A School as an Oasis of Hope

As heavy rains started to pour down over KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) on the morning of 11 April 2022, none of us could have imagined that over the next 24 hours, we would receive half of our annual rainfall!1 By daybreak on 12 April, our KZN coastline was declared a state of disaster. Homes and roads were washed away, water and electricity was cut off in many areas, and once more schools had to close.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and alerts, and the looting in 2021, schools in KZN have become rather accustomed to unexpected closure and managing crisis situations.2 The widespread devastation of the floods and the impact on our infrastructure was almost unthinkable, but it did not frighten us at Thomas More College in KZN. When everyone gets involved, the movement becomes unstoppable

While the rain still poured down this year, our community started to rebuild, restore, feed and clothe those in need. WhatsApp groups buzzed as parents organised and collected food and blankets. A pop-up soup kitchen emerged serving hundreds of hot meals to people stranded in a nearby community hall.

Action plans were devised to help the most vulnerable, provide counselling for those who suffered loss, and ensure sustainable food and water supplies for the TMC staff who had lost their homes. As we gathered and worked together it became apparent that our school is an oasis of hope; a treasure bank of human resources, with networks that can be mobilised to help in every situation.

The encouraging sense of community that Thomas More College has experienced over the past year, has drawn people together and ignited their compassion for one another. When we share our fears, joys and vulnerability, we become united. No amount of gatherings, meetings or newsletters can unite people in the same way as when we recognise our common humanity, share our burdens, and reach out to one another.

Schools are wonderful oases of hope where children can learn practically, not only to find a solution, but to be the solution. Each time our parents have worked closely alongside our teachers we have seen great success in our endeavours at Thomas More community. There will always be differences and disagreements, but it is up to each individual to listen, to care, to show respect and to model being the solution to our children.

Creating unity

In the wake of our experiences in the Thomas More community, we would like to encourage all parents, teachers and pupils to work together, not only during challenging times, but also during times of great prosperity. Nobel Prize laureate Albert Camus reminded us that ‘real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present’. Schools are not just institutions where the stakeholders receive; they are also institutions where the stakeholders give.

Overcoming hardships together helps to eradicate the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality that has crept into our schools, and to discover a ‘we’ mentality that makes our schools oases of hope. Hardships are not only caused by natural disasters, pandemics and economic challenges, they are also caused when we lash out, speak harshly or become impatient.

It is well known that our children learn from our immediate example and not from our past mistakes. There is a beautiful Tswana proverb:

The young bird does not crow until it hears the old ones.

Maybe it is time to adjust the way we crow because our fledglings will follow suit. Let our actions speak louder than our words. It is imperative for our schools to become the well-springs of life they were intended to be in order to unify every community and build a better South Africa.