Our Story

Denise and her team share a vision of a simple and heart-felt way of living, where people come together as one and share. They believe that children deserve a solid education and that poverty and hunger, both of which are prevalent in Makuleke, can be eradicated through education. Sharing to Learn is a product of their love for humanity and their belief that anyone can share – be it simply a hand to be held, a good book or a smile along the way.

Through global education, service-based learning experiences, Sharing to Learn creates a platform for students around the world to become active change-agents and thus, part of the solution to poverty.

The Makuleke Community

The Makuleke Community, located in the northern most tip of South Africa, is a humbling and loving community. It is comprised of three villages: Makuleke, Boxahuku and Makahlule. In each of these villages, life is lived in the present and villagers work hard for their people, making personal sacrifices along the way, in order to make the dreams of others possible. Sharing comes naturally to the people of this community, though their reality is a harsh economic situation. Even those who do not have still manage to find a way to give, whether it is a simple smile, an “ahe” or holding a hand while walking or talking. This is a community that works together for and with one another, in order to succeed as a collective. Gratitude for the little that one has is ever present. Makuleke is a community that has the power to naturally embed itself within anyone’s heart.

Challenged by the struggles inherent to poverty, the people of the Makuleke rely on innovation and creativity to move forward. Working with the people of this village is a heart-warming and eye-opening experience. Sharing to Learn builds upon the community’s foundation of love and compassion. Together, we learn from and with one another.

Humphrey Mugakula: “We must welcome and be friendly to everybody. We all develop that attitude, that’s why it’s a happy place to live. We live a happy life here. We don’t have enough. The little that we have, we share. It brings us together, sharing amongst ourselves. You find that life is simple here.”

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Board of Directors

Denise Ortiz is the founder and director of Sharing to Learn. With 12 years of early childhood teaching experience, Denise brings to this organization a love for children and an understanding of enriched education, a system that nurtures the emotional, social, physical and academic needs of each individual child. She holds a BA in Psychology and a MA in Elementary Education. Working with children, teachers and school systems is a passion of hers; Denise has taught and volunteered in schools around the world.  She was most recently a Kindergarten teacher at the Spence School in New York City. Three years ago, Denise traveled to Makuleke, South Africa through a volunteer research program.  She immediately fell in love with the people of the village and their simple way of living and loving. She is eager to reverse the cycle of poverty in Makuleke by empowering the children of the community through education.

Margaux Caniato is a Principal at VP+C, an Integrated Marketing Communications agency in the design industry.  Prior to VP+C she served as the Vice President of Marketing and Advertising at Liz Claiborne.  Earlier she was the NY based marketing representative for Target Corporation. At Target her role as a brand strategist focused on the external designer initiatives of Target Corporation and community sponsorships related to design.  As a marketing executive, Margaux has directed fully integrated marketing communications programs. She has a proven track record as a successful leader of marketing campaigns and people.  And she is a passionate advocate for design and education.  She is a member of the adjunct faculty at The Fashion Institute of Technology. In addition to Sharing to Learn, Margaux serves on the Advisory Board for The Fashion Institute of Technology and on the Development Committee of Women In Need.

Carrie Youngberg is the Chief Financial Officer at KLG Advisors in New York City.  Carrie has led administration and financial teams at several organizations including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. She has also worked as a consultant at Arthur Andersen and brings over 20 years of experience to KLG where she heads the human resources and financial teams.  Carrie Youngberg received her B.A. in Economics from Smith College, and her Masters in Accounting from The New York University Stern School of Business.

Fernanda Alves Schmelz is an entrepreneur who runs two companies with her husband.  Together they are importers and distributors of the Rainbow cleaning system in Portugal.  Fernanda is a philanthropist, investor, author, speaker and a devoted mother of two.  She is heartedly committed to humanitarian causes, namely those concerning children’s rights and animal welfare.  Born in Africa, Fernanda is well aware of the harsh living conditions that many mothers and their children face in the continent, and has always advocated their cause.  The core of her activism is assisting disadvantaged children attain their unquestionable right to full citizenship through education.  Fernanda has long believed that education is the door to freedom, offering a chance for a brighter future.

