On our last day in Cape Town, we had another busy time at Khanya meeting various different groups of people. Linda had all the teachers gathered at a staff meeting and we all shared our hopes for further contact in the future. Linda told them about the things that had been bought for the bursary children and they assured us that this would be a huge event in the children’s lives. We heard some touching thank you’s from several teachers.
Outside we saw the youngest children having their lunch. It was the first time since Wednesday that the gas had arrived in time for lunch to be prepared by three hardworking ladies who then also serve it.
It was a nutritious and substantial rice, vegetable and meat meal which the children largely ate with their hands sitting around the large inner courtyard. They seemed to really enjoy it and loved posing for photographs.
We wanted to talk to a few of the children in more detail about their lives. We each talked to four children who Linda hoped would overcome shyness and describe their lives. We were told heart rending things that concerned us both but mostly the children were cheerful and upbeat. One laughed when asked if she lived in an ‘informal settlement’ – the term we were told is diplomatically correct for their housing. ‘I live in a shack’, she replied.
While Dominik talked to Linda about practical information, Mrs Beales met with two of the teachers to hear things from their perspective. It was a friendly meeting and they loved hearing about Herne Hill.
When it was time to say goodbye to Linda, none of us knew what more to say than had already been said at the staff meeting. It was a positive, productive and emotional visit for all of us, so, we simply settled for a big hug.
Having posted our final website bulletins, we now have a couple of hours to pack our bags before heading to the airport for tonight’s overnight flight back to London.
(Written and posted by Mrs Beales and Dominik on Tue 29 Jan 3 p.m.)
Monday began with a brief meeting with Linda at Khanya and then on to the Western Cape Education department where we had a meeting with Reggi Dreyer and his superior, Mr. Errol van Wyk, who oversees 33 schools. They are both very committed to helping their schools develop and have spent a lot of time supporting Khanya. We had a lengthy, highly productive discussion in which we shared our twinning experiences and objectives and obtained great assurances from them that they would be able to supervise and assist with any help we might be able to give to Khanya in the future. This felt like real progress to us and we were grateful to them both for giving us so much of their time.
We then went back to Khanya, and Linda drove us to three of the secondary schools where the bursary children attend. We still had to finalise the purchase of a few uniform items that were not available on Friday. It was useful to meet the principals who all showed interest in our bursary project and were pleased that the children had got an additional motivation to keep their grades high. There were many happy smiles and charmingly formal thank you’s from the children with whom we went shopping on Friday.
At Sophumelela High School, to where the majority of Khanya graduates go, Unathi appeared, proudly wearing and showing off her new dress, shoes and “Blackmail” tights. The five bursary boys at the school still needed khaki trousers, and Dominik asked them why they were not yet wearing their new shoes. They explained they wanted to wait and have everything new and smart when their trousers arrive.
Our last secondary school stop was Lusanda’s, who still needed the proper uniform skirt and a track suit. She was called to see the Principal, whom Linda knew well. She, like the other Principals and people we met, were most helpful and appreciative of our efforts to support the Herne Hill bursaries.
It was now well into the afternoon and we had one last visit to make. We were going to meet Sibongile and her family at their home. Sibongile just graduated from Sophumelela High School as the very best learner out of the 184 in her Grade 12 year group. Of those 184, 111 passed and 32 obtained a Bachelor’s Pass, which means that they are eligible to apply for universities. Sibongile applied to study Applied Biology at University of Cape Town, allegedly the best in the country and one of the best in Africa. She was not only accepted but also obtained a rare scholarship covering her university fees and textbooks. We were keen to meet her in her home to better understand her living conditions and meet her family.
Linda drove us through large tracts of so called informal settlements. When she pulled up outside Sibongile’s house, we thought it looked relatively smart and well-built compared to most of the other dwellings.
Sibongile welcomed us in and introduced us to her mother, Patricia, her two grown up sisters and their two young daughters. They all live in the house along with her father who is lucky to have a job gardening three days a week. Sibongile showed us her bedroom which she shares with her sisters and their daughters. So, there are five of them sleeping in the room at night. She also showed us the kitchen and the big orange bowl they use to wash themselves in; there is no shower, but unlike many others they do have a toilet.
After this we took Sibongile to a cafe for a drink and a chat about her next steps. She has excelled at Khanya and then at Sophumelela but her move to university will put her in a very unfamiliar world. Having seen her home we felt very aware of the many changes ahead for her. She is a strong and determined girl and is rather burdened by the high hopes of her family and educators to succeed against the odds in achieving a degree and all the prospects that that can open up for her. She is starting her studies on 11 February and is going to the university tomorrow for an orientation and registration day. Veda Carver has kindly offered to accompany Sibongile on that first big day and we are looking forward to hearing from them about the experience.
(Written and posted by Mrs Beales and Dominik on Tue 29 Jan 2 p.m.)
