07 Sep Teaching at South Africa’s Best Township School
This International Literacy Day, Dan Winch shares his experience volunteering at a school that ensures poverty does not prevent children from receiving a quality education.
Johannesburg. For many Westerners, the name is synonymous with danger. This is a justly deserved reputation, and not one that many South Africans would object to in a hurry: Blaque Nubon, an up-and-coming musician from the city, calls it Johazardousburg, with only a hint of irony. Yet this city is also a place of opportunity, for those that have the vision and ability to harness it. Martin Morrison, pastor, church planter and founder of the NGO Love Trust, is one such person.
The Love Trust, founded in 2009, is an educational charity. It operates in three main ways: firstly, it helps set up Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres which will go on to be self-supporting. Secondly, it provides training for teachers at these centres and existing ones, equipping them with the insight to provide the best education for the young children in their care. And thirdly, the trust has oversight of Nokuphila, donor-supported pre-primary and primary schools. The children at these schools come almost exclusively from Tembisa, a neighbouring township which is an area of extreme poverty. The Love Trust exists to ensure that this does not form a barrier to their receiving a fantastic education, thereby providing these children with a way to escape the cycle of poverty.
During the three weeks I spent volunteering at Nokuphila, I was privileged to meet and help teachers who are utterly committed to their vocation: certainly not motivated by pay, they were rather investing all their efforts in ensuring that the children in their care could break through the ceiling created by poverty and by an inability to speak English, South Africa’s business language, and achieve their dreams.
One of the best things about the school is that it gives these children – and their parents! – something to be proud of. This was demonstrated nowhere better than in the school’s recent move to a new site. Hundreds of children left what had previously been just a bungalow, groaning at the seams, for a purpose-built, gleaming new school. The new building is so much more conducive to learning, and as the mirror image of a nearby fee-paying school in suburban Midrand, it’s also a fantastic daily reminder to these children that their background need not define them. On the students’ first day at the new site, one girl was dropped off by her parents, who insisted on seeing the new building. It brought tears to their eyes to see that their child, and others like her, were valued to the extent that this much thought and money would be put into the building project. Not just on that day alone, but daily, Nokuphila shows the children of Tembisa their inherent worth.
Landing back in the United Kingdom, I was left with much food for thought. Two convictions were uppermost: firstly, that I, and the majority of those in my close circles, am so privileged in terms of upbringing and education. Secondly, however, that I as a Christian cannot limit my vision and ambition to self-development and career advancement. We have a responsibility to care for others, if we are concerned about being at all like our saviour. This can be done in a grand way; it can be done from day to day in small but meaningful gestures. Martin Morrison, founder and chairman of the Love Trust, is a visionary who hopes to see a network of ECD centres and donor-funded schools providing values-based education to South Africa. The teachers of Nokuphila come to school each day intent on showing love to individual children, primarily through equipping them with the education they need to get ahead in life.
While there is undeniable need in South Africa, and consequently opportunities to help and serve, volunteering and showing love should begin at home. I am soon to begin working for a company whose corporate and social responsibility (CSR) policy champions literacy and housing in the UK, as well as having been one of the first companies to introduce the living wage and push for its being enshrined in law. I hope to get involved with these projects, almost literally on our doorstep. The Love Trust ignores differences of wealth, background and skin colour, as people of all kinds volunteer their skills at the schools. We need to push ourselves out of those comfy, elite circles of young, wealthy, well-educated people and engage with others from different backgrounds. And let’s not think of it as our once-a-month sacrifice: there’s so much we can learn from this too!
Dan Winch graduated with a First Class Honours degree in French and German from the University of St. Andrews. He currently works at St Helens Church, London, and is about to start as a Management Consulting Graduate Trainee at KPMG.