Diana Richmond is an attorney specializing in family law, who works as a mediator and private judge.  She has previously served on the Board of Trustees of Golden Gate University in San Francisco.  When she visited the Sharing to Learn library in Makuleke Village in 2010 as a tourist, she was inspired to contact Sharing to Learn to see what she could do to contribute to the needs of the village.

Dana Story is a Principal at Open-i, creators of web based promotional and rewards software. Combining expertise in both marketing and PR as well as a broad range of technical knowledge, she has designed, implemented and run loyalty programs for companies such as Nature Made, Papa Gino’s, D’Angelo, El Pollo Loco and T-Mobile. Through spearheading the creation of numerous software and web-based projects designed to create connections between groups of people, Dana has gained extensive experience in technology, including database development, CRM and eCommerce platforms, as well as Email design and deployment.  Whether it is connecting a brand with their consumers or allowing communities of people to find each other, she focuses on projects that allow technology to be a platform for relationship development.

Advisory Board

Bongani Baloyi is a local villager from the Makuleke Community.  Bongani has worked for many years in the area of community development.  Bongani has passion for his people and sees the bright future through the eyes of the children.  He believes that authentic and true development is about people, and begins with children. Bongani founded the South African non-profit, Diepsloot Community Media, a social development organization. He currently serves as a Public Relations Officer and board member of the non-profit Diepsloot Arts & Culture Network.  Bongani holds a National Diploma in Public Administration and Management.

Jessica Howe is a project coordinator at the NYC Early Childhood Professional Development Institute.  Jessica works on initiatives to improve the quality of care and education young children in New York State receive.  She is a member of the NYS Early Childhood Advisory Council’s Workforce Development Committee and is on the Board of the National Registry Alliance.  Prior to working at NYC PDI, Jessica was a special education teacher in both early childhood and elementary special education classrooms in the NYC Public Schools, as well as in a private school for children with learning disabilities.  Jessica currently teaches Early Childhood Practicum at Bank Street College of Education. She holds a Bachelors Degree in psychology from Hunter College and a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Bank Street College of Education.

Sang T. Lee is a business technology consultant with an extensive track record of successfully managing highly visible projects for marquee clients in a wide range of industries ranging from financial services to retail to manufacturing.  He has worked with clients both domestic and international and has also held executive management positions at several startup companies.  He currently resides in New York City and is actively working with several start-up business ventures in addition to his consulting work.  Sang has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

Jon Banner is the executive producer of “ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer,” a role he has held since June 2003. In this position he is responsible for the editorial content and production of the network’s flagship broadcast. In addition, Mr. Banner overseas all politics and special events coverage for the news division.  During Mr. Banner’s tenure, “World News” has been recognized with numerous journalistic honors. The broadcast won the Edward R. Murrow Award for best newscast for two consecutive years, in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 “World News” was also recognized with three News Emmy Awards, more than any other evening newscast. Prior to his current position, Mr. Banner served as executive producer of the ABC News Sunday morning program, “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” He has also held a number of senior editorial positions with the Network, including as a senior producer of “ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.” Mr. Banner was a member of the ABC News team recognized with the 2001 Peabody Award for the network’s coverage of the events of September 11. He is also the recipient of two Emmy Awards.

Daniel Piselli is an Architect with a particular interest in the social and sustainable aspects of the built realm. He is presently a designer and project manager at FXFOWLE Architects in New York City where he has worked on a wide range of local and international projects from schools and public buildings to infrastructure. His past experience within the field is broad including the areas of high-end residential, community planning and historic preservation. Daniel recently collaborated with New York City Audubon on issues of buildings impacting wildlife by serving as a member of the Bird Safe Glass Working Group. Daniel holds a Bachelors of Architecture degree from the University of Kentucky and is a LEED accredited Professional.

