Home Institution

Washington University in St. Louis

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Program Name

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation


In a world searching for more innovative models of development, it is important to highlight successful programs that offer insight into effective, impactful interventions. In this study, I investigate Thanda as a case study for rural sustainable development where investment in individual empowerment results in community empowerment. Thanda was founded in 2008 with the original intent of addressing the orphan crisis due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in rural communities near Hibberdene, South Africa. Since then, Thanda has implemented afterschool education programs, feeding programs, agricultural development programs, early childhood development programs, and a 100% green community center. Their curriculum emphasizes critical thinking skills, creative problem solving, active citizenship, environmental sustainability, and, arguably most importantly, the development of self-esteem. Not only do the communities support this unique approach, but Thanda’s monitoring and evaluation reports suggest that they are making a considerable positive impact. Through participant observation, interviews, and a focus group with staff members, many of whom are from the local communities, I evaluate which aspect of Thanda is most central to their impact. I argue that the key to their success is empowering the individual, which they achieve by training community members to be education facilitators, leaders, and mentors. These facilitators then promote community development by focusing on the self-development of each learner, which, I predict, has the potential to bring about more cohesive, cooperative, and conscientious communities. This project is relevant to funders, policy makers, governmental authorities, and other NGOs who have an interest in promoting effective sustainable development strategies, especially in low-resourced rural areas, because it provides detailed insight into one developmental strategy that has the potential to be implemented elsewhere.


Civic and Community Engagement | Community-Based Learning | Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Growth and Development