There is a tree with an unusual baobab tree trunk at Lekhubu Island in the Makgadikgadi Pans. A picture of its trunk recently inspired many interpretations after it appeared in the newspapers.
Standing before this tree recently, I asked Nomsa Mbere what she made of the unusual trunk, explaining to her that most people said they saw foetuses entangled together. She took a brief look at the tree and with her slow, soft tender voice replied: “I see a cancerous tumour”.
It is next to this ancient tree with a ‘cancerous tumour’ and vast view of the Pans that we settled for an interview about her noble brainchild, the Y-Care Charitable Trust.
Back in the 2002, Mbere used to camp out a lot at the Makgadikgadi Pans, and one day, after the roaring sounds of the quad bikes had died down, she looked out at the flat emptiness and told her friends, “One day I wish to walk through these Pans”.
“They thought it was a stupid idea. So they said ‘If you want to walk here, we will pay you to do it’. I said I would then give the money to charity,” she recalls.
The now well-known Y-Care walks were borne from this friendly ribbing over a crazy idea. The first walk involved only friends and families but managed to raise over P50, 000. Their first guide through the Pans was the legendary Super from Jack’s Camp. Mbere urged her friends to make the walks annual and raise money for charity. A Trust was formed and she became the founding chairperson, while her friends became the trustees.
“I had a vision of forming a large international charity organisation born from Botswana that could assist in global tragedies. If there is an earthquake in London, we could help, for instance,” she said.
The vision was not just about giving out handouts or throwing monies to problems but ‘charity from a principled perspective’.
Having worked with global donor organisations like the Red Cross Society, Mbere understood the challenges faced by various small community organisations in accessing funds and she was keen to bridge that with an organisation that assisted communities using African botho.
“Having worked with a handful charities I got sick of power relations at play in between charity organisations and beneficiaries.
“Charity organisations would give you money and dictate how you use it. So to cut out the power relations, I wanted us, as Africans, to have our own donor organisations where we would dictate our own terms, being too closer to problems and dynamics of our situations,” she said.
She added: “An example would be a community organisation that needs a generator to run their activities but is forced to write a tight proposal to get funding to an international donor. However, if the donor organisation was closer to that community and understood its challenges, the generator would be provided faster.”
Mbere said since its foundation, Y-Care has already handed out over P5 million to various charities in Botswana. The Trust has also evolved from being a donor organisation and now also boasts a Youth Leadership Programme (YLP). “If we want future leaders to have leadership skills, better skills and IQ, you need them to solve problems, and you can’t do all that in a classroom,” she says.
Sarona Moabi, a product of YLP, currently heads the Trust as coordinator.
Moabi took over from the founding coordinator, Stellan Bengtsson, in February.
Today Y-care supports different sectors with funding.
This week they sent out an invitation for applications from NGOs across various sectors including youth, vulnerable children, women, arts, environment, culture, and sport.
Mbere said Y-Care activities were also aimed at sharing nature with urban dwellers.
“The initiative is about taking people from the city and showing them the countryside, while also giving back to communities,” she noted.
Most corporates use Y-Care walks for team building exercises.
Ten years into the Y-care programme, Mbere stepped down as chairperson and took a break from being active in the day-to-day activities of the Trust.
Ultra Marathon runner, Modise Koofhethile was her successor.
“You can’t own something if you want it to carry on being at the forefront. You have step out while you still can and help guide people to lead, for it to carry on,” she explained.
Mbere did not just step out of Y-Care. It seems she dumped everything in Botswana. She closed her clinic, quit dentistry and switched careers, trading plugging out troublesome teeth for big law books. She packed everything and moved to South Africa and is now a lawyer at Webber Wentzel Law, a renowned South African legal firm with a strong presence on the continent.
“I am going to be creative before I die. I am going to retire as an artist. I think by the time I leave this earth, I would have led a holistic life,” she said.
Aged 50 years, Mbere declared that she was still single and childless, but happy and content. She still travels a lot, and this year she toured South Asia, through Bhutan and Myanmar. She is an adventurous woman and has partaken in various adventure walks around the world.
Mbere has climbed Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. She still wants to climb Rwenzori, also known as the Mountains of the Moon, in Uganda.
Her wish is to climb all the top five African mountains.
Mbere said God did not just give her life just to do one thing. “I think God put me on this earth to do whatever I want to do with excellence,” she said.
She said God’s purpose in everyone cannot just be one little thing. She has five things she wants to achieve before she dies: intimacy with God, inspiring others especially the youth, writing a book about Africans on why they need to tap into their greatness and building an institution to teach children. Her fifth wish is ‘for God as my lover’.
“I need to find God as my lover. As a spiritual person, I see God in various forms. I feel him in music, in friendships or just sitting here. So I still need to meet him as a lover, a soul mate, that person who has your back no matter what. I’m still searching for that physical life mate. Why should I settle for crap?”
So what is her advice to those who are still single?
“The world is at your feet. You do not have to compromise to accommodate a partner. It is not a disadvantage to be single and childless, and people should not compromise just to fit into another,” she says.
But doesn’t Mbere miss being in a relationship or being a mother?
“You cannot miss what you do not have,” she quipped.