Two and a half years after leaving South Africa, I touched down in Johannesburg airport with Felix (now my husband) and set off on a road trip to visit our schools in Ingwavuma and Howick. The mission: to gather information, share some quality time with our children and gain an understanding from our mentors of how we can continue to deepen and improve our support.
First we travelled to Ingwavuma, where we stayed with Sylvia: the new head teacher at Khethani Christian School and a wonderful mentor to our seven children at the school. As we drove up the mountain towards Ingwavuma, it was heart-warming to see small but prominent changes in the local communities: more cars around with garages in the centre of homesteads, a pavement for children to walk alongside the road, larger tuck shops with safety barriers and more two-storey houses have been built amongst the trees. Slowly but surely the economic position is changing. Abject poverty remains, as does hardship and danger but there are small signs that with time the social economic position of these communities is shifting.
Our first stop was Ekukhayeni orphanage where, as dusk fell and the light faded, the children studied quietly with their carers watching fondly over them. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful with a sense of respect and joy. To step into their world, albeit only briefly, was a real privilege. Nontobeko proudly showed me around the three houses, taking great care to make sure I saw all the new additions including new tiles in Zoe House and electricity in the study room. She also showedme her bedroom where I was delighted to see her artwork and study notes covering the walls around her bed; something I did as a youngster and a fantastic revision tool. Outside, it was great to see the memorial garden that has been planted in Walter’s memory sitting proudly in the centre of the land. The benches and fire pit provide a purposeful communal space for the whole family to congregate on sunny evenings and share songs and food together – a worthwhile addition to the homestead.
A highlight of visiting our children is always experiencing the joy and love they show. This trip did not disappoint and I was met with huge hugs from everyone as they eagerly recounted events from the past few years and asked questions about England. They are always keen to hear about their sponsors and to tell me all about their achievements and successes. What struck me on this trip more than it has before was just how confident and successful every one of our children has become. They are all developing into loving, caring and compassionate people who are excelling academically and socially.
We stayed the night with Sylvia, who has been our on the ground mentor for the past two years. This gave me the opportunity to talk about each one of our children, discuss solutions to any current issues and thank her for the amazing work she continues to do every day. The relationship that we as a trust have with our mentors is as important as the relationship we build with our children as it is them and their generosity of time and love that continues to facilitate the work we do.
The next morning, we spent time at Khethani Christian School where seven of our students currently study and where I have previously spent two years teaching. Walking around Khethani, I felt an amazing sense of peace and calm. What struck me the most was the sense of joy and happiness shared by pupils and staff. There was no fear or worry but instead a sense of collaboration and love. Children were safe and confident to not only listen but to question their teachers and peers in order to truly understand what they were doing and why. While at the same time, the respect and rhythm of Zulu culture was still present with children working silently during independent learning, presenting their work meticulously and completing all home learning and study tasks to a high standard.
During the morning, I experienced an interesting maths lesson where the teacher was using a projector to show the children a Power Point of mental maths questions to prepare them for an upcoming provincial maths challenge. The children were engaged, enthusiastic and the teacher vibrant, challenging and emotive in his questioning and praise. The standard of mathematical understanding shown by the children was brilliant and testimony to the maths curriculum they are following at the school. The practise paid off, as later that week, one of the Year 5 children competed in a provincial competition in Durban and won first prize, thus highlighting the strength of Khethani’s maths teaching.
While Khethani continues to provide our children with a fantastic education up until Grade 9, the school does not have the resources or expertise to continue until Grade 12. Where our children go after Khethani, has proved difficult in the past. Over the last few years, we have looked at a wide variety of options, including keeping our children in Ingwavuma to study at local government schools with extra support and tuition at Khethani. Unfortunately, we have found that no-matter how much tuition and support we provide, our children struggle at these schools where they are taught in classes of 60 students, teachers often don’t arrive for lessons and physical punishment is still used. This, therefore, is no-longer an option we are willing to explore and so the search has been ongoing to find a private school, close to their home and with similar values and support to Khethani. It is clear this must be somewhere that can continue to nurture their passion for learning, creativity and respect whilst challenging them to raise their academic knowledge further and cement English as a strong second language.
After spending the morning at Khethani, we travelled south to Richards Bay to visit Richards Bay Christian School (RBCS) to discuss what opportunities they could provide for our children after Khethani. The school is situated just outside the main town nestled in the heart of a rural settlement. It has beautiful (albeit small) facilities including art workshops, computer suites, coding rooms, a large auditorium and woodwork spaces. The school has two classes in each year group and ranges from Grade R right up to Grade 12 with the whole school taught on one site. During our time there, I met with Bev (the headteacher) who has a real heart for supporting a range of children to achieve their very best. The school maintains high academic expectations expecting all children to complete the IEB at the end of their time at the school. Alongside this, they have a strong network of tutors who facilitate extra study sessions and create resources for learners who struggle in certain areas. Bev is enthusiastic about the possibility of a partnership with Khethani and The Zoe Trust.
It was amazing to get the opportunity to visit both schools in one day. It really felt like RBCS was a continuation of Khethani; both sites provide a safe, collaborative learning environment that pushes learners to reach their full potential. It feels as if we have finally found the next step for our children which will enable them to complete their education and gain Matric qualifications that will stand them in great stead when applying for university or apprenticeships in the future.
With two children (Nontobeko and Sanele), currently in Grade 9 at Khethani we must now raise the money needed to secure a place for these two children at RBCS. The fees are substantially higher than Khethani’s fees due to its location in the city, high standard of education and the cost of completing final year exams; therefore, we are looking for new sponsors to join our Zoe Trust family. You can find out more information about the two girls who we would like to send in 2020 here http://www.zoetrust.org/the-zoe-trust-is-fundraising/. Please share with anyone you know who might be interested in joining our family and helping our children to have the best possible chance at a brighter future.
(Chair of the Zoe Trust)