Family returning to South Africa on philanthropic mission

The Banuelos family of Rancho Santa Fe is continuing their efforts to help bring the gift of clean water to a small Zulu village in South Africa — they plan to travel back to Maphumulo on Oct. 3.

Last year, Jolene Banuelos’ daughter Leah, now a sixth grader at Solana Santa Fe Elementary School, sold custom-made bracelets to raise money for mini solar power systems for the village, which is comprised of small huts that rely on candlelight and fire to cook and light the night. Leah was inspired to help after a fire in one of the huts left three children badly burned. Along with three other Solana Santa Fe School families, the Banuelos’ visited the village over the 2016 holiday break — Leah had raised enough money to buy each family a solar-powered system, a bed, bedding, towels, food, toiletries and toys.

The village of Maphumulo is close to Jolene’s heart as it was home to Rosie, Jolene’s beloved nanny when she was growing up in South Africa. After Jolene moved to the United States, Rosie sadly passed away from AIDS. Jolene remained in contact with Rosie’s four children and their families and was able to visit them in the village on their trip last winter.

“This was definitely one of the best days of my life. It was like an emotional rollercoaster. I laughed, I cried uncontrollably – tears of sadness and joy. We hugged and embraced,” said Jolene, who loved seeing her children playing with Rosie’s grandchildren and other village children.”It was so incredibly rewarding to see the appreciation and happiness on the faces of these people who were receiving these small gifts that would make such a difference in their lives.”

While they visited the Zulu community, one of the babies Lucy (the daughter of Rosie’s oldest child) got so sick from drinking dirty water from the stream that she was in a coma for five days and almost lost her life to the bacterial infection and from being so dehydrated. Since June, the Banuelos family has made an effort to fundraise for a water filtration system called Naiade for the village. If they reach their $5,000 goal, they will be able to provide safe, free water for 300 people per day for 10 years. The system can be installed in less than an hour.

Jolene said no matter what, they are committed to bringing some kind of water solution for the village, whether it’s smaller water filtration buckets, a water well or the Naiade system.

“We are super excited to return to see everyone and to implement a clean water system so the children and their families can feel safe when they drink water and know that they won’t end up in the hospital from a water-born illness,” Jolene said.

The Banuelos’ fundraiser is located at