Teens dream big with Amaoti Project
Photo by Kerin McTaggart
Cami Rencken with Tracey, who lives in Ingwe with her husband, Eric, their three children, and nine other abused or orphaned children from Amaoti, outside Durban, South Africa.
When Anastasia the hen hatched her first egg ever, Cami Rencken was a witness. She also saw that Anastasia had neglected to make sure a second chick got out of its shell, so she helped free it. Then, with the mother hen still oblivious to her second-born, Cami proceeded to keep the baby warm by cupping it in her hands. All afternoon, through dinner, into the evening. When it was dark, she helped tuck the chick under Anastasia’s warm rump next to its sibling. The next morning the baby was fluffy, adorable, and part of the family.
That kind of caring and thoughtfulness defines Cami. A 14-year-old Kenwood School alumni, now a sophomore at Maria Carrillo High School, she brings the same can-do attitude to all aspects of her life, from excelling in schoolwork to helping improve the lives of children in South Africa.
The South African connection is central to the Rencken family: Dad Ingo is a South African native, and Cami’s brother, Christian (a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder) was born there as well. Though born in the United States, Cami is also a citizen of South Africa. With mom, Kerin McTaggart, the family goes “home” to visit every summer, spending much of their time in Durban, where Ingo was born and raised.
In past years, the family has traveled with suitcases full of clothes, soccer gear, and other supplies for needy children in orphanages and schools in the informal, impoverished, mostly black settlements that surround Durban. Many of those goods were donated by generous Kenwood and Glen Ellen residents, who knew that the Renckens would deliver the items to those who needed them most.
For five years the family’s charitable efforts focused around building a soccer program for underserved South African youths. Being dedicated soccer players and fans made that goal a perfect fit – both Christian and Cami have played competitively for club teams and for their high school varsity squads, and the family has traveled to two World Cups, including last year’s tournament in South Africa. But the soccer program, associated with Nurturing Orphans of AIDS for Humanity (NOAH; www.noahorphans.org.za), now has international support, according to Kerin. With soccer secure, she and Cami began looking for something new to focus their community service efforts on.
Though the poor settlements around Durban have many needs, Cami’s search ended when a family friend introduced her to “creches,” or day-care centers, in the black community of Amaoti. Overcrowded, with minimal supplies, and sometimes housed in ramshackle structures of aluminum and paper, the creches spoke to the American teen.
“I wanted to do something small, that wouldn’t cost much money,” Cami explained. “You know, buy posters, pencils, and crayons.” And she wanted to work with her friend Jackie Schloemp, another former Kenwood School student who now also attends MCHS.
Through a variety of fund-raising efforts held during their freshman year (2010-2011) – bake sales, a pancake breakfast at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Kenwood, and other endeavors – Cami and Jackie were able to raise $1,500, and found they could “think bigger,” Cami said. With the donated funds they were able to help renovate an old sports facility called Ingwe, where South African natives Tracey and Eric were raising their three children and nine other abused or orphaned Amaoti children they had taken in. The building had few amenities, but the donations of local merchants, combined with a workday organized by a South African teen, resulted in a freshly painted facility with new bedding that was purchased with funds raised by Jackie and Cami.
Cami and Jackie were also able to purchase 16 durable plastic scooters, which were donated to Amaoti creches. Kerin explained that the creches were identified by Yvonne Haviland, project leader for the feeding program run by Indlela, a Christian organization that supports early childhood and primary education in Amaoti and other communities, and also provides meals for hungry children in schools in Durban’s northern townships, and runs a babies’ home, where abandoned infants are cared for until they can be placed in with families. For more information on Indlela, visit www.indlela.org.za.
The plights of the creches, and Indlela’s promise to help, inspired Cami and Jackie to take on a new, bigger community service project. By 2013 they’d like to raise $5,000 so that they can build a new creche – a wooden building that could be used to care for up to 40 children of all ages.
“If it’s a real structure, local governments and churches would give grants and support to the creche,” Cami explained.
Kerin elaborated, “If Cami and Jackie can earn $5,000 – $3,600 for the 1,000 square-foot building and $1,400 for the security fencing and other security needs. Indlela would train a woman in the community [to run the facility], supply the educational supplies and furniture, and would connect with the elementary school to be sure that these kids can be educated. The principal of the elementary school has promised to take the children if we can do this – thus providing 40 children with the possibility of a stable future. And Indlela will feed them.”
Cami and Jackie have yet to figure out all the details of how to collect money and supplies for the Amaoti creche, but they have created a Facebook page for what they are calling the Amaoti Project. The girls encourage those interested to “like” the page; details of how to make donations will be posted on that site. Pictures of the Ingwe project, and of the creche building that Cami and Jackie would like to help erect, are also on the Facebook site.