the beauty of empowerment

global development

Happy Birthday Mathapelo

Isabell Bernal

Today we are celebrating Mathapelo's birthday.

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She's outgoing, joyous, funny, and loves to entertain everyone she meets.  She's also brilliant. After a couple months of working in the studio with her, I realized that Mathapelo has a photographic memory. She's extremely smart, hardworking, and loved by all.  Today I'm excited to be sending her some birthday love.

why we work in South Africa

Isabell Bernal

As a result of the apartheid regime, extreme poverty is still prevalent in South Africa.  The driving force of poverty is unemployment.  Among the poor, seven out of ten children live in households with no employed members. 

 Children are the most vulnerable in the face of severe poverty.  Annually, 75,000 children die before the age of five.  When families are poor, children are often the first to die of hunger and preventable diseases.  In families with no income children are not likely to attend school, because their parents are unable to pay for fees, transportation, or uniforms. 


South Africa has the largest burden of HIV and AIDS in the world.  Over 20% of AIDS related deaths in the world are women in South Africa.  1 in 5 South African children is an AIDS orphan, meaning women are left to care for their children and the children of deceased family members. 


Neela hires the poorest of poor in the Roodepoort informal settlement.  10,000 people  live in this slum and lack access to electricity, plumbing, and running water.  Women who work for Neela were previously attempting to raise their children on less then a dollar a day. 

When we ran out of money, that was it, it was gone, we had nothing to eat and the children were always sick.
— Mfono, on life before working at neela

The solution to ending poverty is empowering their mothers, and getting them a reliable stream of income.  A family needs to earn at least $700 a month to get out of poverty, and at Neela we work hard to make that possible.