Noluthando was 13 years old in Grade 3. At this age, she should have been entering high school, not still in primary school. But, neglect and abuse had altered of her life and delayed her development; putting her at substantial risk of becoming another statistic in SA’s alarmingly high school dropout rate.
Noluthando had been living with her mother in Paarl – the largest town in South Africa’s Cape Winelands and a place where many of the poorer inhabitants are employed as badly-treated farm workers and where alcoholism is strife. Unable to take care of her, Noluthando’s mother exposed her to physical and emotional abuse, she also neglected to enrol Noluthando in school. But, fortunately for Noluthando, after hearing that she had been out of school for a year, her extended family intervened and took her to live with her aunt in in the Western Cape township of Philippi. Struggling to find a place for Noluthando in one of Philippi’s already over-crowded schools, she was eventually accepted into Siyazakha Primary, a placement which turned out to be a blessing.
Siyazakha Primary is one of SAEP’s partner schools and the facility where it runs its primary school programme, Siyakhathala (‘We Care’). Aimed at nurturing learners who can engage with the education system with confidence and caregivers who are involved in their children’s school careers, Siyakhathala runs as an after-school ‘learning gym’ for the large number of at risk children in the school.
“I was very concerned about Noluthando’s academic performance and social relations. She was really struggling with her school work and had difficulty getting on with the other children. I feared that without help she would be bullied and drop out. When I found out she had been accepted into SAEP’s Siyakhathala programme, I was over the moon. I knew she would receive the help she needed,” explained Miss Mxesibe, Noluthando’s teacher.
And, the small group settings and story reading and discussions helped Noluthando tremendously in relating to her schoolmates and in providing a sense of belonging. So did the constant contact SAEP had with her teacher who shared details of Noluthando’s needs and achievements in the classroom. Slowly but surely, Noluthando’s confidence grew with her ability to read and write – the key skills needed for all learning, and, at the end of the year, she graduated to Grade 4, not based on her age, but based on her ability. But, most importantly of all, she graduated with friends.