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A SheWinS Story: Rising Above Challenges

Dear Supporters of Women’s Empowerment,

Bad things happen to good people, but it’s how we respond that truly defines us. Meet Cindy Burns, the resilient force behind SheWinS, a program dedicated to empowering girls and keeping them in school.

In the span of just three months, Cindy faced unimaginable setbacks. In November, all her computers and tech equipment were stolen. Then, in December, her longest-serving employee vanished with the company truck and all the carpentry tools. In January she had a stroke. Despite these challenges, Cindy refuses to give up on the girls she’s been supporting for fifteen years.

How You Can Help:

1. Donate to Rebuild: Your donation will go directly towards helping Cindy hire extra help to keep the program running and rebuild what was lost. Every dollar makes a difference in the lives of these girls.

2. Spread the Word: Share Cindy’s story and the SheWinS program with your friends, family, and colleagues. Together, we can rally support and ensure that these girls continue to receive the opportunities they deserve.

3. Support Resilience: Cindy’s determination is an inspiration to us all. Let’s stand with her and show that when challenges arise, the community comes together to lift each other up.


Cindy Burns and the girls of SheWinS need our support now more than ever. Let’s come together to ensure that despite the setbacks, they continue to thrive and succeed. Thank you for being a part of this journey.


SheWinS is a Vermont-registered nonprofit organization that for many years has offered a variety of programs dedicated to empowering, mentoring, and encouraging individual development of the young girls in Memel. Founded in 2008, SheWinS collaborates with the Memel Primary School, located in the center of town, Zamani primary school, Umcebo Primary school and Zamani Secondary School. While the main focus is on the primary school girls, there is also a competitive track and field team that includes both boys and girls. During Covid, many of the projects had to close down, except for pickleball. SheWins repurposed an abandoned municipal tennis court, built a practice wall the Memel Primary School and built a new court in the Memel.Global compound.
SheWinS invests in local girls and provides them with the confidence and resources to establish healthy lifestyles and identities of leadership and strength. Since SheWinS began, nearly all primary-school-aged girls have been enrolled in the program.
The girls have become more alert and confident in class. Academic performance has improved, especially in English and reading, and all girls develop healthier eating and lifestyle habits. Anecdotal evidence indicates that teenage pregnancy rates have been reduced when the girls have been involved in the program. The program contributes to real individual and community empowerment as well as opportunities for social mobility.



While the first and longest-running programs have been soccer and athletics, and more recently pickleball, SheWinS has also hosted other programs in math and reading, art and music, dance and yoga, depending upon the skills that more than 50 volunteers have offered over the 15 years of operation.
In 2017 SheWinS built and equipped a library at Memel Primary School with over 5,000 books, the best public school library in the Free State. The Library program has been expanded for an additional three schools (Zamani Primary School , Umcebo Primary School and Zamani secondary School. In addition, book donations from two Rotary Clubs, individual donors, and a container provided by the non-profit “Books for Africa”enabled distribution of books to several other libraries in neighboring rural schools.. A total of 20,000 books have been distributed with an additional 10,000 still being processed. See SheWinS Library program.

Read More About the Library

The track and field team is competitive both within the Free State and on national levels, sending a few students to the highest level of competition each year. Along with Memel Primary, SheWinS has consistently taken top places and has been close to breaking records at the Harrismith Drakensberg Regionals and Eastern Free State Finals in Bethlehem.



