Charlie's Journey -- From Self-Described Laughing Stock to Future South African LGBT Leader
South African Transgender Man Achieves Educational Goals
Earlier this year, PFund board members, staff and a few close friends, decided to go global, to Guguletu, a township just outside of Cape Town. Unlike wealthy Cape Town, a favorite of Western tourists, Guguletu is one of many townships outside the city center that are home to millions of black Africans who live in shanties without running water, heat and access to regular meals.
The Minnesota-Guguletu Connection
For more than eight years, Open Arms of Minnesota, a nutritional organization that supplies free meals to people with HIV/AIDS, breast cancer and other diseases, has operated a special food donation program serving the people of Guguletu. In 2008, PFund development and communications director Susan Cogger and her partner Terry Williams won a trip to Cape Town with Open Arms executive director and PFund friend Kevin Winge and Jane Letourneau, an Open Arms volunteer. A visit to Guguletu had a powerful affect on Susan.
Susan's report to the PFund board on the trip to Guguletu spurred discussion among board members. In the past, PFund board members have pooled their individual gifts to support specific local LGBT initiatives, for example, for the Aliveness Project, a community center located in south Minneapolis that provides services and programs to the HIV/AIDS community. Hearing of the situation and challenges of Guguletu's LGBT community and a nod to our increasingly global existence, the board decided to take action. Drawing on Open Arms' established programs and relationships in Guguletu, board members and a few close friends pooled $500 for a scholarship to support an LGBT individual. In South Africa, students have to pay for public school and education is considered the road to success and, in many cases, simply survival.
Driving Towards a Future
Leveraging the relationship with Open Arms, Revered Spiwo Xapile, director of the Zwane Community Center in Guguletu, selected an eloquent and courageous 24-year-old transgender man, Collin “Charlie” Takati.
“While I was at school, I used to be a laughing stock,” Charlie wrote in his scholarship application. “My school mates used to follow me every time when I went to the loo. They called me names. It was so hurtful because I didn’t just become who I am for the fun of it. Others used to tease me and run after me to touch my private parts. I was really uncomfortable.” However, these experiences did not break his spirit or determination. Today, Charlie says he speaks freely and with pride about LBGT issues at his school, in the community and as a church youth leader.
With the help of the PFund board members’ sponsorship, Charlie is currently attending tech school to earn his commercial driver’s license. The $500 scholarship will cover school costs, including tuition, books and truck rental, and living expenses and food during the semester – a major change for Charlie, who had been homeless in recent years. More importantly, achieving educational and professional success will help Charlie become a self-sufficient leader for the LGBT community, a longtime goal of his.
“While I was at school, I used to have a dream of becoming successful and being a role model to others, but my biggest goal is to further my studies in order for me to become the person that I want to be and support those who need support in whatever situation they are experiencing,” Charlie wrote.
For PFund’s board, the experience of supporting Charlie has been eye-opening. “This effort really spoke to us as a board as it shows the impact we can have in international human rights work," Shane Swanson, PFund board president, said. “It really expanded our awareness of transgender and LGBT issues in an international setting. This project has been an inspiration to us all.”