Category Archives: Port Elizabeth

A little perspective

Sometimes we get caught up in our own lives, and we tend to easily forget that there are people with more struggles than our own. Sometimes we’ll realise this, and, in a moment of inspiration, we decide we are feeling really charitable, and we perhaps make a large donation of money, or we go on an outreach excursion, feeding some animals in a shelter, or making tea for the elderly. That’s great and all, but you know what they say about giving a man a fish…

This year, my journalism course has been encouraging us to get hyper-involved with the surrounding Grahamstown community. Our projects are required to make a lasting impact on our target groups. Rhodes students apparently tend to be somewhat poor at maintaining these relationships, and often will provide a service purely because it is the requirement of the course. I suppose I feel like I have done a similar thing with this assignment I’m about to share, but, at the same time, this one was a profile, not a suggestion to get actively involved.

I was in Port Elizabeth over the Vac, so I went in search of a local reading group in that city (long distance profiling just isn’t smart for this type of thing) so that I could profile someone/the group itself. After driving up and down Main Road, Walmer, a number of times, I finally found Walmer Methodist Church, and asked if they could help me. I was put in touch with Hannah Bayley, the co-ordinator of their church reading group outreach program that they have at John Masiza primary school.

"Friends"

“Friends”

The very next day, I was traveling into the Walmer Township with Hannah, to observe what goes on around the school, and find out how their reading group runs. It was very interesting. Attached is the profile that I wrote about the reading program, and how it is actually so much more than that.

The small groups of learners huddle down the corridor outside the classrooms

The small groups of learners huddle down the corridor outside the classrooms

I was impressed by the amount of learners that they actually manage to reach out to. What else struck me was that they are very focused on enabling and empowering, rather than just charitable giving. Hannah mentioned how she is often encouraging companies to use their reading group as an outlet for their corporate-social responsibility, whereby they would normally just throw money to needy groups, and solve current problems, but not providing sustainable solutions for groups in need. And that is where Hannah comes in.

Some Grade 3 learners very eager to have their photo taken

Some Grade 2 learners very eager to have their photo taken

Hannah Bayley worked as a primary and preprimary school teacher before she got as heavily involved with co-ordinating the reading group. This gives her an advantage when running the group because she has experience with teaching younger children. She also helps out in the preprimary section of John Masiza, a section of the school that looks to be on a promising road to improvement.

The preprimary learners of John Masiza

The preprimary learners of John Masiza, with their teachers and Hannah Bayley

Something that concerned me about the visit was the lack of a library. Hannah explained that there were school mothers who were eager to get involved in running a school library (though lack of action suggests lack of enthusiasm to get this done), but that, for the time being, there is no school library running. There is also no local library, with the closest one being the Walmer library, 2km away. 2km isn’t particularly far, but it is a lot further than the newly-built community centre (less than 800m away from the school) that is supposed to be home to the community library, but which stands empty for lack of people to run it. This in a country which faces a massive unemployment problem. It is baffling. How are the children expected to do research projects? The high-spec computer labs that I was not able to get a look at (they were locked) were reserved for Grade 7s. What about everyone else? And where do they learn computer skills?

The reading program uses the Fantastic Phonics reading program, which Hannah and some of her colleagues feel is one of the best series for this type of project

The reading program uses the Fantastic Phonics reading program, which Hannah and some of her colleagues feel is one of the best series for this type of project

The grounds and facilities at the school were also a bit of a worry. It’s great that Hannah and her team are working to beautify the school and that some of the teachers were very much on board with all of this, but the school is still messy, goats roaming freely outside the classrooms, endless broken chairs stacked and stored wherever there is space, and dangerously broken-down classroom buildings: the broken glass is a huge hazard.

Goats roam casually around the grounds of John  Masiza. The week previous to my visit, Hannah and a team from her church had been to cut the grass on the fields

Goats roam casually around the grounds of John Masiza. The week previous to my visit, Hannah and a team from her church had been to cut the grass on the fields

Where else are the chairs supposed to go? Apparently the principle won't get rid of them (through recycling etc.) because they are government property, and you can't just get rid of things that aren't yours to get rid of

Where else are the chairs supposed to go? Apparently the principle won’t get rid of them (through recycling etc.) because they are government property, and you can’t just get rid of things that aren’t yours to get rid of

An abandoned classroom used as storage for broken desks and chairs

An abandoned classroom used as storage for broken desks and chairs

The school most certainly faces many challenges, but somehow they seem to manage. There are good people involved in the school, and I think that the work that Hannah and her team is doing is really great. The manner in which they help is certainly more sustainable than many other projects. I enjoyed getting a tour of the school, and it made me feel really lucky to be in the position that I am in: I went to a good school, and I am now able to study at a good University. It also means that now I feel a responsibility to people like the learners at John Masiza, and I think I really need to get more involved in projects like this. Holding thumbs for the future!

Children are generally so much friendlier than adults, it's heartwarming. The poses that they pick up from older folk is less encouraging though: Deuces!

Children are generally so much friendlier than adults, it’s heartwarming. The poses that they pick up from older folk is less encouraging though: Deuces!

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