Once there, they met Amy Stokes and the people of Infinite Family, a nonprofit group that connects South African children with caring adults around the world via computer. Stokes says that these children badly need adult attention and guidance and need to connect with someone special in their lives.
Using a custom, Web-based technology, Infinite Family has been able to connect about 300 South African teens, called Net Buddies, with volunteer mentors all over the world. For at least a half hour each week, they pair off online, face to face on what is called Ezomndeni-net.
In Zulu, Ezomndeni means ‘everything related to family. The web-based program lets the mentors and kids login from different locations and then they can interact and share between them. It helps them to form a relationship, according to Stokes.
In addition to its regular Web-cam capabilities, the Ezomndeni-net has a interactive forums, a live chat function, a virtual “wipeboard” where pairs can play games, and areas to do homework and surf the Web together. There is also an alert SOS button that Net Buddies can use if they are in dire need of guidance between scheduled chats.
Since 2006, Infinite Family has made and operated five computer labs at partner organization sites across South Africa. Besides providing mentors for children, Ezomndeni-net also develops their language and technology skills, and gets them ready to compete in the global marketplace.
Mentors get a background checks, and training in areas such as mourning, HIV and developing relationships through e-mail. They sign up for a minimum of one year, but most continue beyond the requirement.