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What Do Houston Retirees and South African Schoolchildren Have in Common?

The answer is: they both have Cyril Wolf as a patron.


You may remember Wolf as the gentlemanly doctor in Houston who shared with me his research on how some drug-store chains charge 1000% more for generic prescriptions than Costco and Sam’s Club. (Yes, 1000% more.) The reason he was so distraught by this fact is that he has many elderly patients who can’t afford to pay $100 for a generic prescription, but when faced with that price at their regular drug store, didn’t know the prescription could be had for so much cheaper elsewhere. So Wolf made sure they knew where to buy their drugs for much, much less.

Wolf is an expat from South Africa, and a piece of him apparently still lives there. Although we are not in the habit here at Freakonomics of soliciting charitable donations, I think that, given Cyril’s track record for goodwill, it’s the least we could do to pass along here his plea to help some kids in South Africa. See his message below:

Dear Friends,

It was about three months ago that Oprah Winfrey opened her school in South Africa. It was seeing what she had done and the obvious needs there that prompted me to try and organize some assistance.

The premise was that, since we expatriate South Africans had received our education and training in South Africa, and since this had enabled us to be successful, it was time for us to pay back the country that gave us so much.

The response that I have received has been quite extraordinary. I have received donations from South Africans, Americans, and some significant amounts from people who could barely afford it.

I have received the help of numerous people, and I came upon a charity that satisfied all our criteria:

1. The organization must be “at ground level” — i.e. supplying everyday needs for an impoverished community.

2. It must not be “top heavy” with administration costs, with the bulk of the donations going to those in need and not to run the organization.

3. It must be transparent, with full accountability for all funds received.

Well, I have found such an organization and it is the Alexandra Children’s Haven, and the details of our efforts can be found here. With donations received, I have managed to purchase 100 solar-powered flashlights to be used for children to study at night. Most of these kids do not have electricity and even if they do, it is metered and they cannot afford to turn it on. These flashlights have LED bulbs and are extremely bright. They can run for eleven hours without being recharged and last for about three years. I hope they will serve to light up not only the rooms but also the minds of the children.

Now I must ask for your help. As I stated in my original letter, I would like each expatriate South African to consider donating $10 per month to this cause. This can be done by a single check or automatic deposit to Independence Bank, the details of which can be found here. PLEASE NOTE: ALL TRANSACTIONS CONCERNING THE ACCOUNT AT INDEPENDENCE BANK WILL BE AVAILABLE TO ANY DONOR WHO WISHES TO SEE THEM.

I would like to make one more request. The success of this venture is dependent on every one of you networking with your contacts in this and other cities all over the US. I would appreciate you forwarding this to all your friends and family.

Once again, thank you for your response,


Cyril Wolf