Hope For Limpopo

“Your Help Builds Their Future”

2019 Vhutshilo Mountain School Newsletter

5/20/2019 |




After a long battle with Cancer our beloved director Ms. Sue Anne Cook (Suzi) passed away on the 1st November 2018.  Her funeral was held in Johannesburg and on the 1st December 2018 VMS hosted a memorial service to celebrate the life of this great woman.  It has been a heart-breaking time for the Tshikombani Community.


In 2002 as Sue Anne became aware of the growing number of children living with HIV/Aids in her community, she modified her mobile home and created a school, providing transport, education, two nutritious daily meals, clothing and medical treatment, as needed.  

“As multiple problems working with children and families living with HIV/Aids presented themselves Sue Anne rose to the challenge.  Not only did she create a school to education and care for “her” young children, she began supporting their extended families.  She introduced a garden program that provided fresh vegetable for the school and weekly food care packages for families, developed the first paediatric antiretroviral (ARV) program in the village, established an adult support group for women living with HIV, a caregiver support group, a peer support group and an outreach program.  Suzi and her assistant Khathu taught the importance of and encouraged adherence to HIV/Aids drug regimens and fought the stigma and shame attached to the disease.  Aware of the level of unemployment among the children’s caregivers she introduced programs and training in goat husbandry, farming, sewing, computer skills and bead making, encouraging small business and employment opportunities. Her impact on the quality of life in Limpopo was far reaching.


In March 2019 Khathu Nemafhohoni was appointed the Director of VMS. She has been with VMS since 2006 and has worked side by side with the late Director.  While we mourn the loss of VMS founder, Sue-Anne Cook, we are pleased that this transition will be seamless due to Khathu’s knowledge of and past participation in all aspects of VMS. Ms Mukwevho, a qualified educator who has been with VMS since 2013 is the principal of VMS and will be working in concert with Khathu.


With 61 young scholars (ranging from 18 months to 5 years), the school continues to buzz with the chanting of lessons and hearty singing. We have 3 classrooms: grade R has 22 learners aged 5-6years old, pre-school with 21 learners aged 3 to 4 years old and the babies class with 18 babies aged 1 to 2 years old.  Our three dedicated teachers ensure that children are well educated and cared for. Due to continued parental demand, next year we will be adding Grade 1.  Currently when our students age out of VMS, they attend different schools in their villages. VMS remains in contact through our outreach assistance with a home visit to monitor the children and give any needed support to the family. The feedback from the schools and the guardians is encouraging; VMS students continually take first position and have good grades in all subjects.  We can proudly say that we are the best and most sought after pre-school in the area!


With local doctors and community members praising our efforts in improving the health of and reducing the numbers of children/youth dying from HIV/AIDs, the death of 22-year-old ‘Philly’ was a shock to us and heart breaking for our community. Philly was born with  HIV/AIDS and was one of the first children to follow a regular ARV regimen.  He survived multiple side effects of the treatment and was a role model for other area youngsters. A VMS student and a gifted and dedicated runner, he became the impetus for Teresa Bertoncin, a VMS Peace Corps volunteer to establish Positive Teens on the Run (PTOR), a running club comprised of goal focused HIV+ adolescents determined to change society’s perception of HIV.  Teresa described Philly as “finding his passion in running….dedicated to his training and determined to be great at his sport.  He is the best ambassador for youth living with HIV/AIDS.”  

Philly was a happy young man set to graduate from college in June with a specialty in carpentry. His death reminds us that the threat of death from HIV+ complications is real and we must continue to remind our affected friends to remain vigilant.  Philly will remain in our hearts forever as we celebrate the brief time we had with him.


Our team of four dedicated team members: Thendo, Khuthadzo, Sabatha and Wamashudu are working very hard.   On the 27 April 2019 they participated in the Polokwane Mayors Road Race, running in the 21k and finishing in 2hour 20min. Every second weekend they stay at VMS to practice and train. They are currently busy preparing for the race in July after the midterm exams. Thank you to Hope for Limpopo, Inc., our main sponsor .


In an area with an unemployment rate 60%+, our youngsters who will soon be looking for work will be facing an enormous challenge.  Thanks to South Coast Foundation and Mvelaphanda Training College, some of our children have been given a great advantage. In June, 3 of our boys will receive diplomas in an accredited carpentry course and one girl will be getting a diploma in fashion design thanks to two-year scholarships from South Coast Foundation.


With help from the Church of Scotland, we were able to buy new irrigation pipes. Our vegetable garden continues to produce vegetables for daily VMS lunches and provides sustenance for local impoverished families. The guardian/parents/recipients contribute by weeding, planting and general maintenance of the garden


It has been a very difficult and unsettling time for us, but we have gathered our strength, regrouped and are moving forward with help from loyal “Friends of Vhutshilo,” Monica McNeil and our loyal and dedicated Scotland church community, our USA friends at Hope for Limpopo,Inc. and children’s book author Cristina Kessler, The SKR Foundation in Germany, our Healing Touch practitioner’s Cary and Barb, The South Coast Foundation and all of our wonderful children’s sponsors, just to mention a few.  We couldn’t do it without you! And finally, tremendous gratitude to our Board members, without whose time, effort and support we could not continue our important, impactful work.


Share this: