The shortlist comprised of 3 schools in townships in Cape Town.
February 12th, Myles, Nicky (from our Cape Town office) and I spent the day
looking around the 3 schools in townships in Cape Town. Here’s a bit of
background information on our visit to each of them:
Pre-Primary School – Guguletu
Vuyani is right in the middle of
Guguletu the biggest township in Cape Town, it’s a violent and deprived place
where most residents live in shacks, converted packing cases, tin huts etc. The
majority of children who live here have only one parent or are in foster care
(we were told 75% of all children are not with their parents).
pre-primary school was built in 1961 and serves 750 children aged 4 to 8. It’s
very crowded and has up to 58 children in each classroom (with one teacher.).
The blackboards date from 1961 and don’t work properly so they have a couple of
portable ones they try and carry from class to class but inevitably the teacher
is in the wrong room and the board is somewhere else when they need it. They
have windows that leak and holes in the ceiling where people regularly break in
to try and find something to steal. Their pressing need is for a proper
classroom for the youngest children Grade R (equivalent to our Reception class).
They have a temporary hut for them but it leaks water and isn’t big enough
(there are 80 in this class). There is nowhere for them to play (just sand) and
Despite this rather grim description we were all hugely
impressed with the teaching staff of this school who have done their best to
make Vuyuni a real oasis in the terrible area it’s in. They are full of energy
and ideas to make the school better, they described it to me as the only
‘normal’ place these children have in their lives and they’re doing an amazing
job keeping it like that. They were really charming and very welcoming and
incredibly touched that we had been to visit them (as to be fair were all the
schools we visited).
Unfortunately as the teachers are so proactive they
get penalized by anyone looking to help as they are already doing so much.
However, although they are keen they have no money and there is so much they
still can’t do or fix.
Downville Primary School – Mannenberg
This school is probably in the toughest and most deprived area of all.
It’s situated in the Cape Flats area which is notorious for gang warfare,
regular gun fights, drug trafficking and prostitution. All the guidebooks for
Cape Town warn anyone visiting not to go anywhere near this area as there are
murders daily…and Nicky, Myles and I spent 2 hours here – the things we do for
There are 750 children in the school and nearly all in foster
care. The headmaster told us these children witness violence on a daily basis
and they desperately try to offer trauma counseling to them (they need a trained
trauma counsellor to help them but there are no funds). The kids all took a real
shine to Nicky and we have some great TV footage (for our London Tonight series
airing in the summer) of her walking through the mob with them holding her
hands….very Mother Teresa!
The need in this school was for a trauma
room and counsellor, general repairs to the buildings and the construction of a
new loo block near to the playground. We all agreed this school was the worst of
the ones we visited, in the worst area with the most deprived children. That
should make choosing this school an easy decision but our worry here was that
given the current state of the school, anything we did would be vandalized and
not looked after by the school staff we left. The ‘management’ of each school
was something we looked at very carefully in each area for this reason.
Amy Biehl Project – Guguletu
This school was the most fun
to visit, back in Gugletu, another primary school and again about 750 kids. The
thing this school has got going for it is that it is supported by the Amy Biehl
Foundation a charity that works in Cape Town in the memory of Amy Biehl. Amy was
a young American woman working in the townships when she was stoned and stabbed
to death by a politically-motivated mob 13 years ago. Her parents set-up the
Foundation in her name after there was a pouring in of funds to them from all
over the world to help continue the work Amy was doing. Two of the young men who
murdered Amy approached her parents asking for forgiveness and they now work for
the Foundation (they were granted amnesty for their crimes after the Truth &
Amazingly Amy’s mother was in Cape Town on
Monday (she lives in the US) and came to meet us and she asked her programme
director to show us around the schools they are helping. The need here was for a
safe classroom (reinforced with steel bars and grills) where they could keep
instruments as well as some gardening work and yes, more loos!
left here feeling very uplifted, the kids were great, so full of energy and
enthusiasm, we expected them to be more downtrodden and depressed at their
situation but they were all really full of hope for the future.
So after all of this we ruled out Downville
pretty quickly due to our real concerns about how long-lasting anything we would
do would be. Then we were left agonizing between Vuyani and the school supported
by the Amy Biehl Foundation. In the end we decided on Vuyani.The main reason for
choosing them is because they are being so proactive and resourceful already and
I know they will tend and care for anything we do really well. Also, the
Foundation is already helping the third school and I feel sure they will help
them to sort out their storage problems. Finally, I thought in satisfaction
terms for the team building a completely new classroom facility for the youngest
children might generate more satisfaction than building the secure storage area.
Vuyani was the most cramped of all the schools and it really does need extra
I’m really looking forward to getting the Tamar Team in both
countries on board this project. I took lots of photos to help paint the picture
and give us a ‘before and after’ comparison.