Ester Kganana: Caring for the Orphans of AIDS

Ester Kganana head shot in black and white, wearing dark scoop-neck top, light head coveringFord in white script blue oval logo to left of white horizontal line with FORD VOLUNTEER CORPS in white left of line, all atop navy blue background ALL STAR in navy blue atop white background with gold star trophy as letter A. Ester Kganana


Pretoria, South Africa

● Administrative Assistant, Purchasing
● 39-year Ford Employee
● Pretoria's Social Worker

We meet with drug addicts and homeless children and adults. Some of them have gone days without food. The problem that we are facing is that there is a lack of social workers who are willing to volunteer their counselling services to this group of people. This has had a great impact on me as a lot of these people are looking to better their lives. And they need someone to give them a helping hand as they are not able to work on recovery on their own."

Ester Kganana, a 39-year employee of Ford South Africa’s Purchasing Division, became the default social worker of Mamelodi Township, Pretoria, where HIV/AIDS has ravaged the community, leaving children without parents to fend for themselves.

"There is no food security. They are hungry. They have no job skills. Young girls resort to prostitution, and the boys commit street crimes," she said.

Ester Kganana cutting red ribbon, wearing blue Ford Go Further T-shirt with long blue print skirt and black and white tennis shoes. In front of her a woman in a white blouse and pastel tweed pencil skirt holds half the red ribbon as two males also in Ford T-shirts watch

Kganana, who has been working to resolve this problem in her hometown for nearly 20 years, has come to be known as "Ma Ester" by everyone she touches.

"My colleagues as well as the people I serve in the community refer to me as 'Ma Ester'. Hearing this makes me feel happy and whole."

Kganana started volunteering in 2002. She is determined to help the young and the old who find themselves in especially difficult situations through no fault of their own. She does this, she said, by focusing her energy on three community centers. She visits all three regularly as part of her commitment to the Ford Volunteer Corps—as well as on her own time.

Second Chance Recovery Center educates young people about the life-long impact of drug and alcohol abuse, working hard to prevent addiction.

Tshepang Care Centre provides food and clothing to orphans and other vulnerable children. Here, the children are taught self-sufficiency—producing their own food by growing and harvesting vegetables and making their own clothes by learning to sew.

At Kukanang Old Age Centre elderly receive help with activities of daily living—bathing, eating, toileting. Those who are more independent are encouraged to work in the garden, exercise and sew crafts.

Taking care of people all these years has had a great impact on Kganana. "It has changed me. It has humbled me and taught me that to avail myself to those in need is important. They deserve to feel loved and not isolated or neglected."

Ester Kganana facing camera, wearing blue Ford Go Further T-shirt stands at one of three long tables, with all purpose cleaner and small tub. Book shelves are in the background as well as one person sweeping.

While all in the community touch her heart, the recovering addicts hold a special place. "They do a lot of work on their recovery, staying clean after leaving rehab. We equip them with skills such as welding, farming and electrical skills so they can get employment."

Her volunteer work has been all encompassing and involves her entire family: "I have taught my children and my family to carry on doing community work even when I have passed on. Through doing the volunteer work they have learned how fortunate they are and they understand the importance of embracing the less fortunate."

Kganana knows she alone cannot solve the larger social issues. But she knows she is successful when she is told that she is a role model to those she helps.

"Sometimes young people tell me they would like to one day be like me and give people like them a second chance to rebuild their lives," she said.


Managed by the Ford Motor Company Fund, the Ford Volunteer Corps is a global network of Ford employees and retirees who have contributed more than 1.7 million volunteer hours in community service projects since 2005. To celebrate 15 years of serving communities around the world, Ford Fund is recognizing 15 Ford Volunteer Corps All Stars—Ford employees who are dedicated to community service, and go above and beyond in their efforts to help people in need.