Last week saw a delivery of over 40 used chairs and tables to Ukhanyo Primary in Masiphumelele. The kind donation came from our friends at Reddam School and was collected by Masicorp’s Al Ritchie (seen in action on the photographs below).
Also many thanks to Jan O’Conner for helping to coordinate the delivery and being on hand to welcome the delivery and organise their collection with a group of the school’s pupils.
With thanks to Al Ritchie of the seedlings program here is a video update of the work on Ekhaya Lothando pre-school. From the initial site inspection, to arrival of the cement for the flooring and the construction of the walls and roof. So far so good….
Masicorp volunteers spend much of their time assisting children in the classroom; however, last Friday it was the Masicorp volunteers who went back to class themselves. Together with some of the staff from Ukhanyo Primary school around fifteen volunteers spent the afternoon in the school’s English Lab. The session was part of Masicorp’s volunteer training programme and had a particular focus on child protection. Many volunteers join organisations like Masicorp full of enthusiasm and excited to be able to help. Despite the excellent professional skills that volunteers bring to the organisation not all are prepared for the realities of working with township families and sessions like this are essential for both volunteers and their beneficiaries in the community.
The training was supported by the attendance of senior staff from the school and in particular from Dennis Vusile, Masiphumelele’s social welfare officer, who gave the opening address. While volunteers want to spend as much of their time helping children with their education it is also important to be aware of the social issues that may prevent effective learning. Dennis gave an excellent overview of the difficult situation facing many children is a highly densely populated community like Masiphumelele, where poverty is a daily fact of life. Economic and social circumstances dictate that sadly some children will suffer neglect or abuse and it is likely that volunteers will experience children in this situation at some stage.
The session continued under the guidance of experienced Masicorp volunteer Lisa Pederson, who shared her past teaching experience and work with disadvantaged children. Through a series of paper exercises volunteers became familiar with Masicorp’s own code of conduct for working with children – previously established by both volunteers and beneficiaries of Masicorp’s work in the community. It was then onto a series of role playing exercises to test out the theory.
During the role play it was quite a hard task to get into the mind of a young child suffering physical abuse in their home environment. Of course it is also a hard task to be the responsible adult that an affected child trusts enough to open up to. As Lisa advised everyone on a number of occasions, for a child to make that disclosure is one of the bravest things they will ever do. Whatever happens next the memories of that moment of finally telling a trusted adult will stay with that person for the rest of their lives. How to react appropriately and the responsibility of how to use the information was the day’s key outcome for the volunteers.
It was not an easy afternoon and the subject matter was distressing at times. It is however crucially important to for us all to be aware of these issues and be ready to act if needed. Everybody admitted at the start of the session that there had been at least one moment in their lives when they let something pass that they later wished they had acted on. When it comes to the children that Masicorp are entrusted to work with, this is something that the day’s training should prevent from happening during volunteer work.
Finally we must also thank the staff of Nonny’s bakery in Masiphumelele. The bakery was established with assistance from Masicorp and provided everyone with the delicious cakes that ended the session in style.
Earlier this week we told the successful story of Phamela Ndyalvane and her high school scholarship. Back in Masiphumelele her two friends Esethu Mahlumba and Alive Somaguda were delighted for Phamela but also concerned about their own future education. Masicorp’s Jan O’Connor was also concerned for them. While the two girls had been busy pursuing the scholarship from the Alan Gray Orbis Foundation many of the better schools in the area had completed their admissions for the new academic year.
Jan was way behind but helped the girls with the time consuming process of completing application forms. Of course even if she could find places for Alive and Esethu there was the considerable matter of the R30,000 tuition fees that would be required. It looked like a hopeless task.
Help came unexpectedly when a fellow Masicorp volunteer, Fran Louden, had a chance meeting with a local physician who expressed an interest in helping to fund a disadvantaged child’s education but had no idea how to begin. One swift introduction later and Jan had her on board. During the school break Jan returned home to the U.S. and ran into old friends who also expressed a desire to help. Incredibly within a matter of weeks she had two sponsors willing to finance the girls – if only a school place became available.
