Education can be a challenge in rural South Africa. In 1998 as part of a policy to phase out schools with inadequate facilities, the South African Government shut down the farm school in the countryside outside of Grahamstown. However, after doing so, no accommodations were made on the government’s part to provide for the educational needs of the children who would be affected by the closure. These children, who live in isolated farming communities and who also face the challenge of living in poverty, found themselves without a school, no funds to pay for the schools in Grahamstown, and no means of transportation to and from town.
In response to the need for education, the monks of the Benedictine Order of the Holy Cross set up a scholarship fund that aims to provide funding and other resources (transportation, school uniforms, etc.) for the children who come from the rural farming communities. Currently, there are 55 children who receive an education thanks to the scholarship fund.
The monks also began an afterschool program in 2006, staffed by professional teachers and volunteers, to do remedial work in Math and English. As the years passed, the monks discovered that many of the children were functioning 3-4 grade levels behind their actual grade. Despite professional tutoring to supplement the after school program, most of the kids couldn’t bridge the gap. Thus, the monks made the decision to start a foundation level school and opened the doors of The Holy Cross School in January 2010 with Grade R (kindergarten).
This year the teacher, Ntombekaya Meyki, an intern, Bongisani Soxuja, and myself provide for the education of the little ones. Classes are intentionally small, a maximum of 14 children per teacher, in order to give as much individual attention as possible.
For me, the biggest challenge thus far has been learning and pronouncing the childrens’ names at the school. Their names are beautiful, (Siphokuhle, Simamkele, Kholelwani, Masixole, etc.) but for a westerner like me who speaks no Xhosa, it has been a struggle. The kids think it’s the funniest thing to hear me struggle through the pronunciation of their names and other Xhosa words (keep in mind that there are clicks in the Xhosa language which can make pronunciation very difficult), but I am getting better everyday!
The scholarship fund and school, the children, and the people who make it all possible are a blessing.