you can make a change. And if you are lucky enough to have even one of these moments in your life, few people have what it takes to act on it. Kayla Borowitz had that aha! moment and, together with a group of like-minded teenagers, built on it to make a change and do good.
Kayla heard about Diller, a 15-month international teen Jewish leadership programme that is based on four pillars – Jewish identity, tikkun olam, leadership, and Israel – and knew it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. “It aims to develop leaders, transform communities, and make the world a better place. 2016 was the second year the programme was run in Johannesburg and I was lucky enough to be one of the 20 Jewish teenagers from Grade 11 in Johannesburg to be accepted.” But it was one project that she worked on as part of the Diller team, The Culture for Care programme, which spoke to her. Part of Diller’s ‘impact projects’ – initiatives created by the Diller Teen Fellows aimed at incorporating all the skills they have learned throughout the programme and to make a difference in the world – inspired Kayla and five of her Diller fellows to take it further.
Drawing on the ‘Ubuntu’ summer camp programme from the 2015 Diller group, they continued and further developed the idea, this time focusing specifically on exposing underprivileged kids to the beauty of arts and culture. With the help and funding of the King David School’s Foundation, they held a four day summer camp at King David High School Linksfield for 50 children from the Hyani Orphanage in Alexandra. Volunteers ran various cultural activities from art and music to singing and dancing with the children.
“Through this project, I realised much how I take things like culture for granted. It helped me equip myself with organisational skills and to understand the most efficient ways to get things done. The project taught me about improvisation and how to handle and adapt to situations if they don’t go according to plan. I learned that sometimes embarrassing myself and being dramatic and silly is worthwhile and necessary when dealing with children. The experience enabled me to put all the leadership skills that I learnt through Diller into practice. I led, multitasked, made compromises, and made my vision as a leader the vision of everyone involved. Importantly, I got to create bonds with incredible children and experience four days of pure joy and happiness which was the most rewarding and fulfilling feeling. I like to believe that the project affected the volunteers in the same beneficial way that it affected me.” How could it not, as the children were given a platform to be creative and express themselves through cultural activities they had never previously encountered? “Youth are not only the future – they are the present. The youth are creative, vibrant, and exciting, and it is in these visionary and imaginative minds that ideas come to the fore and change can occur. Diller and the Culture for Care project have given me the opportunity to incorporate and instil all of these aspects into my life and, for that, I am eternally grateful. For me, it was a chance to learn and grow through making changes, to explore and find passions, and to help create a sustainable society for future generations. Doing good like this can help us all become the best people we can possibly be.”
Ayala Moffson, Shira Sacks, Gabi Farber, and Daniella Weinberg
Echad was started by a group of cousins, Ayala Moffson, Shira Sacks, Gabi Farber, and some supportive friends, Daniella Weinberg and others, in memory of Daniella Moffson, a”h, who was tragically killed while on an overseas trip that was aimed at helping and giving medical assistance to underprivileged persons.
“At the end of January 2016, we received the tragic news that our 21-year-old cousin, Daniella Moffson, passed away in a horrific bus accident in Honduras,” say Ayala Moffson and Shira Sacks. She had been volunteering; using her ten-day break from university to assist with providing medical attention to those in need. She had been on her way to the airport, bound for home, when the bus plunged into a valley. “As there is no such thing as coincidence, it makes total sense that the valley was called ‘The Valley of Angels’. Had you known our cousin, you would have realised that, indeed, she was an angel,” says Ayala. “She was a girl who used everything she was, everything she had, and everything she could be to better herself through bettering mankind.” Daniella was a prime example of a Jewish youth doing good, having volunteered for various causes since she was a young girl, cheering sick children in hospitals, traveling around the world, including to South Africa, to change the world for good. “The news was suffocating. My soul felt a strong desire, if not an outright necessity, to curl up and yet, at the same time, do something very real and impactful. With a drive to move, but no energy to budge, I was left in such a quandary, and my siblings and cousins shared the same dichotomy,” explains Ayala.
The girls soon realised that those whose lives Daniella had touched, and her family and friends here in South Africa, were not the only ones trying to find a way to perpetuate her name in a “connected and constructive way, while looking for some personal solace too”. During the week of shiva, with the family spread all around the world, each phone call to America spoke of various things Daniella’s friends were doing in her honour – new charities, dividing the books of Tehillim and mishnayos, contacting existing organisations to see how they could help, taking on personal growth commitments, collecting stories and images to compile for the family. “We were all trying to manage the kaleidoscope of emotions and bring some tangible plans into focus. We tried hard not to get stuck in the sadness but move onto plans for good, never ignoring the pain but trying to use the pain to motivate a system forward,” say Ayala and Shira.
The need to do something bigger than themselves, something that did even bigger things than that, was niggling both girls as well as their friend Daniella Weinberg and cousin Gabi Farber. “We wanted to ensure that Daniella would not only be in our lives forever, but that all that she was would continue to inspire people everywhere. She personified the ways of an Eishes Chayil and the mission that women have on this earth, and so we looked to create an organisation that does the same. We chose to turn to G-d, hand-in-hand, heart-in-heart, to create a space for all young Jewish girls just trying to serve Hashem and empower each other,” say Gabi. So, explains Daniella, “together, we came up with an organisation called Echad. It means ‘one’, and Daniella stood for a oneness on so many levels. She was one with herself, feeling confident in who she was; her body and soul were one, as she used her body to act and live while giving consideration to her soul at all times; she was one with all those around her, as she never judged anyone to be below or above her. It was a perfectly fitting name.”
But from that single, defining characteristic, the organisation grew into a powerful vehicle to bring girls and women together. The first event was a successful challah bake where over 400 women and children gathered to make challah. There, handmade tzedakah boxes that were handed out have just recently started coming in and the money generated has exceeded all of their expectations. “Echad is using this money for various things connected to Daniella’s personality – from helping children suffering with cancer, to setting up a fund for wedding shtick,” says Daniella.
For Purim, Echad created an event that was “fun, frum, cool, and last, but certainly not least, says Ayala, in the true spirit of the chag – all about giving. We filled two party buses with girls from all the Jewish schools and went to various locations to do chesed. We delivered michloach manot to the wonderful residents of the Capri, Sandringham Gardens, Our Parents’ Home, and Selwyn Segal. It was a massive success and our organisation was well on its way to spreading the joy of giving,” she explains. For Shavuos, Echad arranged dynamic speakers for comfortable, enjoyable learning throughout the night where over 300 girls from around town learned, ate, and connected together as one. Echad also held a seudah shlishit (third meal on Shabbos) for the Shabbos Project. “The weather was against us, and though we would never hope for a rainless afternoon, we were not excited to see the build-up of clouds. However, the dark sky did not scare off our girls and we had an amazing turnout. Girls who wanted to sing together, eat together, and be together. We had an impressive array of girls and their mothers who were ‘keeping it together’. Girls from all different schools and from various neighbourhoods came as one to escort out the Shabbos Queen. We had an unbelievable speaker and we are confident everyone grew from the experience,” says Daniella.
With each event, friendships are being formed, girls are growing and developing an identity, and more people are pitching up and pitching in to help out. And while all of this is in Daniella’s honour, it seems that the girls are cut from the same mould, as Ayala, Shira, Daniella, and Gabi have a strong sense of their own for doing what is right and what is good. “I believe that if there is a gap somewhere we must fill it. If there is a need for something we must provide a service and if there is a problem we must make a solution. We can either choose to complain or we can choose to do. Make the changes and be the change,” says Gabi. “Often, people have much to say about what needs to be done but don’t actually do anything. We are doing what we feel is needed: uniting girls.”