The Edmond Sun

April 1, 2013

Thunder player’s charity benefits Africa’s future

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

OKLA. CITY — Many children who can been seen on the mean streets of Mamelodi, South Africa, look up to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha and not just because he is 6-feet 7-inches tall.

Sefolosha has been spending an increasing amount of time in the country, developing an abiding affection for the people.

In 1984, shortly before he was born, his mother and father left South Africa for Switzerland. In 2011, Sefolosha became the international spokesman for IMBEWU (eem-b-woo), a Swiss foundation that manages sustainable projects in South Africa. Through the foundation, Sefolosha is developing a program in Mamelodi, a place that is a world away from Oklahoma in more ways than one.

Sefolosha’s father is from Mamelodi, which is situated on the outskirts of Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. Social problems in the city, a township with a population of more than 1 million, include poverty, unemployment and HIV/AIDS, which has left many children without a mother or father.

A youngster named Tumi is one of those children who looks up to Sefolosha. Tumi’s older sister recently died from AIDS and he faced an uncertain future. His chances for a better life changed when he was accepted by Sefolosha’s charity.

Sefolosha and IMBEWU-Suisse are developing a program in Mamelodi that will allow more than 150 children ages 8-18 participate in after-school sports activities on a daily basis.

Sefolosha said the program uses sports as a tool to develop leadership and life skills and to educate children about issues such as crime, sexual abuse, the environment, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, nutrition and hygiene.

In 2011, more than 200 Oklahomans attended the first Night for Africa, a charity event headed by Sefolosha and his wife Bertille. After the event, the Mamelodi program was launched. More than 250 girls and boys ages 6-18 came from partner schools in the township. They were coached by dynamic and motivated youth leaders who came from the same underprivileged areas.

More children like Tumi who want to be accepted by the program are on a waiting list, Sefolosha said.

A Night for Africa is in its second year of helping children in Mamelodi. Sefolosha and teammates Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison will be part of the invitation-only event, which will be at 7 p.m. April 13 at a home in Gaillardia.

“I look forward to another great event and seeing friends again and meeting new ones in a one-on-one setting,” he said Monday. “We have already accomplished a lot with the first event. However, because we still had to turn away so many requests from children there, we need the support of the Oklahoma community more than ever to continue to help these children.”

Sefolosha said the generosity of Oklahomans has been inspiring.

A Night for Africa will feature a silent auction of sports and other rare items, a fashion show with South African designer clothing, an exclusive wine tasting, African cuisine prepared by some of the metro’s finest chefs, an update by the Sefoloshas on the progress of the charity and images from their visit with children like Tumi.        

The goal for event is to raise $100,000, which would pay for enrolling more than 200 youth in the program, provide thousands of meals and provide a basketball court and soccer field. Donations of any size, no matter how small, would be most appreciated, he said.

Bertille Sefolosha said 98 percent of every dollar donated to the charity benefits the children. She said her husband has been extremely active in all areas of the charity.

For more information about A Night for Africa and IMBEWU-Suisse, visit Donations also may be made securely at the website. | 341-2121, ext. 108