It’s 1:30 pm and half a dozen kids from a nearby school have arrived for soup and three slices of bread before rummaging in their heavily laden school bags and buckling down to their homework. Over the next hour a total of 30+ will arrive from more distant schools, taking public transportation. They will get their soup and bread at 4 pm.
I made passing reference to the after school Homework Program in blogs 3 and 4, and now I’d like to spell it out for you. This is Vicky Bryant’s “baby” and it falls under the umbrella of the Ubuntu Centre, as do our gogos, but is not supported by funds from Vernon’s Grannies à Gogo. However, a few of our gogos have grandkids attending the program.
Vicky’s background is as a former teacher and English Dept. head in Belgium. Throughout 2013 she volunteered at Memezile High School in the Simile township which can be best described as the lowest rung (poorest) of South Africa’s three-tiered school system. She found the lack of caring and any sense of follow-through there demoralizing. So she started the homework program last year on a small scale with a handful of children to start with, which grew to 25 by the end of the year. Last year’s good news was that a Memezile graduate, for the first time in all the school’s history, got a “distinction”, and another one came very close – both were students who Vicky had worked closely with throughout the year.
So when the new school year started in mid-Jan. this year, she put all her efforts into her homework program with about 20 students, or “learners” as they are called. I’ve been helping out every afternoon for the past three weeks and have seen parents show up each day to register more children. We are now up to 50 registrants spanning grades 1-12. Apparently word of the positive results has spread amongst the black community!
Vicky has gathered resource books, various encyclopedia sets and, most impressively, downloaded and printed copiously from educational websites – enough supplemental material to fill more than 50 binders. She draws from this material as enrichment as the kids finish their homework. In theory she charges R250 ($25)/month to cover supplies but to date only nine of the 50 registrants has paid. And she does not turn them away if they demonstrate their willingness to learn. Her goal is to enthuse the kids about learning their school work as well as values of respect for people and property.
I was able to talk a young man named Samuel Fenyane into coming out from Johannesburg to see this program. My history with Samuel goes back to 2003 when he needed help in registering for university. He now has his B.Ed, Masters, and works as a researcher for the South Africa Democratic Teachers Union, with a focus on rural schools. He met with Vicky in the morning, then spent the afternoon with the learners, and was thoroughly impressed. He made notes throughout and says he will make a presentation to his boss to see if there is some way to assist.
Vicky’s wish list includes:
• a larger building for her growing registrants. (They currently fill all the spaces indoors and spill outside around tables. When it rains, it’s chaotic.)
• more regular volunteers. (Currently only one regular twice a week, Benedicte for 5 months, and me for a month.)
• a few laptop computers for the high school learners. (note: Memezile High School has no computers)
• to build a media library of DVDs so the older ones can learn independently
As a former teacher I have immense admiration for what Vicky has taken on with a passion and accomplished in such a short time. She has plunged her fist into the gushing hole of rural education, in an effort to buoy up a few young learners who would likely be swamped.
It’s with the children that the future of South Africa lies.