Inspired by optimism of Cape Town's poor

Amy and Jon Ostroff with a group of orphaned and vulnerable children they took on a field trip to Robben Island, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was once imprisoned.
Amy and Jon Ostroff with a group of orphaned and vulnerable children they took on a field trip to Robben Island, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was once imprisoned.
Posted: January 06, 2014

I blame it on the wine. My husband, Jon, and I were at a wine-themed fund-raising auction in spring 2008. There was a lot of wine, and we had tasted our fair share. At the end of the evening, we were chatting with friends near one of the silent-auction tables when it happened. A video montage of exotic animals cavorting across an African savannah caught Jon's eye. "No one has bid on it yet," he murmured softly. "Put our name down." "What? Are you joking?" I practically shrieked. "Do it," he calmly replied.

And with that, we were on our way to a South African safari a few months later, but we had no idea how much it would change our lives.

The safari was incredible, to be sure. We marveled at the experience of being up close and personal with magnificent animals living the way they should. We haven't set foot in a zoo since.

We spent six days in the Kwazulu Natal region on safari, and then had four days planned for Cape Town. I had read an article about Cape Town in Condé Nast Traveler magazine shortly after the end of apartheid and never forgot the too-beautiful-to-be-true images of the city. I always dreamed of seeing it for myself and was thrilled finally to be visiting.

It lived up to every expectation. Jon and I describe it as "San Francisco on steroids," with breathtaking beauty, an incredible wine region close to the city, creative food, and a range of experiences close at hand.

While we were there, we also wanted to get to know part of the country that sadly, many visitors pass by: the townships where the majority of the black population lives. Under apartheid, the townships were places of forced segregation, and to this day, they comprise mostly miles of cargo containers and shanties, with limited access to water, electricity, and sanitation.

We spent a day on a private tour of Langa Township, visiting homes, a school, and an orphanage. The conditions were often heartbreaking and dire, but we were struck most of all by the spirit of the people we met. Despite their conditions of hardship, most had an inspiring inherent optimism. Jon, who does math problems in his head for fun, started calculating how far our dollars could go in South Africa and the impact we could have, and we were hooked. This was a place where we could really make a difference.

Long story short and several trips later, we started a 501(c)3 charity called Love to Langa and have since funded and expanded an orphanage, built a classroom at an early-childhood center, funded a photography program for at-risk teens, and sponsor five children to attend school. Our plans include building a community hall and more schools.

We can now add another way wine is good for your heart!


Amy Ostroff writes from Gladwyne. To learn more about Love to Langa, visit www.lovetolanga.org.

info@lovetolanga.org

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