When you drive
towards Ntsika, you could notice the pot holes, the fence that is not
quite upright. The grass is long and the rubbish dump at the entrance
to the school is an eyesore.
You could despair, or you could see potential.
could frown when you see some of the people of Ntsika, or you could SEE
the people of Ntsika: the smiling mamas at the school gate selling
fruit, fish and packets of tartrazine; the caretaker chasing a goat or
cow – always with dignity. You could frown at the types of school
uniform, or you could see the pride of the boys swinging their school
cases jauntily, hand in pocket. Perhaps his trousers are too short, his
homework not quite right, his tie hanging; but when he stops, he takes
out his shoe brush and cleans his shoes. He might duck and dive behind
a pillar, but he is always willing to carry, help, clean, to try, and
he is proud.
You might see a dirty window but come around on a
Friday afternoon and you see boys and girls all over the school
scrubbing class rooms with foam flying. Our girls have started cleaning
their one working set of toilets: our seniors set the trend; they
Jeyes fluided; scrubbed – and were proud to show off their handiwork.
Or you could just notice the blue nail polish and an open skirt with a
zip that cannot close.
You could stop to listen to the teachers
laughing; the men standing in the sun at break time dreaming of a
smiley. See the teachers helping one another, learning from one
another, trying, trying and wanting their school to be the best. See
a learner coming to ask for a class room key because he wants to teach
Maths to some class mates who are struggling; or the learner who stays
at school until dark because he cannot study with his little siblings at
You could meet one of our volunteers: unemployed young
people of the community, or people from ‘town’ who know that Ntsika is
not a ‘charity case’, but a school with pride who can rise with the help
of the community. Speak to one of our ex-learners and hear them
speaking fondly of the profound influence the school had on them.
why is Ntsika still under performing; why did it only have a 40% pass
rate in matrix, 2010? There are many reasons, and we are working at
them, together. A Ntsika environment is tough; it is a different
world. When you constantly battle against odds like inadequate funding,
resources, capacity, you could stop dreaming. Add to that the
tremendous socio-economic problems of our area, the
close-to-non-existent English of the majority of our learners, and you
have a situation that can be overwhelming.
We have been offered
many trees, but we cannot plant them until we have good fencing around
the trees to prevent the goats from eating the leaves. Picture a
sapling struggling in the winds of the Ntsika area. Every time it shows
promise by growing a few leaves, a goat eats its promise. The analogy
of the goat and the tree can be applied to most township schools: we
have to take care of the basics before we can do what other better
schools consider normal. We have to take care of fences and food before
we can have education.
Our children are not secure and safe, in
terms of their future, protection from the cold, and more. But much
more sapping is the knowledge that so many of our children are hungry.
Imagine a life where there is no food at home in the morning and little
possibility of food in the evening, but during the school day you could
get something to help you concentrate and focus on your school work.
Imagine where the children could go with security and food, bottom of
the pyramid stuff and so basic that most of us never think about it. At
Ntsika we cannot feed them, not yet, but we will. We cannot secure
them as we want to, but we will do our best. The odds against the
learners are unbelievable, but they still dream because they are
Every day I learn something new from the people of
Ntsika and every day I see their resilience. Ntsika means pillar and
that is what Ntsika will be, because of its people, the community of
Grahamstown, and people who care about the future.
Come and visit
us just before eight one morning. See the children walking into the
school grounds; the chaos when the bell goes, chaos that
self-organizes into lines in the quad. And then the singing starts – a
prayer at the start of the day.
Ntsika is an enchanting, spiritual place with humbling potential.