A Main Line couple co-founded Love to Langa, a nonprofit organization that works to support children’s education in impoverished communities.
Ryan Movsowitz’s family visits his father’s native South Africa every few years, and one trip in particular resonates to this day. He recalls his younger brother, Noah, snacking on Cheerios on a tour route when he was all but flash-mobbed until his supply ran dry. “It shows what these people are going through and how they don’t have access,” says Ryan, now a 17-year-old senior at Radnor High School. “Our parents always wanted to show us a different part of South Africa— the townships.”
After that eye-opening trip, Ryan looked online to see if any organizations supported Langa Township. He found Love to Langa in Gladwyne and was “awestruck” to discover that its co-founders, Amy and Jon Ostroff, lived nearby. Then a member of the Radnor Aquatic Club, Ryan helped raise funds at a swim-a-thon. The money went to building a heated indoor swimming pool in Philippi, a neighboring township where learn-to-swim classes would soon help solve one need: Drowning is the third leading cause of death among South African youth.
A 1985 Baldwin School graduate who later ran her alma mater’s alumni association, Amy Ostroff lives in Wayne with her attorney husband, Jon. The couple married too late to have kids, so Love to Langa has become “their baby.” Founded in 2010, the organization’s latest project is constructing a Montessori academy for 200 children in Langa. Groundbreaking was set for this past July’s Nelson Mandela International Day, then postponed due to outbreaks of political unrest, violence, looting and further COVID-19 complications in other sections of South Africa. Construction is still set to begin this year, with a grand opening slated for January 2023. A Montessori teacher-training program, however, has already allowed off-site classes to begin at a building provided by the Red Cross.
Hurricane Katrina was Jon’s earliest impetus for taking action to make a meaningful social impact. He headed down south less than 48 hours after the storm ended, helping mostly with ground transportation in efforts to reunite families. That was August 2005. He met Amy that November, and they married in 2007. The newlyweds quickly began discussing how they could give back together.
In May 2008 at a silent auction, the Ostroffs placed the only bid on a safari trip to South Africa to satisfy Jon’s passions for photography and wildlife. Amy recalled seeing a stunning Conde Nast Traveler cover story on Cape Town. Drawing on her background as a journalist, she arranged a tour of the townships—among them Langa. Such tours reveal the continent’s starkest socio-economic contrasts. “Part of the magic is the extremes,” Jon says. “You can’t understand Africa without seeing the townships.”
In Langa, the couple’s initial willingness to share gifts caused a tense disturbance that led to theft—and a request that they leave. Now, the couple speaks of the resistance as a “barrier of entry.” Today, they’ve forged incredible connections. “As Americans, it’s a totally different culture,” Amy says. “Over the 12 years, we’ve learned we need people on the ground. We need board members to sit through five-hour church services. We need them to be part of the community.”
Without question, Love to Langa’s fifth project, the Montessori academy, is the most significant thus far. The Ostroffs paved the way by renovating an orphanage in Langa and subsequently funding educational scholarships for children there. In neighboring townships, they’ve also funded and built classrooms and provided scholarships and transportation at two early childhood education centers. They bankrolled and built the $50,000 swimming pool, for which Radnor Aquatic Club raised $11,000. “It was exciting to see kids who were willing to help other kids somewhere else, even in another country—kids who don’t look like the kind of people supporting us,” says Shawn Lacy, vice president of Love to Langa’s board of directors and a fellow alum of the Baldwin School.
Along the way, Love to Langa has also sent township youth on impromptu cultural field trips to aquariums and the like, then out to lunch, and a dinosaur exhibit in Cape Town. It’s an experience typically reserved for rich kids. Today, such outings are seen as seeds for the Montessori experience. The school will also have a roof garden, and parents will attend monthly training sessions to help understand the Montessori philosophy. A lending library will help, too.
Though Cape Town’s “white areas look like here,” Amy says, “shack schools” have been the norm. About 20 minutes into a drive from the airport in Cape Town, you begin seeing shack homes on both sides of the highway. That’s Langa.
The new $500,000 school will be built on leased Anglican Church land. Securing the acreage was the biggest challenge. Since then, so much of the architectural and building materials have been donated by South African companies. “Here, we’re securing monetary contributions,” says Amy about the campaign, which is 65 percent funded. “There, their own people are helping to shrink the divide.”
Darryl and Mark Edelstein are the primary financial supporters. The naming rights will pay tribute to their father, Mannie Edelstein, a Cape Town native and nationally renowned motivational speaker and training consultant who worked with senior management and sales forces for some of the world’s largest corporations. The dream school will be called Idayimani Montessori Academy. Idayimani is the Xhosa word for diamond. Edelstein is a German name that translates to gemstone.
“It’s not pie in the sky,” says Lacy, who lives in Glenside. “People deserve to learn. Without education, things remain dismal, so to give the opportunity to envision something different, it’s not pie in sky—it’s why we’re here. We could go on, live our lives, say we’re good, eat, sleep and go on vacation, but there’s enough people in world continuing to do that. If the world’s going to change at all, it’ll be because one person, one at a time, says, ‘If I can do it, why shouldn’t we all do it?’ It starts with the way we treat people.”
Lacy has spent her professional life working with children and families and now, in semi-retirement, teaches courses on trauma to professionals. “Depending on where you live on the Main Line, you can lose sight if service should be part of your life,” she says. “If you’re blessed enough ‘to have,’ it’s incumbent upon you to give back.”
As have the Movsowitz family. “There’s such a big economic class divide that the rich are almost immune to the looting, and live in a bubble,” Ryan says. “In Langa, there are miles and miles of shacks and families of five living in one bedroom with water and food shortages. Radnor is starkly different. It’s really made me more appreciative.”
But the challenges don’t make the Love to Langa school project more difficult, the teenager says. “The school’s not a food pantry or a store,” he says. “The things Love to Langa builds are needed, and so can’t be stolen. An education can never really be stolen.”