Looking back at the highlights of 2013

Teach a man to fish and he will have food forever.
As 2013 draws to a close, it is time to celebrate the highlights of this year. It is soul food to applaud the uplifting moments in this world of ours. If we don't acknowledge and celebrate those life-giving acts and actions, our psyches will drown in the forms of injustices that still plague this earth, Like the hag, poverty.

I was chatting to Christo, Sasha and their friend a day ago while we were sitting outside our tent, lazing away the hours. For a while now our drummer boy, Christo,  has been on his journey of self-discovery. He is questioning the purpose of life, the history of civilizations and the path of self-destruction that we have been following since the beginning of time, He is fascinated by the "hippie" era and its philosophy of living as free spirits.

Our conversation inevitably turns to the scourge of poverty. As expected, my young trio have a tough time, I think, grasping that poverty is a manmade state, a structural, economic and political power mechanism. I try to explain the complex relationship between the global masses of the poor and the pocket of rich folk. The debate rages on and I am enjoying this spontaneous exchange where we are struggling to find meaning. For my young folk, the assumptions that people choose to be poor and that poor people procreate recklessly, run deep. They find the notion that there is enough food for the world's people to be unrealistic so we spend some time examining food consumption by the various classes.

Poverty, I say, can be eliminated if there is political will by those who hold the power and the purse strings. But these world leaders and the rich choose not to do so because of the huge sacrifices they have to make. That is why we won't win this war on poverty, I continue. However, there are many groups and individuals who are trying to make a difference in the lives of the downtrodden.I then use the example I know best. I ask if they still remember all the schools I serve because I say, this will help them understand my point.

"Yes," We do know them. They are the ones that serve you tea and all those nice things, " Sasha chirps in, "and then you don't want to feed us when you get home. Then you say we must eat bread."

Of course, brother Christo is quick to join in, saying, "ja, ja... ", but I quickly nipped that conversation before we speed off on our habitual bantering. I wanted to get my two pence in before we lost the moment.

"Yep," I say, I am going to line up a few psychologists to help centre you again. But let me tell you about my heroes and how they are faced with the ugly face of poverty." The following sums up the gist of my input.

Between the 16 schools I serve directly, there are about 400 teachers taking charge of about 14 000 learners. They are responsible for these learners' success at school. This is the scenario in the township schools. Let us look at the situation at better resourced schools that my daughter, Sasha, attends.

 If I take the school Sasha attends and another school in our circuit with a similar profile as the high school Sasha attends, we have about 150 teachers teaching about 2 000 learners. If we have 16 such schools with similar numbers as the one my daughter attends, there would be about 1000 teachers employed in such schools. Almost 100% more manpower to provide teaching and support services. This is an example of example of how money can buy better services to give these schools an unfair advantage. This situation is very different to the belt of schools I serve in the Lavender Hill-Retreat region.

In the township schools, many of our learners don't even have parents. Many of them are reared by grandmothers who are state pensioners. The schools will take these learners and shower them with care and support so that they are given the best opportunities to succeed. There has also been a growing demand for space at schools. It is sad when  we cannot find placement for especially our grade 1s and grade 7s. The learners who don't find place disappear into the mist. Over time these children become invisible to us because we don't see them in our spaces. After struggling to find a place at a school, their initial enthusiasm turns to despair. We are also guilty of destroying their dreams by allowing this to happen.

The only way we can help people fight poverty is by ensuring that children become educated. Educated people stand a better chance to find better jobs and live better. But, even the very people our schools are helping, even sacrificing their own families and their health, do not understand that tough love is necessary for learners' own good. Yet the teachers don't give up. Many of them are teaching at the same school for decades. These teachers see their role as education missionaries, as anti-poverty crusaders.

My young audience is enthralled with the animated talk that is liberally spiced with many a sad story, or an heroic moment. We celebrated the child was rescued from drugs and we felt the pain of abusive families or hunger that stings. I also share those stories of gifted learners who are placed at better resourced schools to help fast track their escape from the ghettoes. Schools use any lifeline that can help fight them the evils of poverty and degradation.

"Oh my word, another lesson," ventures one of them. " Okay Mom, we get it, Says Chris. You can always become so serious. "

I don't mind this cue to wind up the chat. They have indulged me for quite a while by now and I was happy to release them to go frolicking in the lagoon.

One of my facebook friends, Head of Sullivan Primary School, paid tribute to Nelson Mandela by sharing 25 of Mandela's quotes since the passing of South Africa's great humanitarian. The following quotation sums up perfectly the purposeful life and vocation of the school teachers and school heads with whom I am privileged to share life experiences:

"What counts in life is not the mere fact we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." Nelson Mandela, 18 May 2002.

These heroic  efforts of my colleagues supercede all the other highlights I have experienced in 2013. It is these invisible, unrecognized human achievements by a small group of dedicated teacher teams to improve the lives of communities that humble me to the core.

When 2014 starts, I know the schools will continue their mission to help chip away at the inequality in our world.

Yes, I know Harmony, Square Hill, St Mary's R.C, Blouvlei LSEN , Lourier , Delta, Primce George, Levana, Hillwood, Lavender Hill, Floreat, Sullivan, Steenberg Primary, Sibelius, Steenberg High, Crestway and Ocean View WILL actively work towards giving their learners the best education to jump start their lives.

And guess who is going to be their proud cheerleader again?


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