Indiana State Rep. Vernon Smith, Ph.D., (D-Gary), who is also associate professor of educational leadership at Indiana University Northwest, is known across the state for his many efforts to bring hope, education and opportunity to young people and to underserved populations in Northwest Indiana. Now, Smith is throwing that same energy and compassion behind efforts to raise assistance and awareness for impoverished citizens of South Africa, many of which endure a standard of living far below that of even the lowest-income American citizens.
Smith traveled to Soweto, South Africa, last year and witnessed firsthand the despair of many residents there. He vowed to help bring material and spiritual sustenance to that ailing region of the world by raising funds twice each year for MaAfrika Tikkun, an innovative non-profit group that tales a holistic approach to solving the economic and societal problems of South Africa’s poor.
Smith explained that MaAfrika Tikkun helps the youth, the elderly, HIV/AIDS patients, and others who are in need by empowering the community. Those who live in the neighborhoods are trained to help one another, he said. Smith insisted that even small donations to the organization make a big impact on South African lives.
“MaAfrika Tikkun is extremely efficient with the donations it receives,” Smith said. “The organization can feed an individual for a little more than $30 a month in South Africa, so a $10 donation can provide nourishment for a hungry person for nearly 10 days.
“By planting these mustard seeds, our faith and the $10 donations will move mountains in South Africa and allow people there to rise above poverty,” he said. “And, as they rise, they will come to a realization of their true human potential, which will empower them to fully contribute to the future of their families, their communities and their country.”
Former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Nelson Mandela is MaAfrika Tikkun’s “patron-in-chief.”
“The MaAfrika Tikkun project demonstrates, in a practical and sustainable manner, what can be done by limited resources, great commitment and passion,” Mandela stated in the group’s annual report. “The challenge to reach all the disadvantaged people of South Africa remains a paramount one. We need all the resources, both human and financial, to address these challenging tasks.”
Smith said he was reminded recently of his trip to Soweto by a late-night television program about South Africa.
“The images were so real again,” he recalled. “There were tin shacks, children running around in tattered clothing, and raw sewage standing stagnant alongside the streets. Poverty was everywhere. You could see it. You could smell it. You could feel its ominous grip on the people in the township. Many had no running water, no electricity, no garbage disposal, no healthcare, no educational opportunities, and no hope for change.
“As I lay in my comfortable bed, sadly remembering those faces and voices, I recalled a commitment I made to myself to help these sisters and brothers who live so many miles away, yet reside close to my heart,” Smith added.
Anyone who would like to join Rep. Smith in bringing hope to South Africa’s poorest citizens may send checks, made payable to MaAfrika Tikkun, directly to Dr. Vernon G. Smith, P.O. Box 64222, Gary, IN 46401. He will forward all donations directly to the organization.
Smith has taught at IU Northwest since 1992, and he has served in the Indiana House since 1990. The educator has a remarkable record of teaching and public service that spans four decades and includes 145 awards and more than 100 citations of achievement and appreciation. In March 2008, Smith received IU’s W. George Pinnell Award for Outstanding Service.