Townships can be exceedingly tough and dangerous places and, in those that are less developed, a sense of lawlessness pervades the haphazard layout of the informal structures so many call home. Without electricity or plumbing, most of the people living in these areas are trapped in a cycle of poverty begot by a failing school system and alarmingly high unemployment rates – conditions that lead to a tangle of social problems including substance abuse, gangsterism and violent crime.
These are the conditions that Sandiswa wakes up to every morning when she rises from the sofa in the front room of the 2x4m shack she shares with her aunt, sister and three cousins.
After just a few hours sleep – the price she must pay for sleeping alone in the front room and not in the shared bedroom, Sandiswa makes her way to an equally under-resourced and over-crowded school where, defiantly, she does her best in a bid to use her education to break the shackles of her circumstances and one day, become a civil engineer.
Now in Grade 10 and nearing the final phase of her schooling, the stage is set for Sandiswa to enter tertiary education and increase her chances of productive employment but, having successfully navigated her early high school years wasn’t something she could have done without the help of her determination and a little outside intervention.
“At that time I didn’t know English very well and I was averaging just 50% across my school subjects. I knew I needed to do better but I didn’t know how. In a big public school, I felt very lost and alone but when I heard about SAEP’s high school programme I immediately applied; writing the Maths test and motivational letter,” explains Sandiswa.
Recognising her potential and drive, SAEP selected Sandiswa as one of 40 motivated students with high potential and accepted her into its Hope Scholars programme – an after-school initiative designed to assist township pupils in their first two years of high school by closing educational gaps and ensuring that they have the academic foundation to succeed in their final years of school.
“Sandiswa attended tutorials four times a week consistently over the two-year period and she achieved a lot despite a challenging home life. Her grades improved after just two school terms and she was averaging over 80% across her subjects when she completed the programme,” says Tara Appalraju, Programme Manager for SAEP’s Hope Scholars programme.
And Sandiswa’s motivation continues. She now attends a number of after-school programmes for learners in the final phases of high school to ensure that she maximises every chance she has for success in her adult life. And, in a community where those who succeed at school and in life move on to more affluent areas to follow their dreams, Sandiswa acts as an inspiration for the young people around her.
Says Tara: “There is a special light that Sandiswa carries within her that glows when you interact with her. The Hope Scholars team encourages that light to shine as brightly as possible as it does with all its bright stars!”