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Joe Makhafola conversed with the Chairperson of the Trevor Noah Foundation, Priscilla Morley, an experienced subject matter expert on socio-economic and community development. Her common interest with Trevor is their passion for education.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Trevor Noah, the Joburg-born South African comedian, former ‘The Daily Show’ host, political commentator, and actor, predicted the current state of affairs while attending Maryvale College High School in Johannesburg. The school shaped Trevor into what he is today, thanks to his teachers, who moulded him and instilled ethical values and a passion for education.

It is no coincidence that he values education so much that he has decided to launch the Trevor Noah Foundation, which was launched on 14 April 2018 in his hometown, but was halted by COVID-19.

In his opening remarks, its founder, Trevor Noah (38), said: “What was a dream, today turned into a reality.”

The foundation is an organisation that is going to begin its journey working to help young people in South Africa experience education. “I feel every young person deserves working with great schools like the New Nation School,” he said.

Most of us probably heard about the Trevor Noah Foundation (TNF) for the first time when President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed him to parliament on the occasion of the State of the Nation Address—applauding his initiative while welcoming him home.

The Foundation’s mission is to mobilise the global community to empower youth with the foundation for a better life: access to high-quality education, improved learning infrastructure to create environments that inspire learners to want to come to school and learn, and teachers to teach.

It also aims to train teachers, equipping them with the leadership capacity, tools, and skills to deliver new-age education.

By his own admission, Trevor would not be where he is today if it were not for education and the role that his teachers played in helping to shape his life.

“Today’s kids are told to be tomorrow’s leaders, but they’re not given the tools,” Trevor says.

“The higher the level of education, the higher chance the youth have of creating a future for themselves and, collectively, a better South Africa.”

Trevor’s fortune and fame will make it easier to market the foundation to the well-off, encouraging them to note and act against the plight of African children.

Education still remains the most powerful weapon in the fight against poverty, as the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, once said.

According to the Trevor Noah Foundation, 56% of South African teachers report a shortage of physical infrastructure, 56% of grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in any language, and there is a 40% youth unemployment rate.

TNF believes that teachers are essential drivers of a high-quality education system. They play a vital role in educating, developing, protecting, and inspiring our youth. When the youth have access to high-quality education, society prospers. Therefore, investing in teachers is an investment in our future society.

Who else is better equipped to execute this challenging mission than the Chairperson of the Trevor Noah Foundation (TNF), Priscilla Morley.

Priscilla is no stranger to philanthropic work or to Trevor.

“Trevor has a passion for education. He believes education helped him become so successful. He had a strong mother behind him. Maryville College is where he believes changes in his life began for the better. Besides being a good school, Trevor feels that because of the education he received, educators had the ability to reach out and to make an impact on a larger group of children than anyone else,” Priscilla says.

In responding to some of these challenges, TNF launched Education Changemakers in partnership with the Young African Leaders Initiative and the University of South Africa, to capacitate young leaders in the education sector with leadership skills, tools, a network of support, and resources so that they can transform their schools and communities.

Leadership training is provided, followed by coaching and mentoring, grants to support school-based initiatives, and connections to an alumni network of like-minded young leaders across the African continent.

“We plan to fix 25 schools by 2025. Our aim is not to change anything that is working but to support the work of the principals, provide governance training, improve funding plans through the school governing boards, provide support for management, and have a representative council of learners, because learners are future leaders,” she says.

We normally measure progress by the impact you have on others. One learner who is a beneficiary said: “The psychosocial support made a lot of changes in my life. I could not concentrate in class, and I did not cope with my schoolwork. I was always upset and angry at everyone. The counselling helped me cope, I became motivated, and I realised I had to finish school to bring change to the situation at home.”

More often than not, poor learner performance in school includes poverty, badly trained teachers, a lack of resources, malnutrition, absenteeism, an inappropriate curriculum and examinations, and overcrowding in the classrooms.

Priscilla’s heart is in the right place. A social worker by training, she joined a small research consultancy as a research analyst, where she did some work in Southern African countries before moving on to join the Nelson Mandela Foundation as a programme manager for the dialogue series, dubbed, The Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

Part of the United Nations Sustainability Goals by 2030 is to build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability, and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive, and effective learning environments for all.

Meanwhile, Trevor is now taking a different path in his career after leaving ‘The Daily Show’ after seven years. Some say Noah’s premiere episode as host in September 2015 garnered 3.47 million viewers, directly on par with Jon Stewart’s final episode a month prior.

That year, ‘The Daily Show’ averaged 1.1 million viewers, lagging somewhat behind broadcast shows like NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ (3.78 million), CBS’ ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ (3.17 million), and ABC’s ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ (2.53 million), as quoted from Forbes Magazine. This, however, did not stop Trevor from reaching even greater heights. He headlined the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April with President Joe Biden in Washington. His homecoming to South Africa, where his comedy shows are already sold out in September 2023, is part of his new journey.

“Congratulations, Trevor, on the incredible run. I always enjoy the fun conversations and especially loved playing tennis with you in Cape Town. I know you have only just begun and can’t wait to see what you do next,” tweeted Bill Gates, an American business magnate, philanthropist, and co-founder of Microsoft.

Trevor has embarked on multiple journeys in his life as an executive producer and a stand-up comedian, first in South Africa, then in and around America, and then the rest of the world.

We wish Trevor well in his new endeavors and await those millions of dollars to fund quality education in South Africa.

South Africa suffers terribly from weak quality education despite billions of rands being channeled into education. The country spends on average the equivalent of over 6% of GDP with little to show for it—a topic for another day. 

Joe Makhafola is a freelance marketing and communications consultant.