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Off-the-Clock: Suzanne Cross (part 1)

Suzanne Cross has been a contractor in Endowment and Investment Accounting (EIA) Financial Management since 2003. She was previously with State Street Global Advisors and is currently on the Board of Directors for the Coro Center for Civic Leadership. She earned her bachelors degrees in mathematics and education.

Among her most notable attributes are Suzanne’s passions for education, philanthropy and people. Not only is she a weekly classroom volunteer at Argonne Elementary School in San Francisco, Suzanne is also a patron of the Nkomo Primary School in South Africa. She recently completed filming for a documentary about Nkomo School.

Link staff sat down with Suzanne to talk about her time off the clock as well as the brown bag session she’s planning, featuring her friend and deputy principal of Nkomo School, Thanda Myeni.

This is part 1 of our interview with Suzanne. Next month in Link, look for part 2 of our interview and details on the upcoming brown bag session.

Thank you for sharing your story with us. What took you to Africa initially?

I was on a pleasure safari in 2002 with friends and we wanted to learn more about the Zulu community. So we asked for a community tour by the lodge manager. We were introduced to Nkomo Primary School, which had begun three years earlier in a field, under four trees.

I developed a friendship with the principal, Mrs. Nomusa Zikhali, and a connection to her school and learners. We traded letters, and I have returned to visit the school five more times. Since 2002, I’ve been providing educational supplies, uniforms and off-site computer education for the both the teachers and students.

Please tell me about some of the people you met at the school.

I really developed a relationship with the entire community, because the school is for the local community. That’s probably why I have 45 hours of raw footage for my documentary! There are so many wonderful people there, and they all have astonishing stories. They confided in me and we developed a bond. I left a part of my heart in Zululand.

Thanda Myeni is another great friend I have in South Africa. In fact I’m planning a brown bag session during her upcoming visit. She’s the deputy principal at Nkomo.

Through my friendships with Mrs. Zikhali and Thanda, and because of my own dedication to education, I formed a deep tie to this little school that began in a field under four trees.

What an amazing undertaking. What’s the status of your documentary about Nkomo?

The documentary – it’s called “Under Four Trees” – needs to be edited. We have 45 hours of raw footage to filter and make into an hour-long feature documentary film.

We plan to interweave cinema verite scenes, interviews and still photos to reveal the physical, emotional and economic challenges that the children, Mrs. Zikhali and the school face.

We are partnering with the San Francisco Film Society, who will be our fiscal sponsor, so we can apply for foundation funding. I’m seeking grant money for an editor and hope to make the short trailer this fall.

When do you plan to return to South Africa?

I like to go back every two years. I miss it there! And I want to see my friends and how the school is progressing. They have so many needs over there, things we take for granted here.

You know – buildings, running water, electricity, computers.

How can others support the school?

The Friends of Africa Foundation in the U.S. helps provide funding for classrooms at Nkomo and the new Khulani Special School.

We do not have a foundation; I just wire money to the school bank accounts as the specific need arises.

This year a former Nkomo teacher started Khulani, a special needs school for children with autism, cerebral palsey and physical and mental disabilities. I just sent her money for sweatshirts for her 60 students, since it’s winter there now and very chilly.

I hope you will come and meet Thanda Myeni at the upcoming UCOP brown bag.

  • Click here to view pictures of the Under Four Trees film shoots in KwaZulu, South Africa on Facebook.
  • Click here to view pictures of the Nkomo primary school in KwaZulu, South Africa on Facebook.
  • Click here to ready Suzanne Cross’ San Francisco Examiner blog about her experiences making the Under Four Trees documentary.

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