Over the weekend we managed to catch up on rest and visit the stunning sights around Cape Town. On Saturday, we set off in our hire car to drive down the peninsula that ends in the Cape of Good Hope. We stopped off at many points to look at the wonderful views as we travelled.
We saw a group of baboons by the roadside. They looked adorable but we had been warned to take care as they can be dangerous. We enjoyed watching and taking photographs of them. One young baboon was sitting on a car roof and having a ride as the car drove past us!
All day there were amazing views and stunning beaches. We spotted some wild ostriches and Dominik managed to take a photograph even though they were quite far away.
Once we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope we went for a hike that took us down a steep cliff path to a beach. We wrote HHS for Herne Hill School on the sand using big pieces of seaweed that were lying around.
Then we left the Cape of Good Hope and drove round the coast to Boulders Bay which is famous for the penguins that live there. We could get rally close to the penguins; they were really funny when they moved around – they seem very clumsy and jump and slide among the rocks. By this time the sun was getting low and it was time to head back to our accommodation. It had been a fantastic day. South Africa is a very beautiful country.
On Sunday, we met up with Veda and John Carver who had offered to take us on a hike through Silvermine National Park. Veda and John had initially helped introduce us to Khanya School and have been great supporters of our link with them since them, helping in many ways over the years. They know all the plants and as John walks most days he knew exactly where to take us for the best views and most interesting plants.
In quite a short trek we saw a lake, large areas of fynbos (the unique, fabulous Cape Peninsula vegetation), many unusual flowers, fascinating rock formations and some wonderful panoramic views.
At the lake there was an area of flowering water lilies and Dominik spotted a frog. After lunch we had a swim and then set off to see the centre of Cape Town. We finished the day having supper at the waterfront where there are lots of shops and restaurants.
(Written by Mrs Beales and posted by Dominik on Mon 28 Jan a.m.)
On our third day we took the Khanya bursary children shopping for uniform and stationery. Veda Carver, who lives in Cape Town and is very experienced in the field of education, had kindly offered to come with us to help. We set off to Khanya after writing and posting our visit diary on the website.
On our arrival, the bursary children were gathering, and we had to wait for some of them to be collected from their schools. Eventually we were ready to go with 15 children. They were the most promising leavers from Khanya School over recent years who had been awarded Herne Hill bursaries, which essentially means buying them a uniform and basic stationery since they all go to state schools, have their text books provided and don’t incur transportation costs as their secondary schools are in the townships in which they live. From the original group there were a few drop outs who had not achieved good grades once at secondary school. Dominik was pleased to recognise several learners he had met on previous trips.
Two educators also accompanied us. With some squeezing, we managed to get everyone into four cars. We drove for a good half hour to an unpromising shopping area in Cape Town where there was a uniform supplier and a few other shops.
We had to wait for the uniform shop to open so we went to a store and made a start with shoes, socks and white school shirts. The girls wanted ‘panty hoses’ but we could not find the desired colour of ‘Mexican Silver’ so they had to wait for another shop.
We then went to a supermarket which had a stationery shopping aisle. The children hopefully filled baskets with things they needed, including photocopy paper. We queried why that was necessary and were told that the schools don’t have photocopy paper and the learners need to bring their own blank sheets. Linda stepped in and decided what each year group in school needed but it was quite a task to sort everyone out. As a treat they were allowed to pick a pencil case as long as it cost no more than 30 Rand (about £2).
Once at the uniform suppliers, time seemed to stand still as each child tried on endless jumpers, dresses and blazers. It was very hectic as they attend a range of schools with different uniforms and teenagers deciding between a sleeveless pullover and a long sleeved one can take time!
Veda set off with the girls needing the ‘Mexican Silver’ tights and the rest of us went ahead to get lunch at a fast food restaurant called The Hungry Lion. The children loved the fried chicken.
After posing for a group photo back to the cars with lots of bags. We dropped the children off by the roadside near their homes. As they walked off across a dusty wasteland towards their homes they were swinging their bags and looking very happy.
We were quite exhausted and just had enough time to return to our accommodation and change before setting off for dinner. Reggi Dreyer, Linda, Veda and their spouses joined us, and we all had a good evening chatting and sharing our different experiences of Khanya School. After a decent night’s rest, we are looking forward to a relaxed sightseeing weekend.
(Written and posted by Mrs Beales and Dominik on Sat 26 Jan a.m.)
We began the day struggling with our laptops to put our first report on the school website. Once we had succeeded, we set off for Khanya School. On arrival we decided to concentrate on visiting the classrooms. Linda took us round.
The school has about 1,300 pupils and the numbers keep rising. Each class had over forty pupils and most had forty eight. The school does not have enough tables and chairs for the children. All the children were well behaved and those without chairs sometimes sat on the floor patiently waiting for their turn at a table and often two children shared a chair. I also noticed that when writing they do not all have pencils so they took turns.
