Customized Girl is seeking out “custom girls” – women who are doing extraordinary or interesting things. This month, we caught up with Beth Masters. Beth runs the Dikatole Scholarship Fund – a non-profit organization she established to help children get out of the dangerous squatter camps of Johannesburg. Here’s her story:
Where, or what, is Dikatole?
Dikatole is located in South Africa on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It is considered a squatter camp and is riddled with drugs, crime, and extreme poverty. [Squatter camps] are for people with nowhere to go, and unfortunately many orphans are forced to call squatter camps “home.”
What is life like in Dikatole?
The first thing you will notice is the smell – an overwhelmingly terrible smell of raw sewage and garbage. The streets are covered in sewage, and there is garbage everywhere. I’ve seen a stray dog being torn apart by another dog. Drugs and violence are predominant – it’s just NO place for children to live.
How did you become so involved with children in South Africa?
It began in 2006 when we made our first trip to South Africa for my son’s (Jake) high school project. While we were over there we saw a small child crying because he simply wanted a toy but there were no toys for him to play with. We realized we could bring these kids joy by supplying a simple toy so we decided to go around and start handing out beanie babies to AIDS orphans in South Africa. We later took it a step further and began throwing pizza parties for the children as well.
What were the children like when you first met them?
At first they were very shy because they weren’t used to being spoken to, hugged, or even read to. They needed to be socialized. One of the women who ran a nursery in Dikatole referred to them as kittens that needed to be loved and cared for.
How did this transition into the Dikatole Scholarship Fund?
After one of the pizza parties on our way back to the airport we saw a boy walking home with one of our bright party bags but he still had a look of desperation on his face. He was walking “home” with his feet in raw sewage. This image haunted Jake and I because we realized this boy had nothing to go home to. On that flight home we decided we needed to stop giving out toys and start giving kids an education to benefit their future.
Why did you decide education was a solution?
These kids needed something more and we felt like we needed to do more and we could do more. They needed a chance to better their future in hopes of getting them out of Dikatole. We just knew that education was one of the most important things we could give them.
Are there public schools in Dikatole? Why not just enroll these children into these schools?
There are public schools in Dikatole, but they are worthless. They are government run schools with no teachers, no books, and no supplies. If children are really going to overcome these circumstances, they have to get into good schools. That’s become our goal … getting these children into great schools.
So what is next for these children?
We decided we needed to get these children to a day school outside of Dikatole. When we started we made a pact with 8 children that if they stayed out of trouble, worked hard, and did well in school we would be there to shake their hand at their high school graduation. This day school wasn’t going to be easy though. They would have to walk 2 miles to school everyday and it was going to cost about $400-500 a year for each student. But we knew we could do it and they wanted to do it. We quickly saw that this day school was a good start but we needed to do more. We needed to get the children out of Dikatole completely. They couldn’t go to a day school and come back to Dikatole with all of the violence and drugs. It is especially bad for the girls because they are endanger of being raped or trafficked. So we needed to raise the bar, from beanie babies to boarding school.
How many children have you helped so far?
When we initially started we made a pact with the 8 children who are now about to enter 7th grade. We since then have expanded to 15 children who are slating for boarding school and have an estimated 9 children to actually start boarding school within the next year.
How else have you impacted these children’s lives?
One of our boys, Andrew, was tragically hit by a car and put into a government run hospital with no doctors, no medication, and no help. He was basically left alone grasping for his life. We got him out of this hospital and into a private hospital where he was able to get the care he needed to save his life. We also have provided an eye surgery for one of our girls who had a vision problem that was affecting her education and life.
What have been some of your favorite/most memorable moments?
Well I’ll tell you my funniest moment and my most memorable moment. The funniest moment is when I asked one of our boys if he remembered our promise about graduation and his was reply was “yes” but he was concerned that I would be in a wheel chair when the time came. These kids aren’t used to seeing someone as old as I am. I’m only in my 50’s but they are used to their parents passing at an early age.
My most memorable moment was when NBC was filming our project and they asked one of the boys to tell them something about me that they (NBC) didn’t know and the boy responded by saying that I am a great mother. This really touched me because even though I only see them 3-4 times a year, they think of me as their mother figure. It truly made me realize the difference I am making in their lives.
You’ve talked about so many challenges and hard things that you’ve seen. Do you ever consider quitting or giving up?
No. Never. I’ve cried a lot, but I never considered quitting. I consider these kids a part of my family and think of them as my own children. You would never just quit on your own child.
What advice do you have for women today?
Your journey will never look like what you thought it would. It will always continue to change and morph. You may not know what your journey is but just go with it, roll your sleeves up and do something! You have to just get out there, observe your surroundings, and find things that need to be done. Your message and your purpose will come to you.
Beth Masters is a truly Customized Girl making a statement in our world. What questions do you have for her? Ask them in our comments section below!
And, check out her recent interview on the today show