The primary aim of the school is to make a positive difference in the lives of underprivileged children in the Howick community. In order to fund the school the Governing Body has worked tirelessly to find generous people and organisations who sponsor the school fees of these underprivileged children. Without this funding the children would otherwise not be able to attend school as their parents simply cannot afford the fees. In addition, the school would have insufficient funds on which to operate and would have to close. In 2014 financial assistance is being provided to 230 children who would not otherwise be able to attend school; 165 through Brentwood United Methodist Church and 65 by other local and International donors.
The school also works with the department of social welfare to provide a nutritious lunch for all of the pre-primary school children. Food is also supplied to the Primary School children who receive a sandwich, fruit and a nutritional supplement on a daily basis.
We believe we have touched the lives of many children and their families. Here are a few stories about some of our children and their experiences at Thembelihle.
Mpilo lives at Mpophomeni township with his uncles and aunt. Mpilo is now eight years old but when at Thembelihle he was in younger classes as he has cerebral palsy and cannot walk. His mum died of tuberculosis and we do not know the whereabouts of his father. Due to his disability it was extremely difficult for his family to find a school in the area which would accept him. However his uncle and the social worker approached Thembelihle and we were delighted to have him as one of our pupils. When he started at school his teacher battled to deal with him as he was not used to being with other children and he was still in nappies. With lots of love and care all this has changed. He now crawls around happily on his own and plays with other children. The children no longer think of him as any different to themselves. When he is in his wheelchair other children only wonder why he gets to ride around in a special cart and they never get a turn! Mpilo enjoyed himself immensely at school and joined in all the activities. His teachers loved having him in their classes and believe that Thembelihle has helped him a great deal – emotionally, physically and intellectually. His days at Thembelihle were very happy and he enjoyed being part of busy, exciting school days surrounded by friends and caring teachers. In 2012 we worked with the department of Social Welfare and an occupational therapist to ensure that he is now at a primary school which is adapted for children with special needs.
Sindiswa is a very special girl. When she started at Thembelihle she was being raised by her grandmother in a local squatter camp. No matter how difficult her circumstances were at home, she always had a smile that lit up the classroom and she had a wonderful happy spirit. One morning she walked in Helen Barge’s class with her head held high and a shy smile on her face. Helen knew that there was something that she should notice and so studied her hair (no new cut or style..) her clothes and shoes (nothing different..) Then Sindiswa turned her head and Helen saw she had two white plastic clips (the ones that are used to keep bread packets closed) clipped on as earrings. Wearing them clearly made her feel like a princess. She was so happy when Helen complimented her on how beautiful she looked – a reminder of how little it takes to make a child happy! Sindiswa was able to attend our pre-primary school because an elderly lady from our Church was paying her school fees for her. Sindiswa even called her “granny” and they built up a wonderful relationship over the years. Mrs Proffit often popped into school to see her and gave her loads of the love and attention she needed. Sindiswa is now at “big” school and when Helen saw her recently she was delighted to find that she has grown into a confident young person who still tries her very best – she remembers her “granny’ with great affection.
We have many wonderful staff and teachers at Thembelihle – one of our favorites being Liz, a volunteer from Howick who is a retired nursing sister. Some say she is hearty enough to frighten Tyrannosaurus Rex into cowering submission, but the children love her and flock around her like oxpeckers. Liz noticed that a young Grade 2 boy turned his head away each time his teacher was speaking and she realized that he was hard of hearing, turning to catch some sound with his better ear. She induced our local audiologist to give him a free hearing test which showed that he was almost completely deaf but with enough hearing in one ear to benefit from a hearing aid. No sooner said than done…..our little boy came back to school with his new hearing aid. Later that confusing day the class went to a singing lesson and his teacher caught a look of pure delight and amazement on his face as the heard the sound of music for the first time in his life!
