Earlier this year while enjoying a fun ride through the remote Eastern Cape village of Vuvu I came across a number of children on their way to school. Tagging along behind a group of older children were 2 small kids walking hand in hand. Judging from their size and body language I guessed they were probably in their first year of school. They were barefoot and inadequately dressed against the chilly morning air. They had huge satchels on their backs that had the effect of making them look even more diminutive. As I rode passed I was greeted with enthusiastic waves, broad smiles and cheerful faces. Outwardly I smiled back. Inwardly I was struck with a feeling of deep sadness and have to admit my eyes brimmed with tears. These young people had reached the point in their lives where they were old enough to attend school and enter what is supposed to be a defining part of their lives; an education that could potentially liberate them from the shackles of extreme poverty.
My sadness stemmed from the knowledge that the very system they put their trust in would in all likelihood fail them. As a father who has had the privilege of taking each of my 4 children to "big" school on their first day the chilling reality of bad rural education hit home that cold foggy morning. I knew the system was rotten. Just a month before I had spent a few days interviewing teachers, headmasters, students and even a local chief.
There are a myriad reasons why the school system is faulty. From a faulty syllabus, inadequately trained teachers and teachers who don't care through to parents who have themselves experienced the frustration of substandard education and the failed promise and therefore don't comprehend the real potential of an education over family chores and livestock rearing.
I conducted my interviews in the village of Hebron, situated about 15km's outside the town of Matatiele. 2 weeks before that I had been in New York City. After a day spent walking around the bustling concrete metropolis of NYC where I didn't once hear the warmth of human laughter I concluded that it was "a city with a pulse but no heart beat." Merely 2 weeks later after a day in the impoverished village of Hebron I came to the conclusion that it was "a village with a huge heart but its pulse had been critically slowed by poverty." In the words of the local chief "this is the poorest corner of South Africa, the whole economy of this region is driven by government grants."
Yet in this poverty I found a richness of spirit. Among the wreckage of the rural education system I found hope. There are students with outstanding intellectual ability who in the absence of a nurturing environment will wither on the vine of promise.
Last year through the Freedom Challenge Scholarship Fund (FCSF) five young people were transplanted out of the typical rural schooling environment and given the opportunity to complete their last three years of high school at Mariazell. This church based school stands out as a centre of educational excellence. Last year they achieved a 96% pass rate for matric.
I visited the school on a Sunday and found a matric physics class in progress. The teachers at this school use the weekends to catch-up on teaching hours to ensure they get through the teaching syllabus.
Through the funding of the FCSF the 5 students selected last year will enjoy 3 years of tuition including boarding, uniform and stationary costs. The current cost per student for the 3 year period is a mere R30 000.00 It is very reasonable compared to comparative costs in the major cities.
Please take the time to go to the following link to see a short video I put together about the formation of the fund, the selection process and hear what one of the recipients fathers had to say. Near the end of the interview is a short segment from one of the scholarship recipients. http://youtube.com/MJWoolnough
I would like to raise at least R100 000.00 this year toward the FCSF. To that end I am committing myself to matching any donations that flow into the Backabuddy account that has been set up in my name. This site can be accessed at http://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/mike-woolnough I have been labelled a "bleeding heart" by some who think we pay excessive taxes to a government who dish out endless grants. I have looked into the eyes of the young people in the rural areas and I have seen the faint glimmer of hope that all too often is extinguished by indifference and poverty.
Get involved with me and let's make a difference.