Sep. 2, 2013 at 10:08 AM ET
What started as a summer vacation has turned into a life-changing adventure for Beth Masters, her son, and a South African community.
The American mom and her son Jake first visited the Dikatole camp during a family trip to South Africa seven years ago, a desperately poor and violent area where they delivered toys to orphanages for Jake's high school service project.
"Our intention was to leave a few toys and leave, and we never thought we would come back," Masters says.
But the children in the area, many of whom are orphans, kept Masters and her son coming back.
"It's so bad, if we don't get them out they're not going to survive," she says.
Masters, called "Auntie Beth" by the local kids, is now back for her 22nd visit — and counting. She runs a small mom-and-son nonprofit that works with a nursery and after-school center in Dikatole.
When the children were as young as 3 years old, Masters made them a promise: "Do your best in school, stay out of trouble, and we will be there to shake your hand at your high school graduation."
Her goal is to get the best and brightest away from here, into private boarding schools. "Miracles, I see little miracles," she says of the kids she works with.
Several of Masters' friends and relatives from the U.S. support her project, and have committed to sponsoring the children. When they can, some drop by to see how things are going.
"This is giving this child a chance to thrive and its priceless," says Ellen Messinger, who sponsors Wayleen Williams, an 11-year-old who has dreamed of growing up to be a nurse.
Williams, now in 5th grade, is the first of the Dikatole children to get into a private school. "My dream is to finish university in the United States," she says.
Masters hopes she's just the first of many.
"I made a promise," Masters says, "and I'm not going to back down on it."