• bsi-innovation
  • bsi-learning
  • bsi-people
  • bsi-wealth

A heartwarming story of connection , collaboration, contribution and community from a small town in Zimbabwe koi

Ilan Elkaim (Danny’s older brother) and a product of Bulawayo (the town where we grew up), is a few years older than us , and in his youth was (and still is) a larrikin that we all looked up to as a leader, and love and adore! 

Ilan has become the glue that has brought our Bulawayo (Byo) community who are now living in all corners of the globe together.  Bulawayo is a small town in Zimbabwe that has created a community of exceptional humans. A community that I am proud and priviliged to be a part of! 

Ilan was (and still is) a football fanatic, who as a teenager, spent his time with the Highlanders football team. A Jewish White boy that can speak Zulu like his mother tongue.

Ilan travelled between USA and Bulawayo over the years, and a passion project of his was to organise soccer scholarships for exceptional underprivileged humans from Bulawayo to American Universities.

Over the years, Ilan changed so many lives for the better…. and these humans have paid it and continue to pay it forward. 

Below is a story of connection, collaboration, contribution and community. (From Ilan’s memoirs )

Not all the young people were student/athletes. 

In 2011 we all went to Livingston Zambia, birthplace of my mom, to celebrate her 80th birthday. Danny flew in to Bulawayo (Byo) from New York. I was in Byo too and was invited one morning to my dear friend and former Ascot Clothing employee, Beverley Peinke to visit her at her coffee shop. 

Bev asked me if I only helped to facilitate scholarships for student athletes or if I could do the same with academically gifted kids. I said that I only help with athletes because the US has enough exceptionally bright kids who were awarded academic scholarships. 

She asked if I could at least meet and perhaps advise a young girl on what path she might take. I agreed. And then I met Amanda. 

She arrived at the coffee shop with an envelope containing her school records. But, hold on, she’s white! 

That certainly would make any chance of an academic scholarship virtually impossible. 

Anyway I asked her to show me her certificates. She had been a student at the Dominican Convent High School in Bulawayo. There were 800 girls at the Convent, perhaps 10 were white girls. Amanda handed me her O level certificate first. She had obtained 14 A’s. I was amazed. A passing level at O level is 5 subjects with C grades or better. She had 14 A’s. 

Then she showed me her A level certificate. She had written exams in Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Biology. Her grades, A,A,A and a B. I asked her why she had “messed up” her biology exam!!!

I must say I was most impressed but I said to her and to Bev that whilst her results were indeed remarkable, I had no idea of how I could help. 

I went to my mom’s house and met the family entourage and Danny. I told Danny about Amanda and her amazing results and asked if he could help her perhaps to apply to his alma mater Brandeis University. 

He said that he had no influence on Brandeis admissions policy but he was interested to meet her. I arranged to meet Amanda at Bev’s coffee shop the next day. I told her to bring her certificates again. 

When I introduced Amanda to Danny he mentioned that he had a team mate who played football with him in his very successful Maccabi team back in the 1970’s. 

His name was Gavin Shilton. Amanda immediately said that Gavin is her dad. Danny hadn’t seen or heard from Gavin for over 30 years. We left Bev’s shop and Danny said to me in the car that he was going to really try his best to “sell” her to Brandeis when he got back to the US. 

I received a call from him when he did get back. He had approached a friend at Brandeis who suggested that Amanda write the American SAT tests, the tests that all American high schoolers write prior to applying for college. 

Amanda had no idea about these tests and certainly did not have enough funds to apply. We went online and found that the next SAT test which was offered at CBC in Bulawayo was only a few weeks away. 

We enrolled Amanda and I explained that the tests were in 3 parts, Math, English and composition. Each test was 800 points so that a 100% score would be 2400. A great score would be anything above 1700 but I told her that the tests could be taken more than once and that colleges would assess the candidate on his/her best scores. 

Amanda wrote the exam just once. She was aware that she was culturally disadvantaged but gave it a go anyway. 

Weeks later she received her results. 

2250!! Again 2250!! 

First and only time she wrote the tests! Well Brandeis were suitably impressed and offered her a two thirds dollar amount for a scholarship. Danny ( mainly) and other interested Zimbabweans all contributed to her financial need and Amanda was on her way. 

Amanda was the valedictorian of her Brandeis class and gave the graduating class speech at her graduation day. She had attained her Bachelor’s degree and her Master’s in 4 years. 

Offers for postgraduate study were received from Harvard, Stanford and several other top flight schools. She chose Rockefeller in New York City where she is currently studying for her doctorate. Neuroscience is her chosen field of study. 

From Bellevue Bulawayo to Brandeis to Rockefeller in New York. Another Bulawayo brain box. So proud

From Amanda Shilton 

Ahhh Ilan!!!!

I still cannot believe the incredible trajectory that my life has taken! I got a notification from a memory on Facebook this morning when I posted 6 years ago that I was going to Brandeis! 

I can’t believe it’s already been 6 years! 

My time at Brandeis was the best time of my life…I made incredible friends, had wonderful relationships with my professors, got to be a teaching assistant in the biology classes, and discovered my love and passion for research! 

I often think about what I would be doing right now if I did not meet you, Beverley Peinke and Danny Elkaim. I have always found refuge in learning and challenging myself academically, and if I had stayed in Bulawayo, I sadly would have lost the opportunity to immerse myself in this. 

I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Neuroscience at Brandeis, and gave a speech at the diploma ceremony for the science majors – an incredible moment that I will never forget. 

Standing at the podium, my life felt surreal. I still struggle sometimes to believe that THIS is my life now. 

I talked about how our past grounds us but does not define us. 

Our ability to ask questions, to be a part of communities and revel in our common humanity – that is what defines us. 

I accepted my offer from Rockefeller University, which despite being less well known than the Ivy League’s overall, is incredibly respected and revered in the scientific community for their drive and passion for uncovering scientific truths for over 100 years. 

I can proudly say that I made the right choice! The past year and a half has been monumental. We have the ability to do “rotations” in different labs for a few months studying different things. I did a rotation in the Shaham lab studying how memory is formed. 

Then I did a rotation outside of my field in an area I had absolutely zero experience in – viruses. 

I fell in love with the amazing biology that governs how viruses and animals interact with each other. It was during this rotation that I decided to pursue this new field (microbiology) for my doctorate. 

I am now in the Marraffini lab studying bacteria. I look forward to my future in a way that I never really did in high school. 

The Elkaim family gave me the greatest gift – they gave me the opportunity to pursue the thing that made me the happiest and that gave my life meaning and purpose. 

Words often feel completely inadequate to describe the pure joy, love, and respect I have for every single person who helped me get to where I am. 

This is not my success story – it is ours, and it always makes me believe in the steadfast love and support of communities and the common humanity of strangers. 

Gavin Shilton – Amanda’s Dad

Great story to go back on . Thank u to Bev , yourself and Danny for getting Amanda into Brandeis and to those Bulawayo people who help raised funds for Amanda . Amanda is doing bacteriaology for her PHD if I am correct . Was great hearing from Danny after 40+ years . 

Beverley Peinke

Still get goosebumps when I think of all the incredible people of the Bulawayo Community that popped their change into the tin for Amanda Shilton which helped to buy her luggage and few essentials … and wow! has she made us proud ❤️The Elkaim family just rock, whichever way you look at it … priviliged to be a part of their lives ??

About Ilan


Posted on April 10, 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Contact us today to find out how we can make your business grow!
Ph: 02 9126 9100  Email: info@bsi.com.au
Level 9, Angel Place,123 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000

© Copyright 2024 BSI