Having sent letters describing the girls achievements to every school within a 30 mile radius of Masiphumelele she finally got some interest. Wynberg Girls School – a century old school in the southern suburbs with an excellent reputation, would interview both Alive and Esethu. Jan took the girls to Wynberg to meet the principal and was probably more nervous than the girls themselves who wowed everyone with their personality and eloquence. At one point in the interview the girls were asked what conditions still needed to change in South Africa. Almost without thinking Esethu produced the response:
“I have heard that Nelson Mandela said that in order to move forward, we must forgive the past. I think that we have the things we fought for during apartheid. We have schools, we can live where we want to, we can vote. Now it is up to us to find a way to solve our own problems. We cannot blame others for the things that are our responsibility to fix”.
A statement so profound and delivered in so stately a manner that it could have come from Nelson Mandela himself rather than an 11 year old pupil. Not surprisingly the principal was too stunned to reply.
Just a few days afterwards both girls were accepted and with the agreement of their parents will attend as boarders, where they will have access to tutoring, computers and a supervised study hall.
What a triumph of perseverance for Jan and her informal book club. Within a year all three girls were placed in prestigious high schools with their futures in their own hands. Already the girls are considering studying journalism and drama at University. With the motivation they have shown so far anything is possible as they take the next step on their life changing journey.
Scott Elsey and Jordan Jenkins battled through the hilly Loch Ness Marathon on September 28th and collected more than £2000 in the process.
The course is notorious for its gruelling miles of uphill road towards the end of which runs along one side of the famous Scottish loch and into Inverness. The two runners were well placed in a field of more than 2500 and finished in a highly creditable time of 4 hours 52 minutes.
“Even with all the months of training that was one hell of tough race,” said Jordan. “Luckily we had some of the most magnificent scenery to distract us at least some of the time.”
Scott added: “It was hard going up miles of hills but the generous support of our friends and family donating so much money for the school made it worthwhile and we would really like to thank them.”
Earlier this year we reported on Masicorp’s English Lab project. Led by an American volunteer Jan O’Connor, the project improves the English skills of the teachers at Ukhanyo Primary School who will go on to teach English to pupils as they move away from learning in isiXhosa. During her time working on the project in Masiphumelele library it seems that Jan was also noticed by three primary school pupils.
Phamela Ndyalvane, Esethu Mahlumba and Alive Somaguda (left to right on the photograph) all noticed Jan was an English speaker and asked her for guidance on suitable books that they could read to improve their own English skills. The end result was an ‘informal’ book club where Jan introduced the girls to the delights of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlotte’s Web and the Secret Garden. The books were a hit and all three of the girls rapidly advanced their English language skills.
A little later in the academic year the girls approached Jan with details of a scholarship they had been made aware of via a flyer in the library. The scheme run by the Alan Orbis Gray Foundation provided funding for prospective high school students from economically challenged areas of South Africa. With the assistance of Jan the girls applied and sat for the scheme’s initial examination, together with 1,500 other students from across the country.
Phamela and 200 other applicants passed the examination and were invited to a formal interview where the field was whittled down to a final 50 pupils. All were required to attend a weekend long leadership camp at a Cape Town hotel. For Phamela this was her very first visit to a hotel and her first ever restaurant meal. Despite the daunting circumstances she was finally advised that she was to be accepted for a scholarship. She is now the recipient of a fully funded five year scholarship to St. Cyprian’s School – one of the oldest and most prestigious private schools in Cape Town. Situated on the slopes of Table Mountain the school is a completely different world for Phamela from her surroundings in Masiphumelele.
Phamela was thrilled – and so of course was Jan. Her informal book club had come a long way. However, there is a sad side to the story as well. Disappointed that her two friends had not received the scholarship and would not be able to join her, Phamela initially did not tell anyone of her success.
Fortunately that is not the end of the girl’s story. Check back here in a few days’ time for a follow up on Esethu and Alive and their continuing high school education.