An incredible future for our kids begins with you, me – and one good deed. It was one good deed, in fact, that led to the creation of a unique initiative that has changed the face of hundreds of South African schools. And it was all thanks to one fax machine…
What did you want to become when you left school? For 10-year-old Shaun, the answer to this question is a no-brainer.
“A scientist, nothing more. I want to go to space. I want to see the next galaxies and find out if aliens really exist. I want to be a scientist and play with electric stuff! I want to be an inventor and an explorer. I want to explore space and the galaxies. There are many things I want to see,” says the precocious youngster, a Grade 5 learner at Olifantsvlei Primary School, outside Johannesburg.
“When I ask my teacher, she says I mustn’t know these things right now. I must wait until I’m in high school. Do you know the movie by the name Transformers? I want to build that thing. I want to build it! It’s so awesome. Being a scientist is very cool.”
For Shaun to achieve his stellar dream he needs a good, solid education. But he’s not one of the fortunate few who get to attend an elite school – Olifantsvlei is a historically under-resourced institution in a community where grinding poverty is the norm and childish aspirations such as his all too often choke in the ever-present dust.
Luckily for Shaun, Olifantsvlei is also a school where dedicated teaching, coupled with the partnership and support of the Adopt-a-School Foundation, will give him a much better chance to reach for the stars above than he otherwise would have had.
“As long as I am here I am not going to compromise and disadvantage these children even more. We cannot fail to educate these children. When you educate there is no limit, no end goal,” says Olifantsvlei’s determined principal, Madumi Freddy Maphula.
A turning point for Olifantsvlei came a decade ago, when its relationship with Adopt-a-School began.
Maphula explains: “In 2006, Adopt-a-School began the process of renovating and building much of our infrastructure. They realised the extent of the challenges in the communities we service, where many parents are illiterate, unemployed, lacking income and resources.”
“Many of these kids bring these realities with them to school. Adopt-a-School arranged counselling where they could. They then assisted in the development of teachers in various subjects and helped us to develop a strategic plan for our school, among many other things.”
Nelson Mandela famously once quipped, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Never a truer word was said, and nowhere else is it borne out more than in the work of Adopt-a-School.
As we mark Nelson Mandela International Day 2016 this July, we are reminded to not only celebrate Madiba’s legacy of service on that one day, but to do so on every day of the year. It is a call to action to always give back, to sustain our efforts to make our society a better place for everyone. And that we should do so together.
One of the most important words in Mandela’s statement is “change”. We all understand that as much as our country has changed – for the better – in the past few decades, a lot more change needs to happen if we are to address our myriad social challenges.
Change begins with a single action. In the case of Adopt-a-School, its origins lie in the humble donation of a fax machine to Tshilidzi Primary School in Soweto in 2001 by one of its alumni, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. When he arrived at the school to hand over the fax machine, he discovered that it was lacking many basic resources that it needed for effective learning. This shock realisation was a turning point. He was motivated with a new-found passion and commitment to make a positive change.
The next year, he and several other concerned South Africans banded together to form Adopt-a-School which, for the past 15 years, has raised desperately needed funding from generous corporate and individual donors, and partnered with over six hundred rural and disadvantaged schools from all over South Africa (and also in Lesotho and Mozambique) to address the inequalities and inadequacies they endure.
The foundation’s approach is holistic. It recognises that simply renovating a school or giving it computers and then walking away will not achieve the desired result – that would simply be a waste of money, as each school has its own needs and priorities. New classrooms. More teachers. Teacher training. Computers and tablets. Electricity. Running water. Nutritious food. Social services. And many more.
“Through our Whole School Development model, we undertake a wide array of activities. These range from infrastructure developments, teacher and learner development and support, extra-curricular and co-curricular management, and security improvement, to smaller – but no less important – interventions such as feeding schemes, assisting students to access government benefits – such as grants – eyesight testing and the provision of sanitary pads to girls,” says Steven Lebere, Executive Director of the Foundation.
It is something as simple as an eye test that has revolutionised learning for Seithati, a Grade 6 learner at Morifi AME Primary School in the Mohale’s Hoek district of Lesotho. Now 16 years old, she lost years of her primary education because of her poor eyesight; but a pair of spectacles has given her renewed hope for her future.