SheWInS’ latest cooperative program was with the Joffrey Ballet in NYC to teach more formalized dance in the schools. It was launched in 2019, and shortly shut down due to Covid. We intend to reintroduce this programme in 2025.
SheWinS sports (and other activities such as yoga and arts) have been run every year by volunteer local and international coaches, supervised by Cindy Burns. Our international volunteers are typically American women who commit to spending three months in South Africa. They work as coaches and mentors and are encouraged to take on independent projects. Room and board, in-country transportation, and daily living expenses are covered by the organization. All of our athletic programs are managed by a local head coach along with the volunteer American coaches.
SheWinS has also undertaken several community projects, such as in 2016 a hearing aid project through the Starkey Foundation, for which 330 children and others in the town and township were registered. “Grannies Gardens” was implemented in the local township where 100 subsistence gardens were planted and 100 water harvesting systems were set up.
Volunteering with SheWinS is an exciting and challenging experience. Volunteers are given independence and creative leeway as they conceptualize, design, plan, and execute their projects in collaboration with Memel Primary School. SheWinS is ultimately made powerful by the initiative of passionate volunteers who bring their energy, skills, and an attitude of service to everything they do.




Read Testimonials from SheWinS Volunteers  

The SheWinS program has been generously funded by a network of private donors. Their faithful support kept the program thriving and enabled it to continue growing. However, the years of Covid were very difficult and some momentum was lost. The talents and fresh perspectives of an active rotation of volunteers had ensured that the activities have been impactful on the ground. This was lost for three years, but we plan to resume in 2025.


If you are interested in learning more or getting involved in SheWinS, please contact Cindy Burns at


SheWinS and Its Athletes’ Success at a Regional Meet: Reflections from Cindy Burns

Early on a February morning, young athletes from Memel and Zamani, in the Free State Province, boarded a small bus to Bethlehem to compete in the Regional Athletics Meet. The 12 athletes were the best long-distance runners, sprinters, and long jumpers hailing from the small Memel Primary School. They are supported immensely by their schoolmates and teachers and sponsored by SheWinS.
It was only 5:00 a.m. when the bus first pulled out of Zamani, so for the first 30 minutes or so the kids were relatively heavy-eyed. As the morning sun gradually rose over the Drakensberg, the lethargy evaporated along with the morning dew, the excitement elevated, and the chatter slowly came to life. It began with whispers and hurried conversations; in no time whatsoever, the whole bus had erupted into song and laughter. The athletes were enlivened and ready to go.
The meet started off with the long-distance runners and the long jumpers. We had three girls and four boys of varying ages competing in the long jump. Sipho, our oldest male jumper, is particularly skilled for his age. Although much of his talent is raw, his ardent commitment to the sport and his enthusiasm for bettering his abilities are what make him such a standout athlete. At this meet, Sipho held his own in the group of 14 other U-13 long jumpers. One of his competitors was a sturdily built boy who towered over him. This boy’s impressive athletic abilities cannot be denied, as he went on to take first place in multiple other categories. Regardless, Sipho gave him a good run for his money and ended up jumping just a handful of millimeters short from first place.
Meanwhile, the hard work of our two long-distance runners had paid off in their respective races. The two girls had been waking up at 5:00 a.m. for the past two weeks to train. From training, they would go straight to school and often practice for a second time after school had ended. They have never once complained or objected when their coaches tell them to run four more laps; they simply put their heads down and start to run. The older of the two girls placed third in her race, out of 12 other athletes. The younger placed fourth out of 15 other runners. After this meet, both girls advanced to the next level and continued to train rigorously every morning and afternoon because, as they said themselves, “we want to do even better next time.”
By the end of the meet, four other athletes from Memel Primary School had received silver or bronze medals and were set to advance to the next level. My words cannot do justice to the impressive feat of these young boys and girls. Each of their individual achievements are attributable to a drive to succeed and push themselves despite insurmountable odds. Sports have given them confidence and tenacity in a world where their self-confidence and persistence are undermined daily.
On the ride back to Memel from Bethlehem, one of our female long jumpers (who had placed second in her age category) fell asleep, her head resting on my shoulder. At one point, the bus jerked over a bump, and she woke up, clearly in a state of semi-delirium. Her hand shot to her chest, grappling for the silver medal that hung there. As her fingers found what she was looking for, her body relaxed, and she closed her eyes and rested her head back on my shoulder, all the while smiling softly to herself. Maybe she was afraid that it had all been a dream, or maybe she just wanted to feel the cool surface of her remarkable triumph.

Read Testimonials from Librarians