It has often been said that we help ourselves by helping others. This is the foundation of the Partners for Possibility initiative, one of Simbithi Eco-Estate’s Corporate Social Investment (CSI) projects. PFP involves partnering a school principal with a business leader from a sponsoring company – the relationship sees the school enriched in more ways than one. Simbithi is proud to participate in the program again. In this edition, we begin the journey with our first school, Shakaskraal State-Aided Primary School.
It’s a cold, uncharacteristically dreary morning when the journey begins. As the dark, foreboding clouds sag overhead, Simbithi’s Human Resources Manager Justina Mia makes her way to the school. It’s not too far from the Estate, though we do take a few wrong turns before we get to Shakaskraal SA Primary. The school is hidden behind a church, less than a kilometre away from the Shakaskraal main road.
It is break time when we arrive, and the first thing we notice is that there appears to be no playground. Children of all ages are playing on a patch of tar outside the office, with a few tossing stones in a hearty game of hopscotch; that made us smile! School principal, Nicholas XXX extends a warm welcome, ushering us into his small office. To get there, we have to walk through the school’s poorly equipped administration office: a lack of shelving and space means books, papers and the little equipment the school has, are crammed up against the wall. “We do not have a full-time admin clerk,” Nicholas tells us as we walk through. “The lady who is here, is helping us on a part-time basis.”
Though it is small, Nicholas’s office walls are lined with rows of certificates, commending the school on its choir, sport and social initiatives. Stacks of trophies earned by the school and learners are also on display. “We try our best,” Nicholas pulls out his teaching schedule – already prepared for 2018. The schedule shows that some teachers are handling classes of up to 60 learners at a time. “Our school may not have everything, and our teachers may not have all the resources they require, but we do our best.”
Leading out of Nicholas’s office is a small room the school uses as a library: a collection of encyclopedias and one computer fills the room up. “If our learners want to do research for projects, they use this room…but not many of them fit at a time,” Nicholas says. “They have to take turns with the computer, because there is just one for the school.”
A walk through the school grounds, where the older classrooms are situated, reveals heartbreaking conditions: splintered windows, cement floors, broken furniture and a lack of teaching equipment. Ceilings have given way in some classrooms, leaving gaping holes. When we ask, what happens to the learners during the rain, Nicholas shakes his head sadly and says the children are used to it. Some classrooms are without electricity, as we discover after stopping at one that is particularly dark. The ablution facilities are unsuitable for use: cisterns leak over the cold, cement floors and a few taps do not work. It is difficult to believe the school was once an elite, private school for children of missionaries in the area.
And yet, each classroom is humming with the sound of education. “Our children want to learn, and they want to do well. Our teachers try their best to give them lessons that are exciting and beneficial, even in these conditions.” Nicholas leads us to the newer classrooms, donated by the KwaDukuza Municipality a while ago. “This was a big help,” Nicholas stops to greet the learners, who are engaged in their lesson. “It is, at least, a beginning.”
The school has a small kitchen where they feed learners from, but again – equipment and resources are scant. There is a small space where teachers can do admin and mark exam papers, but Nicholas admits they are in need of a proper staff room. “Most of the teachers stay in their classrooms at break time, and have their lunch there. The computers in that room are broken, so they cannot use those to do their work.” The school’s ‘wish list’ is understandably extensive. But Nicholas is quietly determined, refusing to give up on the school and his learners. He is incredibly grateful for the PFP program, and his association with Justine and Simbithi. “Many companies have come to visit, and promised to help us. I am hopeful that we will be able to make a real difference with PFP.”
Simbithi resident, Terry Dearling is in charge of the North Coast ‘circle’ of the PFP initiative. Terry walks the school principals and their business partners through the course, facilitating workshops held periodically at the Simbithi Country Club. Simbithi was proud to host the first meeting of the new ‘circle’, recently, and we look forward to our continued association with this special project. Although their year-long partnership has ended, the two previous business partners: General Manager Malcolm Samuel and Director Paul Sparks, maintain relationships with their principals: Aleen Maharaj of RA Padayachee Primary School and Ntombenhle July of Sizani Combined School. In the next edition, we begin the journey with our second PFP school – Shakaskraal Secondary School – with our Financial Manager Marc McClure.