Journeys: the Three2Six project at Sacred Heart College

| September 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

Sacred Heart College in Observatory is a beacon of excellence tucked away in Observatory in Johannesburg. It has also recently rejoined ISASA.

This story is not about this renowned college, however, but about one of the projects of hope that it has enabled since 2008, inspired by its Marist ethics. It is a story about journeys.

Three2Six: the school journey

Esther Munonoka is the project coordinator at Three2Six, a refugee educational bridging project managed by Sacred Heart. Five years ago, the school sought to do something for the many children of refugee families who had fled conflict in their home countries.

Hundreds of these children do not attend school, says Munonoka. “Their parents are unable to pay school fees and other school-related expenses. Other families have lost all their vital documentation. Still others arrive at a time when schools are unable to register them.”

Focus on literacy and numeracy

Most of the children, so far from home, struggle with English – perhaps the biggest obstacle of all. To address these challenges, Three2Six, named for the weekday afternoon hours during which it operates, began. Today it serves 140 children aged between six and 13 years old whose families live in the neighbouring high-density and multicultural areas of Yeoville, Berea and Hillbrow; and part of its main mission to get their spoken and written English up to par for the day when they enrol at an all-day conventional school. A special Three2Six remedial class gives extra assistance to those whose English is almost non-existent, and a library of donated books allows children a window into other worlds once a week.

Numeracy is also crucial for these children from diverse backgrounds, and the Three2Six mathematics programme is based on the national curriculum and assessment policy statements (CAPS) designed by the national Department of Education. Munonoka is proud that this year four children gained scholarships to two Johannesburg schools with fearsome academic reputations.

Support from all sides

A refugee child’s journey is complex. Three2Six aims to support and enrich wherever possible. A life skills programme allows children to explore their journeys, and on a weekly basis, they enjoy sport and iPad sessions. Religious education session are available once per month and, since 2012, the National Children’s Theatre has included Saturday Three2Six workshops.

At Three2Six there are seven teachers plus a volunteer worker and Munonoka. They have all travelled the same difficult refugee journey which helps. Sacred Heart staff mentor this small band’s mastery of the national curriculum and all the Three2Six teachers consistently upgrade their qualifications through the University of South Africa (Unisa). A fresh volunteer enlists every year and Sacred Heart pupils commit to helping at Three2Six as part of their community service portfolio.

The aim of Three2Six, stresses Munonoka, is not to keep children enrolled until the end of Grade 6. There are, after all, over 100 children on the waiting list. Their journey must take them to mainstreamed classes in normal schools as soon as they are ready, although Three2Six will keep them until the right time, sending them off with a uniform and stationery pack on that important day. The very littlest ‘Three2Sixers’ in Grade R begin their learning journey at Observatory Girls’ Primary School, which has been running a branch of the project since 2010.

Three2Six aims to normalise the trauma of the refugee experience wherever possible. This often means providing items that other children may take for granted. All the students at this special place of learning are supplied with school shoes, uniforms, stationery and lunch, as well as regular food parcels to take home. Wherever possible, Sacred Heart assists with fundraising initiatives.

The August holiday Mindburst journey

André Croucamp is director of the Mindburst Workshop.1 He also describes himself as an educational media developer and, for the last three years with an extended team has created an August school holiday programme for Three2Six students, focused on creative expression, specifically art-making.

“In 2010, the children created Refugee Stories, a book of their stories and drawings. This was used to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and funding. In 2011, the children created Prescieuse – A Refugee’s Story, a stop-frame animation, managing the story, puppets, sets, voices and sound effects. The MindBurst team and Sacred Heart College high school volunteers did the photography, sound recording and editing. Prescieuse has travelled the world, used in important advocacy work for on behalf of displaced persons.”

An important milestone

In 2012, Croucamp and his team organised for 200 refugee children aged between five and 13 to go on a ‘Journey with an Artist’. For four days, they worked on individual and group art works under the guidance of a group of practising and established artists.