Adam Klein grew up in South Africa – he became a political exile in the USA in 1976 as a result of his national leadership role in the anti-apartheid movement of that time.  He had been the elected President of the student government and later as General Secretary (President) of the racially integrated Garment Workers Union of South Africa.  He obtained his MBA and Doctorate in Management of Change from the Harvard Business School, where he also taught for 8 years.  Adam’s focus for the past 15 years has been on transforming both traditional and new technology media companies for living in the digital media world.  Today he lives in NY and is President & CEO of eMusic.com.  He continues his commitment to teaching as an Adjunct Professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism where he co-developed a new core curriculum course around the impact of digital technology of the profession and the media business structures.  Since teaching at a school for dyslexia while at college in Johannesburg, Adam has always been committed to education of children as the primary tool for life.  He serves on selected education related boards and trusts.

South Africa Project Coordinators

Attorney Hlongwane is a librarian of the Makuleke Learning Center. He also coordinates Sharing to Learn’s Orphan Mentor Program.  He has worked as a conservationist, guide, cyber tracker and photographer. He is also a researcher and has conducted studies on the culture, wildlife, botany and social lives of various cultures in northern South Africa and Mozambique. For the past two years, Attorney has devoted his time to helping eliminate illiteracy by teaching elderly and disadvantaged people how to read. Attorney is happy to be a part of Sharing to Learn because “People’s lives are my life. I hope for a bright future for the coming generation. Change is happening. Books are bringing a strong change in the lives of children. Books offer children a different perspective on life. When a child reads a book, she changes the way she views the world and begins to grasp how another person might view the world.”

Benes Maluleke is a librarian at Makuleke Learning Center. He holds a National Diploma in Natural Conservation and has worked at the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve, tracking South African wildlife, such as lions and wild dogs. He is also a researcher, field guide, birder and chef extraordinaire. Benes loves helping people, particularly children, through community service. He enjoys helping people develop their intellect, so that they may have a bright future. He is happy to be a part of Sharing to Learn “because I am a person who likes to share things with other people. Through sharing, people can benefit from each other and learn from one another too.”

Mildred Chauke works as a librarian at the Makuleke Learning Center. Mildred greatly enjoys helping her community. A mother of a five year old son, Mildred sees Sharing to Learn as an investment in the lives of the village’s children, as well as her own.”  Sharing to Learn helps community children; it’s part of community development. The Makuleke Library is helping children and adults learn to read books. It’s not only books that people enjoy at the library, but games and puzzles, too. Teachers from the community’s schools come to the library and check out materials to use in their classrooms. People now have a place to go when they wake up and because of this crime is going down. The village will never be the same again.”


Equal Education

EE is a community and membership-based organization. It advocates for quality and equality in the South African education system and engages in evidence-based activism for improving the nation’s schools. It is a leader in youth leadership development. EE’s campaigns, based on detailed research and policy analysis, are aimed at achieving quality education for all. http://www.equaleducation.org.za


LitWorld is a 501C3 nonprofit organization led by Executive Director Pam Allyn, a renowned literacy educator and advocate. LitWorld works to cultivate literacy leaders worldwide through transformational literacy experiences that build connection, understanding, resilience and strength, joining together with teachers, parents, community members, and children to support the development of sustainable literacy practices across the world. http://www.litworld.org

The U.S. – Africa Children’s Fellowship

The U.S. – Africa Children’s Fellowship, Inc. is dedicated to expanding and enhancing the education of children. Through developing respectful and trusting relationships, and appreciation for one another’s culture, the project will increase educational opportunities for all participating children, and their communities. And it is through mutual understanding and support, the children of Africa and the United States will build bridges to the future. http://www.thechildrensfellowship.org

Karama Mentor Group

Karama Inc encourages and inspires urban girls of color through mentorship and leadership by example. Karama seeks to develop the self-esteem and integrity of its mentees with gatherings and activities that expose them to their history, their communities and their world, instilling the importance of compassion, contribution and legacy.