“Wamukelekile”—Zulu for welcome—to our first blog…
After a very long journey direct into the southern Hemisphere, we spent our first few hours in South Africa looking forward to bedtime. Our journey from O.R. Tambo International airport near Johannesburg showed a very European looking city we would easily recognise, but the South Africa we will be visiting is a world away from our first impressions and a land of huge contrasts!
Some of the hard-to digest-facts are that South Africa has over 15% of the population living with HIV; every 30 seconds a female is raped; and alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence are an everyday occurrence for lots of people.
Day one of the IWitness programme started with a talk by Nadi Albino, who is The Chief of Education for UNICEF in South Africa. Nadi explained the different programmes in place in SA, covering education, social policy, child protection, and health and nutrition.
Education in South Africa is compulsory from the ages of 7 to 15, with an equal mix of boys and girls going. Children are keen to be educated, and 99.6% attend primary school. A majority of the schools are tuition-free, and a big incentive for the children to attend is the hot meal served.
After a couple of hours’ drive east, we found our surroundings changing dramatically from developed compounds and shopping centres to wide-open spaces dotted with townships filled with small homes constructed from corrugated metal. We arrived in the town of our first school visit, Standerton. The settlement was very much the same as what we had seen on the road, just on a bigger scale.
Driving into Janrell Secondary School, we were overwhelmed from being greeted by very excited pupils and teachers who had gone to great efforts to welcome us with open arms, with the pupils dancing and singing on our arrival. We were first taken to the school courtyard, where the children hung over the stairwells to get a better view of the celebration.
The principal called herself the Queen and considered the school and the students her castle, which she seemed to care for more than anything. We were amazed by her strong leadership and dreams of making this school the absolute most successful school in the country. After introductions and speeches, we got to see a performance from the school choir. The quality, energy and professionalism of the choir impressed us all, as we were treated to the voices of provincial champions who compete on a national level.
Here UNICEF have focused on sports programmes, including constructing sports facilities and collaborating with local sports authorities to ensure that the children get even more from the curriculum. So, after the celebrations and display of the school’s achievements, we were rushed off to a primary school nearby to join in on a physical education (P.E.) session before the school finished at 2pm.
We watched the children for a few seconds and then eagerly joined in, jumping traffic cones, jumping rope, balancing on a thin bar with a sand sack on our heads, and jumping hula hoop rings. The kids and us were having a great time, and we must admit we had a hard time keeping up with this very energised bunch. Their trainer, Miss Reneilwe, does this for free with great passion. Her dream is to work with administration at FIFA, but in the meanwhile, apart from having the afternoon at the primary school, she passionately coaches the football team.