The iThemba project in Cape Town gives children from disadvantaged backgrounds a better start in life – with the help of mileage donations.
“iThemba” means hope in isiXhosa, the second most common native language in South Africa.
The mileage donations of Miles & More members have been bringing hope to children in Vrygrond/Capricorn, a socially deprived suburb of Cape Town, since 2007. help alliance has built a preschool and a primary school here, where numerous children already benefit from the excellent education and support.
The successful collaboration between Miles & More and help alliance, which aims to support disadvantaged people around the world, is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2021. It is a great opportunity for us to present success stories like the iThemba project to you – and for us to reflect on our cooperation so far and look to the future together.
The big anniversary interview
Andrea Pernkopf, managing director of help alliance, and Sebastian Riedle from Miles & More discuss 15 years of collaboration.
1. How did the collaboration between Miles & More and help alliance come about 15 years ago?
Sebastian Riedle: Miles & More wanted to meet the wishes of its members to use their miles for a good cause and also to support their social commitment. We then got together with help alliance and started the “Miles to help” programme. The success of the partnership shows that it was the right decision. Over the last 15 years, our members have donated over 733 million miles. These have helped pay for approximately 35,000 meals and 17,000 satchels, pencil cases and school books, among other things, for disadvantaged young people. Furthermore, the donations have given 700 young people the chance of an education, enabled the construction of several school buildings and orphanages, and provided around 100 annual salaries for medical staff. These are just a few of the countless examples of important things that have already been achieved with the miles.
2. How exactly do mileage donations to charity work?
Andrea Pernkopf: It’s very simple. Miles & More members can donate as many award miles as they wish. The full value of the miles converted into euros directly benefits our projects. This is particularly important to us. help alliance projects are managed by, and are the responsibility of, Lufthansa Group employees working on a voluntary basis. This is how we make sure that every single mile really reaches its destination. At the moment, 14 out of 40 help alliance projects are being supported with miles.
Sebastian Riedle: All Lufthansa Group employees are encouraged to contribute socially. They are also given the freedom to get involved in help alliance projects. The same also applies to Miles & More employees. Nine colleagues were active volunteers in help alliance projects last year alone.
3. One of the projects that Miles & More members can support with their award miles is iThemba in Cape Town, South Africa. What exactly has been achieved with the miles that have been donated so far?
Andrea Pernkopf: Let me elaborate. iThemba, our big educational project in the Capricorn township, actually consists of two individual projects. The first project is a preschool for children between the ages of three and six, which we have been supporting since 2006. In addition to early childhood education, the children also receive healthy meals. These are essential for their development due to the prevailing poverty and malnutrition in the area. Mileage donations have been helping to finance three basic areas in the preschool since 2007: first and foremost a diet rich in protein and vitamins, but of course also basic learning materials and school uniforms, as well as teachers’ salaries.
We then noticed that when children moved from preschool to primary school, there were often problems finding a school place at all, or the children had to travel very long distances. This led us to the idea of building a primary school directly in the township, which would seamlessly follow on from the preschool. We have now successfully opened the school, and the South African government has even recognised it as a model school. The concept is currently being extended to other schools – which makes us particularly proud and shows that we can really make a difference.
4. That is also, in part, thanks to the donations of Miles & More members, is it not?
Andrea Pernkopf: Yes, work started on constructing the iThemba primary school in 2015, and the construction is being carried out in several phases. From 2017 onwards we have been able to use a large part of the mileage donations to carry out the first construction phase of the iThemba primary school. We were able to open the school in 2018 and enrol the first 105 children. The following year, another 105 enrolments followed due to an expansion of the school. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, additional construction phases then followed in 2020. We are delighted that a total of 560 children are currently attending school there.
5. What role do the birthday donations made by frequent flyers play in this?
Sebastian Riedle: A very large one. Thanks to the frequent flyer birthday fundraiser, the expansion of the building in 2019 could be completed much faster, giving even more children access to quality primary education. In addition to the regular mileage donations, the extra donations meant that a completely new school block could be built, with four classrooms and two purpose-built rooms: a computer lab and a life science lab. This achievement means that the school now has the capacity for over 700 children and is able to meet the high demand.
6. Can you outline, by way of an example, the “career path” of a child who has been there from the beginning, and how their situation and possibly that of their whole family has changed?
Andrea Pernkopf: There are so many examples. I particularly remember an anecdote from the project manager, Susanne French, who goes to visit in person several times a year. She knows a family there with three children. Since the project didn’t include a primary school to start with, the two oldest children were only able to attend the preschool. They had to switch to another primary school, and the way to school was much longer and more dangerous, because the parents often couldn’t afford transport. For Susanne, this family provided a further incentive for the urgently needed construction of the primary school, in order to effectively continue the high-quality preschool education. Otherwise, there is a great danger that children in these situations no longer attend school regularly.
After preschool, the youngest daughter of this family was lucky enough to be able to go straight to the new primary school nearby. She is currently in fourth grade. With the school virtually on her doorstep, she has a safe and short way to go. For families like hers, this means less of a financial burden due to the savings on transport, which is expensive. This is also a relief for many of the mothers, who help each other with taking the children to school and picking them up, as it means they can work more flexibly. The whole community is proud to have such a great school with standards that are comparable to a private school.
7. What joint projects are currently in the pipeline? And will the partnership be expanded?
Sebastian Riedle: A joint project for the future is the Togo project. Mileage donations from the Miles & More community will be used to help finance the construction of a training centre for young people in the West African country of Togo. Very few children and young people in Togo have access to a solid education, and without it, they can quickly find themselves on the margins of society. We want to work together on changing that and giving them better opportunities. To motivate as many of our members as possible, we are planning on letting them share in the progress being made on building the training centre via the Miles & More media. We would like them to experience what can be achieved with their donations.
Even after the anniversary year, we want to provide ongoing information about help alliance projects in the Miles & More media to motivate even more people to take part. With their mileage donations, our members can really make a decisive contribution and support disadvantaged people. By continuously reporting on the successes and the faces behind them, we naturally also create trust.