African Angels Independent School, Indiphile Velebayi and the Diocesan School for Girls

| August 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

By LOU BILLETT

Indiphile Velebayi, now a pupil at the prestigious Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, attended another powerful ISASA member school, African Angels Independent School in Chintsa East, just outside East London, also in the Eastern Cape, for her primary school education until 2017.

African Angels was established in 2012 with the specific purpose of providing parents from two local townships access to a low-fee/no-fee quality primary school education for their children – as opposed to the only other rather lacklustre choice they have access to: the local dysfunctional public school.

The children who attend African Angels Independent School come from varied home situations. However, all share financial disadvantage and the common, though unfortunate, experience of poor or non-existent service delivery, violence and crime within their communities. Often, there is little to do for entertainment at home in these townships. Distraction in poorer communities often comes in the form of drugs and alcohol and other antisocial behaviour such as vandalism, and it takes a strong character to resist peer pressure to engage in these activities. Families and schools must work closely together as a team to support every learner on many different fronts. Velebayi tells a story of how she was playing hide and seek and hid in an old fridge – which she then found she couldn’t get out of. Only when her cousin came to find her could she escape – a tragedy averted – not just the loss of a child, but the loss of one of South Africa’s up-and-coming bright young stars. The founder of African Angels, Lou Billett, established the school, a registered non-profit organisation, as a means to disrupt the lack of access to educational opportunities she saw in the local community of Chintsa. Billett believes that it is through education that children will be able to create their own opportunities in the future – for themselves, their families, their communities and South Africa. Where parents cannot access quality education through financial disadvantage and where it is not provided by the state, civil society should step in – we cannot wait, as every day lost is a day of a child’s – and South Africa’s – future.

“I am a brave girl, who is loving to others. I am an independent girl, who is willing to succeed in life.”
– Indiphile Velebayi, Grade 8 bursary student, Diocesan School for Girls, Grahamstown 2018

Transformation requires sustainable relationships African Angels works hard to establish strong, open and healthy partnerships with the parents of the learners who attend the school, and even if parents may not be able to help with homework or raise funds for the school coffers, every parent is an integral part of their children’s education. For parents who are often overlooked because of their poor language skills, perceived lowly jobs or compromised living situations, a dignified and mature relationship with teachers and school staff is even more important. African Angels has worked hard to maintain strong relationships with its principal donor, Mercedes-Benz South Africa – now in its sixth year of supporting the school – and with many other donors and sponsors who help keep the school doors open year after year. This is no mean feat with no government subsidy forthcoming, and a R3.5 million per annum operating budget to cover. On all fronts, African Angels strives to continually improve standards, facilities, resources and relationships, all for the children who attend the school – the reason why African Angels exists. Velebayi’s mom, Nomahomba, is a single mother who works as a domestic worker. She has raised three daughters singlehandedly and is proud of all of her children. She is doubly proud of her role in seeing Indie through primary school, and now as a learner at DSG. Without African Angels’ educational grounding, it’s unlikely Velebayi would have been able to succeed in being awarded a bursary through the Student Scholarship Programme to attend DSG, itself a school leading by example in the transformation process.

Extending educational offerings

African Angels’ activities extend beyond the school walls. Another non-profit organisation, Express Petroleum,1 Vodacom Foundation,2 the local municipality and the leadership of the beneficiary community have collaborated to establish a fully equipped computer laboratory and book exchange programme. Located in the middle of the township, it benefits over 5 000 people, with computer and digital literacy training, internet access, copying and printing services, and extracurricular support maths programmes for high school learners. Siyafunda After School Reading is an African Angels initiative that started in 2015, and today sees hordes of children in grades 1–3 at the local public school attend extra reading every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. Unemployed and underemployed community members have been trained to read to children, and to listen to the children read. Not only do the children who attend Siyafunda do so with enthusiasm, but reading mentors become role models and are truly adding value to the children’s literacy ability. They are needed, and earn a small stipend – which, for most, is their only form of non-grant income.

Making opportunities possible

The Cambridge Dictionary defines transformation as “a complete change in the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that that thing or person is improved”.3 It could be argued that learners such as Velebayi don’t actually need to be improved or changed, but what parents such as Nomahomba need is opportunity, defined by the same source as “an occasion or situation that makes it possible to do something that you want to do or have to do, or the possibility of doing something”.4 African Angels provided that opportunity, so that Velebayi’s academic potential could flourish and she could access bursary opportunities as they arose. Well-known education leader Jonathan Jansen states: If ordinary citizens do nothing we face the real problem of even greater social instability than some analysts already predict in the light of stubborn unemployment and intractable crises in the poorest school. Two, if we do nothing as active citizens, we become part of the narrative of hopelessness. Three, if we do nothing to act on our problems we break the chain of a long history of activists over the centuries, people who in even more dire situations stood up to poverty and illiteracy, to violent government and dangerous gangs, and gave us this young democracy to work with. Four, if we do nothing, millions of marginalised people are themselves doomed. Five if we do nothing, we fail to demonstrate to the next generation how to live their lives. Six, we serve in order to compensate for things we did wrong in the past. Seven, we serve because it is within the logic of our upbringing to plough back.5 Not all children will fly as high as Velebayi. Not all will manage the social environments and academic expectations of schools such as DSG. But many will – and far more than those who have managed to acquire a bursary, if schools are serious about nation building through education. It is imperative that there are more opportunities for children like Velebayi to gain bursaries for places at high-functioning schools.

Lou Billett is the chair of the board of African Angels Trust.

References:
1. See: http://www.expresspetroleum.co.za/
2. See: http://www.vodacom.com/foundation.php
3. See: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/transformation
4. Ibid.
5. See: https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5215

Category: Winter 2018

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