Linda has a staff of 35 teachers and 4 cleaners to run the school. There are no assistants. I asked Linda what happens if a teacher is absent and she said that they have to split a class and add the pupils to other classes. There are so many children and classes our tour took all of the morning and into the afternoon. At the children’s lunchtime I asked to see their food being served. We then found that a replacement gas cylinder had not been delivered. So no lunch for anyone today – just a piece of fruit to be eaten in their classrooms. Everyone seemed very accepting of this – I imagined a Herne Hill day if the children had no lunch. I am sure we would be very concerned and worried about it.
During the lunch break all the teachers gathered in the staff room to meet with us. They introduced themselves. After my morning of seeing crammed classrooms full of well behaved children I felt compelled to describe Herne Hill and our small well-staffed classes. I felt they were doing a difficult and challenging job and managing wonderfully. I wanted them to know that when we see their classrooms we are not critical but full of admiration for their dedication and achievements. They all looked pleased and, as Dominik has always told me, it is support and encouragement that they need as much as material help.
After the lunch break we continued visiting the classes, moving steadily to the oldest children. Many children were shy but sometimes we managed to get them chatting in a more relaxed way. My favourite moment was when a boy asked Dominik about his shoes with toes (yes – for those that have not noticed – Dominik sometimes wears funny running shoes with toes, so called Vibrams). These shoes are unusual in London – in Khanya they were a source of amazement and great entertainment!
We finished the school day with the dancing display that had been postponed from yesterday.
The school day ends early in the afternoon (they start very early in the morning). All the children travel to school on buses. The flow of children to the buses was impressive as they all went in a long line across the road. It reminded me of the flow of people entering the O2 Arena when I went to the Olympics last summer. Dominik, Linda, the three governors and I got on a bus and went round the Phillipi Township. The bus was packed with children (at least three to a seat) singing all the way.
On returning to Khanya, Linda and the governors accompanied us to the site that has been promised to the school so it can move near to the children’s homes and avoid the busing. It was leafy and green (hopefully, they can keep some trees when the site is cleared) and next to a big police training centre, which should also make it safer.
(Written by Mrs Beales and posted by Dominik on Fri 25 Jan a.m.)
We left for Heathrow on Tuesday afternoon on a cold, snowy day in London. Once we were on the plane, they found a technical problem so we were delayed for three hours. I felt very sorry for the parents travelling with small children. We arrived in Cape Town after 15 hours on the plane. Since it was later than planned, we decided there was no time to go to our accommodation and freshen up and droved directly to Khanya School. The staff at the car rental were very surprised when we asked for directions to the area where the school is as the tourist maps don’t cover that part of Cape Town. I have never been to South Africa so I found it hard to concentrate on the map as I wanted to look at everything as we drove.
Once we got to Khanya, Linda, the acting Principal, was delighted to see us. Linda had been to Herne Hill so I know her but everyone else was also full of smiles and made us very welcome. As they had not been sure when we would arrive they were busy gathering the people they wanted us to meet. We were introduced to three parent governors and Sibongile, one of the Herne Hill bursary students who has excelled in her studies.
Some of the children had prepared some singing and dancing so we were taken outside to watch. It felt very emotional watching this energetic and uplifting display which was accompanied by friendly greetings and smiles. While this was happening Reggi Dreyer, who works for the Western Cape Education department arrived. He has been a great help in our recent dealings with Khanya so it was good to meet him. He is a really nice man who clearly works very hard to do the best for the many schools in his care.
A lunch of chicken salad and fresh fruit was presented with pride and we shared this with Linda, Reggi and Sibongile. It was now nearly three o’clock and we were beginning to feel tired. The children were lining up to take their buses home. We went outside as one group of dancers hadn’t been able to get thier music to play. They wanted to try again. Again it didn’t work so we promised to see it tomorrow.
Today we are going back to Khanya to watch some lessons and see a normal day at the school. Things are busy and rushed but the gorgeous summer weather, Cape Town’s beauty and the smiles of the Khanya children more than make up for that.
(Written by Mrs Beales and posted by Dominik on Thu 24 Jan a.m.)
As many of you will know, we used to have a thriving relationship with a school in a Cape Town township. Khanya Primary School has about 1,400 pupils whose mother tongue is Xhosa. They come from desperately poor families, with about three quarters of their parents being unemployed and living off minimal state support. Our partnership ran into difficulties but there are now positive indications that there might be a possibility to restart the link. Mrs Beales and Dominik will be visiting the school from 23 to 29 January to try to establish if and how we can support the school in the future.
An additional priority for the visit is to honour our commitment to a group of gifted and poor children who had been awarded small bursaries from the Friends of Herne Hill School. These bursaries provide them with practical essentials for when they move to secondary school (mostly uniform). Mrs Beales and Dominik will meet with these children and buy them the items they have been promised using funds that were raised a while back specifically for this purpose.