Our Recent Visit to South Africa
I would love to share with you some of my insights and stories in the hope that it will inspire you in the same way it inspired me.
The purpose of my visit was to meet with our new partners, Ikamva Youth and OLICO who will help us continue Bishop Simeon’s legacy and improve access to a quality education for vulnerable young people living in the townships.
Staying in Rosebank, the projects I visited took me out of the suburbs and into the surrounding townships of Ivory Park, Ebony Park, Diepsloot and Mamelodi. The first time I encountered this level of poverty was in 2007 when I volunteered for a charity working in the slums surrounding Kampala, Uganda. I was overcome at the time with a sense of despair and hopelessness for these children and young people who appeared to have no way out. As I left the townships however, I was surprised to realise that I didn’t have that same sense of despair. Why? Because the work being done by Ikamva Youth and OLICO is working! Young lives are being transformed. You can see the hope and aspirations in their eyes and before you disregard it as naive optimism, you need only look at the staff and volunteers surrounding them to know that change is possible, because only a few years early these degree students, law graduates and qualified engineers and teachers stood where these young people are standing now.
Ikamva Youth were holding week-long winter school programmes during the winter holidays. These young people chose to come, walking three kilometres through the townships. Riann is 15 and wants to be a GIS Analyst. I had never even heard of that role before. What gives me confidence that she will achieve her goal is her volunteer tutor Debbie. Debbie is completing her Bachelor of Science Degree with applied mathematics and electronics. Only a few years before, Debbie was standing where Riann was. How was Debbie able to get to where she is now? Ikamva Youth provided after school tutoring three nights a week; careers advice and guidance; access to an ICT lab that allowed her to write university and job applications, and funding to cover the admission costs for the most expensive application. What was clear also is that Ikamva had created a caring community of learners who provided peer-to-peer support. Not only did this have a big impact on their studies, it also safeguarded them from the negative and harmful influences that were ever present outside of the school gates.
The young people I encountered were smart and more than capable of succeeding. But in classrooms of 50 - 60 young people with only one tutor, and with the most basic of resources, it was no wonder these learners were underachieving. However, when these supportive measures are put in place, amazing things happen.
OLICO Mathematics who work closely with Ikamva Youth were also hosting their winter school in Diepsloot. Specialising exclusively in mathematics, young people benefit from custom built maths programmes which are facilitated by competent maths tutors. Their Director, Andrew, told me that the local high school in Diepsloot was ranked 539 out of 616 for maths. The following year, OLICOs first cohort took their maths exams and that same school ranked 17th making it the top performing township school in Maths. Securing over 50% in maths at Matric will guarantee you a place in university such is the shortage in mathematics.
It begs the question, what is Bishop Simeon Trust’s role in all of this and why should people support our charity? It is an important question. At this moment in time, South Africa is facing significant national challenges. The economy is in a shocking state. Faith in government has been irreparably shaken due to corruption. Unemployment rates remain high whilst the cost of living continues to rise. The outlook for the charity sector is not good. Many charities have disappeared over the past few years along with the essential services they provide. Those that remain are finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat. This is why the Bishop Simeon Trust is so important.
Since the beginning, we have always worked in partnership with local organisations out in South Africa. It is more cost effective, more efficient, supports the local economy and enables local solutions to local needs. There is also the fundamental belief that the task is too great for anyone to attempt alone. Through our partnership we can safeguard and sustain existing projects that are working and producing phenomenal outcomes whilst also allowing Ikamva and OLICO the opportunity to utilise the available funds, capitalise on their learning and develop new projects that will impact hundreds if not thousands more.
As Director, my vision over the coming 18 months is to secure a minimum of three years of funding for each of the four projects we visited. This amounts to just over £600,000 but would mean 2000 learners from some of the most deprived areas will receive at least 250 additional hours of support a year, greatly improving their future prospects.
The final story I wish to leave you with is Jonah. At age 13 Jonah lost both parents, and was living rough with his younger brother. Battling mental health problems including suicidal thoughts at age 14 he became involved in Drugs. Our partners came alongside him and helped him find his feet. He is now a qualified teacher having studied at university. He is a volunteer tutor at Mamelodi Branch and is a source of ongoing inspiration and encouragement to the young people there. His brother, inspired by his example, is now in the top engineering university in the country.
This is an incredible time to be a friend of the Bishop Simeon Trust and if you would like to become more involved in whatever capacity to help us achieve our goal, please do get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.