“It’s easy to get sentimental about a child’s art, especially a refugee child. This was not the intention of this project. The intention was to expose children to the process of conceptualising, planning and refining an artwork. This included the experience of getting feedback from someone with expertise and applying that to the creative process,” explains Croucamp. deep and explore their capacity to creatively express their fears and dreams. The conversation between artist and student provided the motivation to engage in a process that left them with a great sense of achievement.”

Croucamp notes with satisfaction that the Sacred Heart student volunteers were deeply moved by the experience. “It raised their awareness and understanding of the world.”

The artist’s journey

Usha Seejarim is a Johannesburg-based conceptual and public artist. Her chosen subject matter – “my artwork focuses on the ordinariness of our lives and, as a result, domestic and common household objects are often the material for my art-making” – belies her impressive resumé which includes six solo exhibitions; some shown in Paris, Minneapolis, Tokyo and Belgium. “I have also been commissioned to produce several public art works, including ‘The Why Men’ in Sandton and 10 stone figurative sculptures at the Walter Sisulu square in Kliptown.”

Art connects us all

“Art has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” says Seejarim. “I am passionate about art’s ability to connect us to each other and to ourselves. It’s a means of expression available to all of us, despite our general perceived inability to make art.”

The conviction that all children should be involved in making art came to her long ago when she started teaching art whilst studying for her own diploma. “I attended a curriculum development course and was selected to be a trainee facilitator, teaching at primary schools and to art students at the then WITS Technikon. Teaching in impoverished areas like Katlehong, Vosloorus and Winterveldt showed me how art can positively impact children’s development and further strengthened my commitment to arts education.”

The teaching bug had bitten this artist. Amidst her other projects, she’s in the process of developing an arts curriculum that emphasises creative expression while simultaneously introducing students to key historical and contemporary visual artists. “This is my response to a lack of quality art education being offered at many public schools. Too often it’s reduced to extramural status, where children simply do crafts. Six facilitators are currently being trained to implement, my course, called ‘Artlines and Beyond’, in different parts of Johannesburg.”

Joining the journey

In late 2012, along with a number of other artists, Seejarim lent her expertise and experience to the ‘Journey with an Artist’, Three2Six holiday initiative which was cosponsored by Business Arts South Africa (BASA), the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the US-based Breadsticks Foundation. “I was not aware of the fact that such a vast number of refugee children do not have access to basic education at our schools on account of xenophobia, language barriers and dehumanising social conditions,” she reveals.

Invited to participate in the Three2Six initiative by Croucamp, Seejarim designed and facilitated a three-day art ‘intervention’ with a longterm impact. “The aim was to work around a theme with a group of children and to expose them to a world where it was safe to express themselves within a structured environment.

“We wanted to boost their individual and collective confidence exponentially.”

Art and memory

Seejarim chose to teach the children about stencils and spray paint. “I wanted to create something relatively quick that has a ‘magical’ element.” The course was not just about art per se, however. “The most profound experience I had was when I was conducting a visualisation exercise with my group of learners,” she remembers. “I asked them to go on a mental journey to the most beautiful place that they could imagine. When asked to describe their journeys and places of beauty, I was very surprised to hear a number of the learners describe scenes focused on helicopters, blood, dead bodies and guns. I was deeply moved by what they had experienced.”

Sacred Heart College leads the way

It wasn’t only the Three2Six children who left a lasting impression on Seejarim. “I was further impressed with the learners from Sacred Heart College who volunteered to assisted the facilitators. The college is taking the lead in building a sense of social consciousness, a spirit of volunteerism and an understanding of the need for community activism into the curriculum.”

She hopes to take what she’s learned from the Three2Six experience and pass it on. “Not many schools are able to see that art can benefit the positive development of the individual learner, but can also heal our learners and our communities.”

References:
1. See, for example, http://mindburstwork.com/book/throwing-bones-workshop.
2. See, for example, http://www.breadsticksfoundation.org/welcome-breadsticks-foundation.
3. See, for example, http://worldsummit2013.bkj.de/.

Category: Spring 2013

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