It takes a village to raise a child: The Lungisisa Indlela Village (LIV) School

| September 5, 2013 | 1 Comment

There are at least three-and-a-half million orphaned children in our country.1 It is well established that thousands of these children with varied and special needs are not attending school in South Africa.

It’s just as well known that effective school leaders are sorely needed in our schools, yet there are many excellent teachers and administrators who retire into obscurity, their badly needed skills lost to those who need them most. Margo Reid’s energy, experience and love for children meant that she would not slip quietly away into the dusk of retirement. Highly respected by students, staff and parents during her tenures as headmistress at both Durban Girls’ College and Umhlanga College in KwaZulu-Natal, two-and-a-half years ago she joined sports legend, Tich Smith to establish a vision for a new independent school and place of care for abandoned and abused children.

The LIV Village School

A farm was purchased overlooking Hazelmere Dam near Verulam and, by July 2010, the first eight houses were built. Today there are 96 environmentally friendly homes in what is essentially an extended family environment called Lungisisa Indlela Village (LIV), where 28 house mothers raise more than 115 children. The LIV playschool, preschool, junior and senior primary schools – collectively known as the LIV School and one of ISASA’s newest members – were founded in a threebedroomed home, affectionately referred to as the Red House because of the colourful red doors and window frames. Laughingly, Reid, veteran that she is, wonders what her title is: “I am a LIV director and an educational consultant on the project. I am in charge of education. I guess I’m the acting principal, but not forever!”

LIV has been a new kind of challenge for all involved. “We have all learned about multigrade and multi-age teaching here,” says Reid, referring to the LIV students who have never attended school or have attended only intermittently. “As the children arrived, we quickly realised that we would have to cater for children with very special education needs. We are reminded of the African adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ every day.”

Special accommodation was also the order of the early days. After the Red House came a spell in some prefabricated structures. By 2012, school was held every day in two converted chicken sheds that also housed a reception area, staffroom, hall, library, computer room and ablutions. “Our classrooms are now all furnished and the computer room is equipped by Vodacom. We are indeed blessed because everything in the school is donated,” Reid says gratefully.

Compassion spreads far and wide

The LIV village is just outside Cottonlands, an informal settlement about 8 km from Verulam. The relationship with Cottonlands is strong, affirms Reid. “The community attends the church service held in our school hall on Sundays, and most of the people who work with us are from the local community. We are aware of the extreme poverty of most of the families, so some of the LIV staff and volunteers go into the community to assist with stabilising dilapidated homes and to supply food, blankets and basic furniture where there is a need.”

LIV School is also linked to the other two schools closest to them – Cottonlands and Golden Steps – in many aspects. The latter, a special needs school, generously allows access to their sporting facilities and therapists. A bond of sympathy exists with Cottonlands, which copes with over 800 children. Reid beams with gratitude when she speaks of help from other schools in the general area and beyond – some independent, some public – that have embraced the ‘village philosophy’. “I am overwhelmed by the kindness, support and interest of so many of them. The staff, children and parents of Ashton College actually donated all our stationery for this year. Umhlanga College has included us in sporting and cultural events and one most generous parent has kindly given each child a brand new pair of school shoes. The parents also run a fun holiday morning for our children, and the school donated to us the Real Life 4 Kids2 game, which we cannot wait to start playing. St Mary’s DSG Kloof, Treverton College, Thomas More College, Curro Hillcrest Christian Academy, Crawford North Coast College and Scottville Junior School have supported us, and many groups of pupils from these schools have been to the LIV Village to do community service. ”

Love and acceptance

Asked what makes the LIV School unique, Reid’s smile becomes even wider. “It is definitely the most amazing, wonderful children. We do not turn children away, no matter what their age or ability. “There is no greater joy or fulfilment than seeing abused, traumatised children start to laugh and develop after a while. They really want to learn and there is lots of untapped talent. All we want is for them to be the best that they can be. When a new arrival does not speak for three months and then suddenly through the love and caring they find their voice, you know that you are not just educating them cognitively but also helping them emotionally.”

News of the compassion that ripples through LIV spread quickly. Reid says she’s touched by the number of young people – some from overseas – who volunteer at the school simply for the experience. Currently, three interns help out in the library and in isiZulu First Additional Language classes. Two UK born teachers will soon return to round out the numbers. Together with seven qualified teachers in the primary phase, three teachers and two child minders in the preschool and 91 pupils, LIV is truly a rainbow village in terms of diversity. Reid reports that several of the caregivers are studying to improve their teaching qualifications.

Strength and endurance

Being part of a village means an increase in strength and perseverance. Like many new initiatives, money and unwarranted bureaucratic delays have caused headaches. “We rely totally on donations,” reveals Reid, “and are eagerly awaiting the state subsidy to which we are entitled as a school registered with the Department of Education. Our teachers also had to find sponsors for their salaries to start with.”

Because of its uniquely inclusive nature, LIV’s pupils are not conventionally placed. Reid explains it well: “Our children are not ageappropriate for their grades and we have multigrade classes. There is also a remedial class and a special needs class. A priority is to get the children with huge learning delays up to standard in order for them to be placed in the mainstream classes. Many of the children have not attended school in the past, and there are children aged 10 who are just starting to read. The medium of instruction is English, and I commend the children for learning to speak English in such a short period of time.”

The village mentality has ensured that no one gives up at LIV. “The teachers have also had to learn how to teach traumatised children.” Fundamentally love, understanding, patience and acceptance are key in obtaining results is Reid’s philosophy.

It’s a philosophy that’s paying off. “Our children are happy, compliant pupils who are respectful and courteous. Ten children attend ballet lessons at the Durban Playhouse and will perform in a production at the end of the year. A number of pupils are now playing the violin, guitar and the drums. I attribute their progress to the fact that they beg for their musical instruments during the breaks in order to practise. A number of other pupils show huge potential in their sporting ability. The senior classes are earnest about studying and no time is wasted when learning is to take place.

“Where there was silence there is now laughter, the mute are speaking, flat-lined faces are full of smiles, fear is replaced by love and self-assurance characterises our enterprise.”

In this place of love and safety, being an independent school means everything, says Reid. “We own the land and we have the freedom to use teaching methods that apply to the unique needs of our staff and students.”

Reid looks forward to retirement but it’s clear that “the children’s future is a priority” to her. The LIV village model has shown her, she says, that unconditional acceptance of children in such a learning environment can promote academic and social progress.

“In our village, our mission is ‘To Rescue a child, Restore a life, Raise a leader and Release a star’.”

References:

1. See, for example, http://www.unicef.org/ southafrica/protection_6631.html.

2. See, for example, http://www.reallife4kids.com/.

Category: Spring 2013

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  1. Anne MacKellar says:

    This is my Uncle and Aunt’s old farm – Ian and Olive Morphew. As children we often visited them on this farm and enjoyed many a happy occasion. We also spent many Christmas days with them on this farm.

    I belong to Common Ground Church in Sun Valley, Cape Town and have joined the Sunshine Literacy Reading Programme where we help Grade 2 children in a local marginalized community.

    Well done, on all that you are doing. My Aunt and Uncle would have been thrilled, and so are we!

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