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Umthombo’s founder Tom Hewitt M.B.E., met Children Rise (CRF) Founder & ANGELS IN EXILE director Billy Raftery whilst surfing!

– DIG DEEPER contributors Tom Hewitt (Umthombo Street Child Action), Billy Raftery (Children Rise Foundation, ANGELS IN EXILE)

How Did This All Come About?

Tom: Its true, Billy and I met in the water while surfing…
(with a laugh) …after Raftery dropped in on me for the 3rd time.

Billy: (retorts) After noticing Hewitt’s ineptitude in the water…


They started talking… and quickly established that they had mutual interests, not only in catching waves, but a shared sincere concern and compelling desire to help the street kids of Durban.

At this point Billy had been operating as a “lone ranger” with a camera, but had been seeking out an established partner to get more of an in-depth grasp of the issues at hand…

Billy: I remember making friends with a group of kids before meeting Tom that lived on Durban’s North Beach. My vacation was dwindling down and realizing I had to return to the states, it bothered me… If I leave without doing anything for these kids, I’d just be another tourist that says, awww, how sad… and turn my back on them.

I had to do something. But what?

Billy: Operating as an island would only get me so far. I struggled to find an organization that had proof of success and above all the respect from the kids themselves. Umthombo (comprised of mostly former street kids) was the only group that the kids trusted and as a result their programs were actually working!

Tom opened up Umthombo’s doors to me and by doing so, became my guide and mentor to both the local and global issue of homeless youth.

Billy spent most of his time working with Umthombo, but continued to use his camera, documenting what he was witnessing.

Billy: By capturing their story, this overlooked population could perhaps finally get an opportunity to speak-out… not only for the kids of Durban, but hopefully for children world-over (living in all too similar conditions).

The relationship led Billy, via CRF supporters, to financially sponsor the work of Umthombo in key times. One great example of their alliance: Billy decided to comprise the film crew with all former street children. Beyond providing employment, this subsequently enabled unique access to capture life on the streets in the gang and drug ridden Point Road District (not an easy feat).

Luckily the kids took me in as one of their own and together we created a film we now (8-years later) believe is a tribute and testimony to their lives on the streets.

Through the years, Umthombo itself developed as a pivotal organization with street children in South Africa. Umthombo’s action led the film crew into situations never publicly seen or captured before and has thus already provided an international platform for advocacy issues that the children in Durban have faced. Case in point, the forced removals of street children ahead of holidays, sporting events and conferences in Durban. This was the policy of the local government and administered in a brutal and forceful raid like fashion by the police. This practice has now ended thanks to the work of Umthombo and allies such as CRF.

What Lies Ahead?

Although remaining very much involved, Tom has brought in new a South African CEO to run Umthombo. With Tom’s over 20 years of field experience working with, and on behalf of street children, he is now shifting his focus to act globally. By providing technical fieldworker support to programs across Africa (and beyond) and spearheading advocacy campaigns relating to street kids, Tom hopes to connect innovative groups, like Umthombo, so they can learn from each other while combining forces for international scale advocacy.

The film ANGELS IN EXILE will be used as a vehicle to further global advocacy, as well as provide proceeds to benefit the advancement of partner’s work, like that of Tom and Umthombo.
CHECK OUT THE FILM: ANGELS IN EXILE

DIG DEEPER Contributions from Tom Hewitt & Billy Raftery, Composed and Edited by Adam Paul Smith, Image Stills from ANGELS IN EXILE & Contributors, Compiled by Adam Paul Smith
All content herein © 2012 Act 4 Entertainment, LLC
For comments & questions, please use comment feature at the bottom of this page

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