Thobane is currently in Grade 3 and his only sister is in Grade 6. They lost their dad to HIV (he was a policeman in Howick) when they were quite young. Thobeka was a pupil at Merit School when it was combined with Thembelihle at the start of 2011. Because of this association Thobane began his primary school education in grade 1 at Thembelihle. Very soon after the start of the school year his teacher noticed that he was battling to see and that he was extremely shy and reserved. She told our wonderful volunteer, Liz, about this and, as she helps out with the many health related issues at the school, she took him to a local optometrist to have his sight checked. It was then discovered that Thobane was almost completely blind as he was born with congenital cataracts in both of his eyes. His mother, Zanele, was then contacted by Liz and an appointment set up for him with an opthalmic surgeon at a large government hospital in Pietermaritzburg. He confirmed the diagnosis and suggested he have surgery to correct the problem – as he was so young (7 years old) he would require the surgery on each eye to be done separately. His mum stayed with him at the hospital for the first operation and helped him through his recovery. However, she then became very ill (she also had HIV AIDS) and was not well enough to accompany him for the second operation. Luckily Thobane had by that time become very fond of Liz and she took him to hospital. As she was not however his mother she was not able to stay with him and she had to leave this little boy in a general ward full of adult males for the nights before and after his surgery. He was incredibly brave and the surgery was successful. An amusing part of the story is that he became very fond of Liz’s iPad and wiled away many hours of waiting for appointments and his surgery by looking at all her family photos and listening to the music she had stored (he became far more proficient than her at using the iPad…!) In November of 2011 he finally received his first pair of glasses and tests showed the surgery had been extremely successful. His mum then sadly died on 6th December – after having experienced the joy of her son seeing for the first time in his life! Due to him not being able to see properly for the first year of his schooling he was very behind in his work. The teachers have provided him with extra reading lessons and he is now almost on a par with his class mates. Thobane and his sister, Thobeka, have had to move in with their aunt who cares very well for them but they are extremely poor. Thobeka (who is only 12) helps him every day with his homework. The help, love, support and level of education he has received from being a pupil at Thembelihle has totally transformed his life – he is fast becoming a happy, confident child. Both Thobane and Thobeka are sponsored and this financial assistance enables them to attend school and benefit from a good well rounded education.
The Thembelihle Choir was started in 2011 by John Tungay, the founder of the Drakensberg Boys Choir, with a group of 24 talented children between the ages of 8 and 12. The choir is being taught to read musical staff notation, breath control and vocal development with highly accurate pitching of notes. Their ability to read and pronounce difficult words in English has resulted in the children being able to read and sing in perfect English. The choir is helping each child to become increasingly well spoken and confident.
Some of the choirs’ notable performances include singing a challenging programme of classical music with combined adult choirs from Durban, Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands with well known Johannesburg conductor, Richard Cock. Following these performances children were invited to attend the Royal School of Church Music 2013 and 2014 Summer School’s. The Thembelihle children shone among choirboys and girls from all parts of South Africa and one of the children received the prestigious award of top chorister – this being a young boy from an extremely poor family in Howick!
Thembelihle is proud to have joined the Eco-schools program. Eco-schools operate in over 51 countries worldwide and is an international program of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). The program is managed locally by the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA).
Eco-schools is all about improving environmental management at schools, as well as promoting learning about the environment. This means that groups consisting of teachers, learners and community members get together and undertake a project to improve some aspect of environmental management at their school. This could range from saving electricity to starting a vegetable garden – the possibilities are endless! At the same time teachers draw on these practical projects to strengthen environmental learning at the school.
Thembelihle is very privileged to be situated in Howick, close to the WESSA offices. In addition the school has joined the Midlands Meander Educational Project who are providing teachers and children access to many resources and helping with the establishment of our environmental projects.
Many of our children are extremely creative and we try to encourage them to develop their artistic talents. All of our teachers incorporate Art into their teaching programs. We are also very lucky to have Ted Smith, a well-known local artist, as well as other local art teachers, who spend time at the school encouraging the children to improve their artistic skills.
Introduction of IT into the school
An enormous challenge for the school in 2013 was to enhance the standard of education offered at the school through the introduction of technology. In an attempt to foster innovation and excellence in teaching, the school has equipped all our teachers with laptops as well as data projectors in their classrooms. Teacher training has been provided by SchoolNet, a not for profit NGO that provides ICT integration for teachers and education mangers. We are currently introducing tablets for use by the primary school children so that they can individually interact with online learning programs. Technology is also being introduced into the pre-school, thanks to a generous donation from KidSale in the USA.