“My dream is to be a doctor so that I can help sick people, just like the doctors who came and helped me with my eyes. Now I can see the chalkboard. Before it was difficult to read and write, but now everything is clear,” says Seithati, a dedicated learner who walks for two hours every morning just to reach her school.
Critically important to Adopt-a-School’s model is the involvement of communities in upgrading their schools, both in terms of their taking ownership of the facilities and in creating jobs. For example, Busisiwe is a member of the team rebuilding Ingweniphaphama Primary School south of Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal. A former pupil, Buthelezi’s parents had helped to build the previous school. “I feel very happy to see my family benefiting from the school we helped to build,” she says, “and we hope that our children and our children’s children will now have better opportunities because of the one we are building. The first schools helped us to get education, but this new one will bring a brighter future.”
She continues: “I hope that my children continue to learn the way that we did at school, but now our expectations are that they can and will go further than us by going on to tertiary education. I want them to become independent in life and to achieve the things they want.
“I also hope that the story of our building this school for them gets passed on to their children just as we have told them about those who built Ingweniphaphama for us, how we also built the mud school for them. This history is ours and we must be proud of it.”
Their new school is equally exciting for 12-year-old Noxolo, who looks forward to enjoying learning opportunities that so many of us take for granted – such as interacting with technology for the very first time, or having a library.
“I am very happy when I watch the new school being built there. I am looking forward to learning how to use the computers because I have never used one. I have never touched a computer before, so I am excited for that. I also like to read, so I want to see the library. Things will really change for us,” says Noxolo.
Like Shaun in faraway Olifantsvlei, Ingweniphaphama’s pupils also have big dreams – and now they might have the opportunity to fulfil them. Kids like 12-year-old Siphelele, who says that she wants “to be a pilot one day because I want to fly, even though I have never been inside an aeroplane”.
What is remarkable about many children in impoverished communities is that they see their improved chances at education as an opportunity to give back to their communities, instead of simply exploiting choices elsewhere. In the unfortunately named Stinkwater community, north of Pretoria, Modilati Secondary School matriculant Lebogang is determined to become a veterinarian and return to her community to do much-needed work there. Lebogang’s home situation is as difficult as one could imagine: her widowed mother is unemployed and the family have no electricity or running water. However, Modilati is a place where she is supported and her talents are nurtured by her dedicated teachers.
“I started to realise that, in life,” she says, “no matter where you come from, no matter how many challenges you have faced, anything is possible.”
Lebogang was selected as a member of Junior Tukkies, a partnership programme between Tshwane schools and the University of Pretoria that is designed to expose learners to the world of tertiary education. The highlight was a visit to the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, where she got a taste of her intended career.
Lebogang still needs to figure out how she will fund a seven-year degree course, but for now she is focused on what happens after she graduates: “I will focus on rural areas and help people understand how to look after their animals because many of them are not treated well. I am really concerned about their wellbeing … We need to take care of animals, because they also take care of us.”
Back at Morifi AME Primary School, Seithati’s principal is a prime example of someone giving back to their community. Limakatso Francina Nketsi is a former pupil of Morifi AME, and she started teaching as an unpaid volunteer there in 2004. It’s a tough job, as she and one other teacher must manage all eight grades between them. However, it is her determination to succeed that attracted the attention of Adopt-a-School.
Nelson Mandela famously once quipped, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
The foundation’s complete renovation of the school in 2011 has been a major factor in its success, making the environment more conducive to learning and creating excitement among the learners. The school also received a fully equipped mobile library, including a television and DVD player. The opportunity to read books and work on computers is an enormous boost to children who ordinarily would never see them, let alone use them.
Children such as Shaun, Seithati, Lebogang, Noxolo and Siphelele deserve to realise their dreams. They want to succeed, and they want others to succeed as well.
They see a better life ahead, but to achieve that they need the support not only of their dedicated teachers (who often work educational miracles amid terrible circumstances) but from all of us – government, corporate companies and individuals alike.
Change begins with a single action, and the results being seen in the 600-plus schools that are already partnered with the Adopt-a-School Foundation provide stunning proof of that. And the action that precipitated this incredible story was the simple donation of a fax machine. Imagine, then, what more could be done if more of us take that critical first step.
In one of Adopt-a-School’s annual reports, Ramaphosa sums up the foundation’s mission thus: “A nation’s history may be written in books, but a nation’s future is written on the chalkboards of its schools.”
To help Adopt-a-School make a difference, go to www.adoptaschool.org.za