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UCOP staffer Suzanne Cross: The full story of her philanthropic mission

It began innocently enough: A relaxing South Africa safari vacation. A tour to see elephants, lions and other wildlife in their natural habitat. An impromptu request to the lodge manager to visit the community beyond the grounds of the resort-style safari lodges.

What followed for UCOP staff member Suzanne Cross was an eye-opening glimpse into life in rural Mnqobokazi in Zululand and the challenges facing Nkomo Primary School as it aims to deliver a quality education to hundreds of children with scarce resources.

Here, families struggle daily with the harsh realities of poverty, crime and AIDS. The government pays educators to teach the young, but it doesn’t provide buildings or classrooms. Those are left to the residents to build from the ground up.

Suzanne Cross at Nkomo School

Suzanne Cross, left, has forged a lasting friendship with Nkomo Primary School Principal Nomusa Zikhali (right) and her students in Mnqobokazi, South Africa. Photo courtesy Suzanne Cross

“They had 600 to 700 children and four classrooms made of concrete that the community had built,” Cross said, recounting that first, unplanned visit. “No electricity, no running water. But the children come every day. For many of them, it is their way to get a free meal once a day — rice and beans cooked over an open fire.”

That brief sojourn to Nkomo Primary School turned into an impassioned 11-year crusade to improve the quality of life for its students and help clear hurdles to a quality education.

Cross has become one of Nkomo’s most ardent supporters, returning to this small community in the northeast corner of South Africa every two years to visit the children and forge a lasting connection with the school principal. She has donated thousands of dollars to add a roof to a classroom; cover tuition, food and clothing for some of the poorest students; buy high school–bound teens their uniforms; and create university scholarships.

“They don’t have many of the things that so many of us take for granted,” said Cross, who, not surprisingly, is a charitable asset administrator at UCOP. “Giving them the resources they need can help these children have a better future.”

Read Communications Coordinator Katherine Tam’s full story about Cross and learn how you can participate in her philanthropic mission.

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