In 2002, Kitty Phillips received a vision from God about community living in the rural poverty-stricken Eastern Cape, where she and her husband Kevin farmed sheep and cattle. As Kitty began to meditate on the problems she saw around her – the poverty, unemployment, lack of skills, illiteracy and broken families – she began to see a community that would act in the opposite spirit – a community that would offer hope. She saw a shared space – perhaps a farm – that would allow God to work out his sovereign purposes – where different dreams, enterprises, and projects could take place – each one representing a "wheel" inside the big "wheel" of the umbrella space, and each wheel turning in tandem with the others – independent, but at the same time interdependent: Community living that would bless all who became a part of it.
Kitty shared her dream and vision with her local church, Gateway Community Church, and a number of people partnered with her to believe and have faith that God would do his work in the tiny town of Tarkastad. The community space was envisioned as a place of primary education and adult skills training, a place for health and wellness, a place with houses where those who had no mothers or fathers could be looked after in families, a place with thriving vegetable gardens and farming projects, where young and old lived together in mutual support and care.
The very first planting of the vision in those early days was education, and from 2003 to the end of 2006 a small group of children were homeschooled on Kitty and Kevin’s farm, using a Biblical, values and character-based home schooling program, ACE. The school was registered with only 10 students, and named Orange Grove Schools. By the end of 2007 the little classroom was bursting with children, and the local sports club hall in Tarkastad was rented as the schools’ new premises in 2008. In addition, a home in town was used as a hostel for some of the children.
God sovereignly and miraculously moved in 2008 to enable the acquisition of 1000 hectares of land approximately five kilometres outside of Tarkastad. The farm was called Orange Grove, and promised the fulfilment of the community vision that God had revealed. That same year the iThemba Trust was registered as the umbrella body that would give the vision authentication and accountability, and would administer the finances for all projects to take place on the farm.
Visitors from all over the United States, through particularly the hunting outfit Ezulu Game Reserve, came to visit Orange Grove, and many were intrigued to see the tiny school developing in the lonely mountains and thornveld of the South African landscape.
The Development, Location and Sponsors
The generosity of these Americans, and of other local and international donors, became truly overwhelming. They gave of their finances, and they gave of their support and encouragement to the vision that was slowly coming to pass. In 2009, the iThemba Trust was able to be registered as a 501(c)(3) organisation in the United States, falling under the Jernigan Foundation, and administered in America by the dynamic Tanya Jernigan.
As donations began to steadily flow, new development took place on Orange Grove, mostly in support of the very first iThemba Project: Orange Grove Schools. A school hall was built for assemblies and providing meals. A thriving pre-school was established, and local children from town began to attend. A new classroom was renovated from one of the original farm workshops, and a brand new girls hostel was built, containing six separate upstairs and downstairs flats, with a balcony embracing a view of the surrounding hills and endless skyline. Best of all was the establishment of the sponsorship program, which made it possible for children from impoverished backgrounds to attend the school, and be given an education that they would otherwise not be able to receive in their current circumstances. Little Nolinki Blandile, the inspiration of the sponsorship program, was the first of the local farm children to be included, after she sat on the steps listening to a tutor teaching the children, and asked if she could be allowed to learn too.
Today Orange Grove Schools is a thriving, busy, dynamic school comprising of over 100 learners from pre-school to Grade 12. The school employs 14 teachers, six administration and hostel staff, and nine ground staff. More and more generous donations from caring supporters, many of them who have continued to travel the road with us since 2009, have made possible the building of two beautiful tennis courts, four new classrooms, a staff room and meeting area, ablution blocks, library, and science and art laboratory. In addition, thanks to other generous donors in the sponsorship program who contribute monthly over years of faithful giving, 43 of our learners have all their educational and hostel needs provided for. These children are often the only members of their family who can read, and their lives are being changed by the education they are receiving – the ripple effect of which is going to catalyse change in their communities in the long term.
As the iThemba Trust witnessed the exponential growth of its first baby project, the school, God began moving other people from different places in South Africa to Tarkastad to champion further projects first envisioned in those early years, as the original vision of hope and community living began to unfold.
iThemba Trust was founded in 2008 by Kitty Phillips as the founder and Angela Price as the co-founder. The trust was founded to be a custodian of the vision and to give it authenticity. The Trust is a non-profit organisation and the purpose of the Trust is to be a guardian of the funds donated and sponsored and to administer these funds where needed.