Small steps to big changes

Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the problems of the world, particularly in Southern Africa, where poverty and inequality remain huge challenges. Disillusionment can cause people to shrug their shoulders and think “What’s the point?” But that’s why we love stories of how one small action can have ripple effects. This is one of those stories.

Peta-Anne Browne is a 24-year old final-year med student at the University of Pretoria. Since she was a young girl, she’s been corresponding with a pen pal in Zimbabwe named Anele Moyo. Anele, who is now 18, lives in Ndlovu Village, 40km outside of Victoria Falls.

In 2014, Anele revealed in one of her letters that she was struggling to pay her school fees and that she might have to drop out. Peta-Anne decided to do something to help. Her family was planning a trip to Zimbabwe, so she decided to run the Victoria Falls Half Marathon and seek sponsorship to raise funds to cover Anele’s school fees.

One of Peta-Browne’s mom’s friends, Anri Parker, donated a Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle that she had received when she won the opportunity to ride the Grand Fondo Pinarello. Initially, Peta-Anne thought the donation was an old, used bicycle, and she questioned the wisdom of lugging it to Zimbabwe. She was thrilled when she saw it was a brand new, robust Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle.

“The run was by far the best half marathon I’ve done, the views, the people, the course and mostly: the motivation,” Peta-Anne wrote afterwards. “The views were incredible. I ran across the Victoria Falls bridge from Zimbabwe into Zambia and back again; that’s something to tick off the bucket list! There were so many countries represented, from Canada to China. The atmosphere was amazing, with locals cheering on the streets and even a traditional drumming group at one water point. Something that really put things into perspective for me was running past a local village girl, almost Anele’s age. She was running in socks. There are no words to describe how lucky we are. I waited for her at the finish line and needless to say, in the spirit of my run, unlaced my sweaty takkies [sneakers] and handed them over, she put them on immediately.”

In total, Peta-Anne managed to collect just over R19 000, which cost covered the cost of an antique coal stove and chimney for Anele’s family’s hut, toiletries, clothes and shoes for Anele and her family, as well as a full set of school uniform, school stationery for Anele and lessons with a private tutor, and the remaining six months of Anele’s school fees due for 2014. Peta-Anne also bought two solar-powered lights to help Anele (who had no electricity at home) to do her homework at night.

During their time at Anele’s village, the Browne family got to meet the whole community and Peta-Anne showed Anele how to ride the bicycle. Very few people in the village own bicycles, and it was something Anele had never imagined happening to her. She was thrilled, as were her friends and family, who gathered around to watch her learn to ride.

“The few bicycles already in the village were also Buffalo Bicycles, provided by a UNICEF programme,” Peta-Anne says. “So the community knows and loves the Buffalo brand.”

Peta-Anne was moved by the experience and decided to keep working to help Anele and her family. She started collecting second-hand clothing for Anele’s sister, Tessa, to sell. The following year, she rallied three friends, Michelle, Andreas and Pierre, to join her to run the Victoria Falls Half Marathon again. Anele and some of her friends also ran the race together.

Peta-Anne and her friends decided to fundraise to refurbish the dilapidated church in the village, where Anele’s uncle is the pastor, as well as to keep funding Anele’s school fees.

They managed to raise a total of more than R45 000, which allowed them to completely refurbish the church, from repainting it inside and out, to installing solar lighting, burglar bars and sound equipment.

The church, before and after (exterior).

The church, before and after (exterior).


Before and after (interior).

Before and after (interior).

Peta-Anne says that one of the highlights of the second trip to run the Victoria Falls Half Marathon and visit to Anele’s village was seeing how proud Anele was of her bicycle and how it had become a village tool.

Anele's bicycle, one-year on.

Anele’s bicycle, one-year on.

Peta-Anne and her boyfriend continue to sponsor Anele’s school fees. She’s currently doing her A-levels at a small private school where she is able to get more one-on-one help with her school work. Peta-Anne says that once she’s earning a salary in 2017, she hopes to help Anele to attend a college to receive tertiary education.

When asked why she has devoted so much time and energy to help one family, Peta-Anne says that if every person chose to help one other person or family – a “micro charity” as she says – there would be a chance of making a tangible dent in reducing poverty.

Peta-Anne says that since the church has been renovated it’s become a sort of community centre. Her next idea that she’d like to implement is to fund more “village bicycles” for the community to use to get to school, healthcare facilities and to access economic opportunities.

For more information or to help, email Peta-Anne on pabrowne@icloud.com.