Meet The Unlimited: Chaeli Mycroft
Chaeli Mycroft is a South African ability activist with cerebral palsy who won the International Children’s Peace Prize and the Peace Summit Medal for Social Activism
It was 5 young girls under the age of 12 who started The Chaeli Campaign. That may seem impractical or not possible, or whatever limiting belief you could throw at us, but it couldn’t stop us. I needed a motorised wheelchair for more independence.
Our entire organisation began as a social entrepreneurship endeavour. The five of us decided to sell goods (cards and DIY sunflower kits that we called ‘Sunshine Pots’) to raise the money we needed to get the wheelchair.
To us, it was simple. All we had to do was sell cards and sunshine pots until we had enough money for the wheelchair. We could totally do that! We were determined to make it happen and we were committed to doing it for as long as was necessary. We went around our neighbourhood and reached out to our school to sell our goods to these communities. To our surprise we raised the R20 000 in just seven weeks. We weren’t prepared for the outpouring of love and support for our cause.
I think it was so well-received because our goal was clear and our intentions were out there for all to see. People wanted to be a part of the story, however small that part may have been, and each person who supported us then is also a part of our success moving forward. Without those initial supporters’ vote of confidence and belief, our organisation wouldn’t be where it is today.
As the five founders got older, it was important for us to keep young voices and actions as a key aspect to our work, and so the Pay It Forward Ambassadors Programme was born. Throughout the year-long programme, workshops cover activities to engage with ideas around leadership, active citizenship, personal development, social entrepreneurship, communication.
We wanted to create a programme that embodied the message of how powerful youth are when we are determined and have a clear goal in mind. When we started this programme we aimed it at kids between 9 and 16 years old. This enabled us to access school-going children and work with them to build their skills as catalysts for change before they become cynical about the world and whether they have the power to make positive impact in the communities around them. They definitely do have that power and we’ve seen it in action.
Telling young people that they are endlessly capable can be massive, but the thing that makes it incredibly special is seeing the growth of each Ambassador and witnessing them start believing that for themselves.
We approach this programme with a long-term vision. We believe its legacy will truly be seen when the Ambassadors are older, in powerful positions as decision-makers in all different sectors, and the lessons they’ve learned as Ambassadors will be reflected in their work and lifestyles. Having this long-term vision doesn’t mean that the young people involved are not already making positive contributions to society.
Our first Ambassadors started in 2009 in Cape Town, and we have slowly but surely grown Chapters all over South Africa. We now have 22 active Chapters in 5 provinces, 363 kids (51 of these are disabled kids) from 84 communities, and 30 schools.
Each Ambassador is expected to run a project of some kind (raising awareness, raising funds, promoting volunteering and goodwill, etc.) for their chosen beneficiary. We encourage them to uncover and follow their own passion because we believe that will lead to more sustainable change. Three of our Ambassadors, after being part of our programme, decided to start their own non-profit organisations, at 16 years old.
Each of their organisations began as a single project, which they expanded and scaled when they founded officially. Ashlyn has two disabled brothers and was running a project organising food parcels for vulnerable families with disabled children. She founded Raising Hope SA which now provides a magnitude of services for disabled children and their families.
Chris’ passion is challenging the stigma around mental health and he’s also an avid swimmer so he set up a series of 12-hour team swim-a-thons (to represent the continuous need and nature of mental health support). His organisation is called Swim For Change and funds raised through swimming events supports school counselling services.
They also engage in high-level discussions to ensure better policies and implementation of positive mental health practices in schools. Reece was passionate about the environment and education so he combined these to form Earth Kids Org (EKO) which goes into disadvantaged communities to promote environmental sustainability. EKO collects recyclable materials to make and distribute educational, early childhood development games for pre-school children in these communities.
In 2017 we launched our US-based organisation, Chaeli Foundation USA, and we felt the Ambassadors Programme was a great opportunity for a collaboration between these. The pandemic and the related lockdowns around the world pushed us to think differently about how we present the workshops and we moved to virtual programming. We had been planning to expand our reach and design another level that catered more to young adults (older than 16 years) from across the globe, to create a global network of diverse young people – each working in their own spheres of influence and impact – committed to making a positive change and leveraging their collective power.
We started our Global Ambassadors Programme for young adults in 2021 with 3 time-zone chapters. These chapters include Africa/Europe, Americas/Caribbean, and Asia/Arabia/Australasia. Our flagship cohort of Global Ambassadors has 50 people, representing 14 countries. We’ve only held a few workshops for each chapter and we’ve seen beautiful connections forming, with plans coming together to collaborate and share contacts across borders. That’s what it’s all about!
After a planning session, this programme has come full circle with the establishment of our Intsana/Bambino Ambassadors chapters which cater for children under the age of 6. The children in these chapters come from various pre-schools that we’ve partnered with in other Chaeli Campaign programmes. These workshops are much more focused on immediate action and age-appropriate theory is woven into the practical activities of positive changemaking (such as doing beach clean-ups or tree-planting). We are so excited to see how this develops because it embraces that changemaking doesn’t have an age requirement, it can start whenever and it’s never too early to invite people to become activists in whichever way possible.