Location: Southern African countries

Gogos Give Smiles


LOCATION: Southern African countries 

Gogos are Southern Africa’s grandmothers, and they play a very significant role in their communities. Due to the effects of poverty, substance abuse and disease, with parents working in the cities or having died from AIDS, the gogos have taken on the daily care of their grandchildren and each other. They take this responsibility very seriously and command the highest respect in their communities. They are also self-organized into social clubs. Humble Smile has partnered with the gogos, at first working with them to understand and articulate their mission, and then supporting the gogos with tools to facilitate and strengthen them on their mission. Gogos Give Smiles is a beautifully holistic project that has all the hallmarks of an ethical, responsible and scalable initiative with the potential to inspire non-African communities in regard to attitudes to the elderly.

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HUMBLE FOOD GARDENS: 2021 – present

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Gogos in Alexandra, Johannesberg, undergo training in agricultural and business practices and develop vegetable gardens for improved nutrition, food security and income. The model is being reapplied in Zimbabwe.

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HUMBLE ECDs: 2021 – present


Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs) run by gogos in informal settlements are often unregistered or partly registered and therefore suffer from substandard resources, facilities, space and services. Humble Smile trains City of Johannesburg Health Promoters to carry out Needs & Assets Assessments which have been done in 10 ECDs participating in the pilot in Alexandra. The CoJ Health Promoters, along with ECD staff, undergo training to promote healthier, safer and sustainable environments and habits for the youngsters. The program is extending to a special needs ECD in Joburg and an orphanage and ECDs in Kwekwe Zimbabwe.

ECDs in Alex Needs Assessment Report 2022


3H: 2020 – present

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‘Healing our Bodies, Healing our Environment, Healing our Relationships’. Monthly workshops that address Gender-Based-Violence, inequality, healthy lifestyles and sustainable ecosystems with the goal of creating self-help groups and enriching Alexandra Township with resources and trainings.


GOGO SAYS: 2019 – present


Selected gogos are trained to promote health and nutrition in schools and ECDs. A book – Gogo Says… -of wise words from gogos was published in 2019 and is often used and distributed to the kids on these “gogo roadshows’. An award-winning documentary film – Journey of Gogos – was produced about a trip that 3 of our gogos made to Germany to promote Gogos Give Smiles at an international Rotary Convention. The film speaks about what gogos have to say on a deeper and more critical level, and is screened to adults groups throughout South Africa to provoke discussion and action.


HUMBLE ACTIVE GOGOS: 2022 – present

Many and various national and local government agencies, social clubs, professional associations and non-profits


Local activities orgainized by Humble Smile and partners that often align with annual government campaigns. These have included: clean-ups after riots; hygiene packs and making masks during Covid; knitting high-visibility reflective beenies for children’s road safety; survey of gogo clubs and needs; Jerusalema Dance; Mr & Mrs Heritage; recreational and learning trips..





The original groundwork that formed the vision for Gogos Give Smiles was done back when Humble Smile provided dental students the opportunity to experience the challenges and transformation that are part of international missions.

The first location was in Mpumalanga, South Africa.

King Makhosonke II and Princess Agnes invited Humble Smile to the Ndebele Kingdom for the purpose of “improving oral health integration in education and basic health care systems“. The International Association of Dental Students answered the call, and dental students, a dental hygienist, photographer, public health and project management professionals, flew in to SA from 10 different countries.

Three days were spent fact-finding in 5 schools and some homes. The team was joined on these visits by representatives of the MoE and the Kingdom. At each school information was gathered on the school infrastructure and school body. 68 school students were interviewed with a WHO survey plus a brief clinical examination, to learn of their circumstances and needs.

Considering the amount of sweet foods and beverages consumed by the children, they had surprisingly less tooth decay than the national average –probably due to fluorosis. The community and schools were highly cooperative because of their misconception that the kids’ oral health status was poor due to the “staining”, “neglect” (no dentistry available) and poverty.

On the home and school visits we discovered the Gogos – the grandmother caregivers of the children. Strong, independent, loving, and articulate, the Gogos are organised, have missions, and a vision to help each other, their families and their communities. They are dominant both at home (because most of the parents are not around) and at schools (where they control the School Governing Bodies).

A collaboration with the Gogos was formed based on Humble Smiles upport for their needs while they carry out the task of supervising tooth brushing and controlling diet at the schools. The team expressed hope that the collaboration will be an opportunity for Africa to show its beautiful and important traditions-humbling and inspiring so-called 1 stworld communities to improve their own family lives.

A3-day model, for implementation at each school, was designed and tested. Day I –Investigation-to learn about the school & kids’ OH status. Day II –Workshop – to build relations, educate and empower the Gogos to promote oral health in the school (advocacy) and at home(confidence in their traditional foods and remedies). Day III –Field -to set up tooth brushing stations and other preventive activities at school.

Results of evaluations were promising.100% of the Gogos indicated: The workshop prepared me for helping in the school the next day, and; the in – school program was successful in introducing new habits in the school routine. 90% of the volunteers stated they would definitely recommend volunteering on a similar project to a friend.

I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. Through this project, I was in a position to notice thoroughly the importance of preventive dentistry. Everything was genuinely inspiring, and I must admit that this experience thankfully gave me some ideas for my future professional life.

- Gosia Osypiuk, Poland.

The team was honoured as the King’s guests at the annual Komjekejeke Festival.

Romay Harding was appointed Project Manager, and 2 successful South African women (each with her own personal Gogo story), Nonzuzo Makanda and Storm Johnson, are our project Ambassadors.

The team learnt about South Africa from trips and guest speakers. They were lucky enough to spot a cheetah at a game park, and 3 even bungy-jumped in Soweto.


For the second phase, dental student volunteers from 7 different countries flew in to South Africa beginning with an evaluation of phase 1 in the Ndebele Kingdom and getting to know the Veza Ukhuno Gogos.
A few days were spent investigating the new target community in Kliptown, Soweto, including homes, school, museum and church. Most of the children examined had tooth decay. About one third reported: avoiding smiling because of how their teeth look; difficulty chewing, and; missing class because of a toothache. The children eat and drink foods with added sugar on a daily basis.
The local Isizinda Sempilo Gogos were joined by our Ndebele Gogos and some guest experts in early childhood education, nutrition and subsistence farming, for a workshop to build relations, develop resources, educate and empower the Gogos to promote oral health in their community.

2 days were spent at Emadlelwini Primary school implementing a daily oral hygiene program including a 2-minute toothbrushing song in Zulu.

Additionally we worked at a rural special needs school, a home for abused women and children in Johannesburg and the tribal village of Mahukube near Nelspruit.

The team learnt about South African history and culture and experienced night & day safaris.
A dental volunteer from Egypt: “Thanks to this project I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Oral health was promoted amongst over 2000 children on this project.

Over 1000 children were reached with toothbrushing and nutritional activities on this project.