By Lou Billett
Founded in 2012 by the African Angels Trust, a non-profit organisation based in the seaside village of Chintsa East in the Eastern Cape, African Angels Independent School was established thanks to a successful, but limited, educational sponsorship programme.
From 2008 to 2011, over 28 children from local townships were sponsored to attend quality fee-paying government schools in East London, some 31 km away. The Chintsa East township has around 100 ‘RDP’ houses,1 and over 425 shacks. Access roads are not tarred, there are no street lights, rubbish collection is ad hoc, there is one
poorly functioning government school, no health clinic, no police station, no social services, and over 17 illegal and legal shebeens (taverns). All the residents are of Xhosa background. Employment is found as domestic workers, labourers, waitresses,
chefs and cleaners in local businesses. Some residents own and operate their own small businesses – such as spazas (small supermarket-style shops), shebeens or laundries. Youth unemployment is high, and substance abuse is prevalent. Matriculants who do pass their final school examinations are often unable to access tertiary education, due to the cost and distance of the nearest university in East London. Employment opportunities are few, and very often seasonal.
Most parents are unemployed, or earn the minimum wage, and so cannot access fee-paying schools. However, African Angels parents have always contributed to their child’s education, even when the amount is as ‘small’ as R50 per month.
Societal stresses led to new school
In 2010, the trust realised that different school finishing times, different schools, lack of homework support and transport costs threatened the sustainability of the educational sponsorship programme and its ability to scale up, to give more children the opportunity to access quality education. So, in 2011, the decision
was made to lease the premises of a vacated farm high school, and provide access to quality education by setting up the organisation’s own school – African Angels Independent School. A local volunteer programme refurbished previously tired and
disused classrooms and bathrooms. The two founding teachers gathered resources, developed a curriculum and met with parents. Bus timetables were drawn up – there were only two runs in the morning and afternoon back then, bringing children from two nearby townships, unlike the four morning and afternoon bus runs with a much bigger bus now.
The school began with Grade R and a combined Grade1/2 class – a total of 18 learners, two teachers, a part-time bus driver and a part-time cleaner. Now, in 2015, the school has six grades (Grade R to Grade 5), six full-time teachers, a full-time bus driver, support and cleaning staff, one admin assistant, one fulltime
programme manager and a total of 80 learners. Classes are kept to a maximum of 20 learners, and learners are exposed to as many extracurricular events as possible to reinforce classroom learning. The Grade 4 and 5 classes, for example, attended the National Science Festival in Grahamstown this year.
“It takes a village to raise (and educate) a child”
As with any school, teachers are the cornerstone of African Angels Independent School. Our vision is that each child will reach their fullest potential and grow into fine South African citizens. The school has pursued relationships with high schools offering bursaries. Even though our eldest learners are two years away from high school, we work hard to ensure they are on a par with students from other schools in more advantaged areas, by using external benchmarking tests. Our semi-rural location, coupled with a badly maintained access road, has meant teacher
turnover is higher than we would like. In rainy weather, both the children and teachers walk the muddy road to the school, down which the bus cannot safely drive. It takes dedicated teachers to manage such logistics, and go on to teach effective lessons starting at 07:00 and finishing at 14:00. Local residents come and help out with homework and reading, and even concert practice. The school has seen remarkable results when homework is done regularly and has been ably assisted by Debbie Tudhope, a highly skilled human resources (HR) practitioner previously from St Peter’s Schools in Johannesburg. She supports our teachers and advises on HR issues.
Community is also a cornerstone
The children who attend African Angels come from significantly disadvantaged backgrounds. Many are orphans, and all would be classed as vulnerable. The home environments in which they live are often unsafe. They lack positive role models and endure significant levels of domestic and community violence and abuse. The structured, predictable nature of school – teachers who provide ongoing encouragement and positive discipline, stimulating classrooms, proper resources and the correct application of a curriculum, coupled with a breakfast and lunch nutrition programme – all work together to create a space for children to learn and grow.
African Angels has worked hard to gain corporate support over the past three years, and is proud to have Mercedes-Benz South Africa3 as its major donor for the third consecutive year. This has enabled the school to grow, to improve its standards and thereby to attract other donors. It has also meant that African Angels is the best-performing school in the area and, as such, the school has a responsibility to the wider community.
The school has begun a community reading project, which is being piloted in the Chintsa East community, engaging five previously unemployed community members as reading mentors, who read to and listen to children read three times a week for two hours at a time. Both African Angels and Chintsa East students are participating in the pilot project. A report on the project will be used to access funding to roll out a full programme involving all children at school in the community.
Joining ISASA was a natural step for us, as we strive to continually improve the education provided at the school, to develop our teachers, to introduce a teacher intern project and other community projects. To exceed all expectations of parents, donors and supporters is especially important for a school serving an economically challenged student population.
Angels all the year round
Towards the end of 2015, we started our Christmas project. We aimed to ‘create 1 080 bookworms for Christmas’. With less than 15% of children in the area owning their own books at home, African Angels motivated for local schools and households to donate 5 400 ‘gently used’ books for Grade R to Grade 12, including dictionaries. Our plan was to give each child in Chintsa East and surrounds a specially made book bag, branded with a sponsor’s name and filled with age-appropriate reading books and a dictionary.
In our humble corner of the world, angels do not only visit at Christmas time. All year round, a powerful community spreads sheltering wings over our little school and all who learn there.
1. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was a South
African socio-economic policy framework implemented by the African
National Congress (ANC) government of Nelson Mandela in 1994. Part of
the programme involved the building of millions of cheap ‘RDP’ houses to help eradicate the apartheid legacy of separate (and unequal) development (Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_and_Development_Programme.)
2. See: http://www.scifest.org.za/.
3. See: http://www.mercedes-benz.co.za/.
Category: Summer 2015