Tembaletu School – ‘Our Hope’ for “differently abled children”
What an honour and privilege to spend some time visiting the Tembaletu School in the township of Guguletu, Cape Town South Africa. This boarding school does an amazing job caring for, and educating 180 kids (Grades R to 9) with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida and physical injuries caused by accidents, amputations and resulting in quadriplegia. Most of these children are very high in their cognition and intellect, but must deal with the challenges of language, mobility, rehabilitation, and discrimination. Most of these children find it difficult to move about the home and their community because of the very poor roads, footpaths and lack of wheel chair access. At home these children usually do nothing. Their emotional frustrations are understandable. School is therefore a haven and many often cry when it is time to head home for the school holidays.
These kids need intensive and specialised care and they are blessed to come to this school. Tembaletu means ‘our hope’ and this place is the very essence of hope for the future.
The Principal, Mr Pather, a passionate educator told me of his vision for the future. To be honest I was a little surprised but then I was reminded that I am an educator from first world Sydney. His comments silenced me and challenged me to be grateful for all that I have – in my work, and the personal comforts that I so often take for granted.
Mr Pather reflected “My vision is to improve our safety and security.” When I asked him to explain further, he spoke about the construction of new perimeter fencing.
“Do you mean the safety and security of the school itself, or safety and security of student?” I asked.
“Both” he replied. “There are people who want to steal things and there are people who would want to hurt the learners”.
“Our other challenge and great need is to keep the buses working and repairing the wheelchairs which damage so easily due to the roads and conditions of the homes and own ships that the kids live in.”
“Many kids are upset because it's school holidays tomorrow and they do not want to leave.”
“When a child has an accident he is a learner who is suddenly in limbo. He must get used to life in a wheel chair. Many children do not cope with this at all”.
“We have to transition them home and out of school, it's safe here, with love and belonging. Most kids do not go home to this.”
The influence of this man is significant and once again, I am reminded that teachers and educators change the lives of individuals, families, communities and nations. If you are a teacher, never underestimate the power of your hard work.
…And for all of us, may we be always thankful for the blessing of a great school.
This is the story of some incredible people I met on my recent trip to Cape Town.
The kid was shot in the lower back by a gangster in his community. He did nothing to deserve it. It was his brother who upset the guy with the gun. But when his brother ran and could not be found, the thug with the gun found his younger brother and shot kid was lucky to be alive. Now with a physical disability, emotionally scared and unable to move about easily, you don't have much of a chance in one of the most dangerous and violent townships on the face of the planet. But he smiles, each and every day.
The kid smiles because there are people who care and have compassion. These people make sacrifices and they turn up for work each day at the local Gugulethu (Tembaletu) Workshop to help people with disabilities have work and learn life skills. It is here, that they also find purpose, friendship, smiles and laughter, and a place to show up and belong to. If this place did not exist, so many young adults with a disability would be hidden away in their home with nothing to do each day.
Paul Briers is the Director at the Gugulethu Workshop. Paul is an inspiring man who daily makes sacrifices to be here. He has transformed this place, when it had only a month before the government was going to close it down. He could work here if it wasn't for the security guards at the gates of the clinic. He literally risks his life some days, simply by walking a couple of hundred yards up the street to buy some lunch. The local women will stand guard and warn him if it's safe to venture up the street. He says the women ironically are the most powerful in this community, even the gangster youth are scared of them.
When Paul drives out of the complex in the evening he will not stop for anyone. He drives straight down the road, fast and out of the township. Paul is a community leader and incredibly inspiring. He is the essence of this quote that I recently read on Instagram;
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” (John Quincy Adams).
What a powerful example and challenge for us all.
Amier is in Year 6 at Heilderveld Primary School in Cape Town. His father is just 36 and he is an addict. Amier is about to turn 12 and he lives with his grandmother. His life is going to need serious intervention if he is going to make it. Amier is lucky, because he participates in a weekly program at his school called 'Strength'. Some volunteers from the local church run the course, and it aims to build resilience, self-esteem, courage and a sense of hope and positivity in the lives of pre-teen boys. If these kids discover options other than drugs and gangsterism, they will be better equipped to face the many challenges that lie ahead.
"These boys think that a sign of success, proving that you are a man, is to make a girl pregnant and become a father" the volunteer pastoral care team worker told me. "This is why the Strength course is so good for them. I offered that they can try to look after my 2 kids for a couple of hours. Try being a dad at age 16. ...the vicious cycle just repeats from one generation to the next, they will dump the mother and kid within a few days."
The Deputy of Heideveld Primary School, agrees and is so thankful for the volunteers who come to his school every week. "We need more volunteers …Amier is working out his story because of the Strength program. He loves it, and he loves the fact that someone is interested enough by turning up for him each week." The school is grateful for the commitment and help of the volunteers. "We need to teach kids, but how can we when they come to school each day under such difficult circumstances."
The Deputy Principal, describes the issues that most of his students must face. Gangsterism, is huge. Young kids are given nice things, brand labeled clothes. Then they are asked to do errands and small jobs for the gang leaders. They are given some cash, kudos, and they find belonging in the gang. The jobs get bigger and become more dangerous, the free gifts stop and payment is demanded. The kids are trapped in the life of crime, violence and addiction that gangsterism demands. There is not much the school can do, when they must share one School Counsellor with 40 to 50 other schools in the local area. Amier's school has just less than 1200 students. And the Deputy tells me that he will soon move to a new school in a much tougher neighbourhood. I can’t imagine how tough that might be!
Amier is working out his story, he has a sense of hope and has a vision for a different option, a different story with new possibilities.
Last month I had the privilege of speaking at the BUILD South Africa Leadership Conference. I spoke about the influence of teachers in the lives of students. If we are going to build a nation, we must equip our teachers for the significant work that they do.
There was a good number of teachers attending the BUILD Seminar, and each one that I spoke to articulated passion for their work. They appreciated the affirmation and value that I placed on their skills and professional expertise. Perhaps more than this, they appreciated that I expressed how the work of a teacher is more than just teaching, it is about people and relationships. The teachers in the room were hungry for more. One teacher said "my hands are tied, ...I can't help my learners the way they need me to. But thank you Doug I feel like I am ready to start tomorrow as a new day with new purpose."