Posts Tagged ‘education; college; university in south africa; study’

I Learn to Live - June 2016 Newsletter (3)


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Hills of Zululand

A Zululand day is like a cat on a hot tin roof; no matter how fast you move you just can’t escape the heat. By 7am the air around you is a thick and soupy 30 degrees, and you know it is only going to get worse, as the sun climbs across an impossibly blue sky.

January 11th 2012 was registration day at the local Further Education Training (FET) College, and I was taking my three students, to sign up for their year of study. I’m a very ordered person; I make a plan and the primary aim is to stick to it; which is a pretty useless skill when you run a non-profit organisation in Africa. Plans are merely guidelines and the real skill is to go with the flow and move with the events as they unfold around you in ways which you had not factored in at all. The day before I had popped into the Izulu Orphan Projects office and five young women were standing at their door, asking the seemingly universal question posed by school leavers, “What do we do now that we have passed matric?”. IOP asked me if I would take the girls along to the College the next day to see if they could register as well. I stood their nodding my head while internally I was visualising trying to fit 10 girls into my car. Logistically it was not going to work, but I figured that some of the girls would not arrive at the specified time, so it wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong; clearly these girls want to study. I offered to pay for two of them to catch a taxi into Richards Bay, and after much silence and feigning of a lack of English communication skills, two girls were dropped in town to make their own way there.

One of my favourite things about working in Zululand is driving on the dirt roads into the rural areas. It is really one of the loveliest places; giant cactus and aloe plants can be found in abundance, and when the aloe flowers, it truly is a sight to behold. It lights up with hot orange pokers and is an iconic emblem for this area. The dusty and rutted roads take you past small homesteads, which are often surprising in their design, and décor. I have often been caught completely off guard by a wonderful mural splashed across a rondavel wall; a herd of leaping impala or a ferocious leopard in full flight. Some gardens are abundantly full with vegetables of every kind; pumpkin, tall rows of green and gold corn, huge bunches of the freshest spinach and beetroots the size of a small soccer ball. Cows stand languidly in the middle of the road, chewing the cud, and slowly saunter off after you grow tired of waiting, and hoot your horn. For miles vegetation and clusters of huts can be seen, with few cars on the road, which stretches out before you. It is in this environment which my students grow up; this beautiful yet world-limiting place, where young women feel trapped and long for a way out so that they can offer something better for their own children one day. Simply getting into town, a 30-40 minute trip by car, is out of the question. The options are to find the R40 each day for a return trip via taxi (which one often must wait hours for), to walk the long distance under a baking African sun, or to stay at home knowing that they will merely repeat the family cycle of poverty, pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. Access to information is near to impossible; though most people have cell phones, many do not have internet enabled phones, which means that in the early 21st century young people can’t find out necessary information, such as what subjects to study at school, in order to become a nurse or engineering. They don’t know where to study, how to get there, what it might cost or any other crucial information, which would help them to make the right decisions. We all know that the decision making process is detailed and requires sound knowledge so that choices can be made; these young people live completely without that knowledge. They cannot ask their parents, many of whom never finished school, and some of whom have never seen a computer with their own eyes, let alone used one. How do you change your life when you are shackled by such ignorance? For those of us who do have this knowledge, these life changing resources, I believe it is our duty to bring it to the people. As much as it is government’s responsibility to do this, I truly believe it is ours as well. Our government can never reach all of the people, nor can it provide all of the resources and man power. But together we can make small inroads into this social problem which will one day, and is already beginning to, affect us all.

Home sweet home

As we attempted to register the girls for their qualifications, I found myself giving a crash course in career guidance, as their hopes and expectations were wildly out of sync with the reality of the situation. Even though they arrived with dire marks for maths, accounting and economics, they were determined to enroll in Business Studies or Financial Management courses. The chances of them understanding the work, and passing the year, is slim; the FET College system is plagued by an 80% drop out rate, for the simple reason that students are not guided properly in relation to their career path. Young school leavers with 13% for maths are enrolled in the Engineering course, and although this course is not at University level, it is sufficiently difficult enough that someone with a low proficiency in maths is more than likely to fail. I heard from a friend about a young woman who enrolled in the Hospitality course, when really she had wanted to study Nursing; as English is her second language, she was under the impression that the word hospitality and hospital, meant the same thing. While this might seem mildly assuming, it is a terrible mistake to make. The reality is that she was never going to study nursing; she did not have the required marks, let alone the correct school subjects, which would enable a career as a nurse.

Since my return from Zululand two week ago, I have had countless people call me to ask what they can do for their children, and the children of their domestic workers. Children are not receiving the necessary information regarding subject choices and career guidance in school, and are attempting to access it, when applying for university or college. What use is it to know that you did not study the correct subjects to become a doctor or engineer when you are standing in a university registration queue? One of the main aims of I Learn to Live this year is to ensure that school children, both urban and rural, have access to this information well in advance of applying for tertiary studies. We hope to reduce the number of children who have been let down by this current system by providing them with a new system, one based on solid research and the current realities of study and employment in South Africa.

Dancers in the dust

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Hi Everyone,

We are finally launching I Learn to Live and it would be FANTASTIC if you would join us for a beautiful evening at the Litchi Orchard in Salt Rock. My good friend Jaspar will be giving a concert and the Corner Cafe is going to cook up a storm. We’d love to have you celebrate with us and all proceeds will go towards funding our students fees.

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I headed out to Zululand early this morning, accompanied by soft rain. We haven’t seen a lot of rain lately, so it’s always welcome; especially where I was heading – rain has been scarce and the land is parched. I met Kate in Empangeni to pick up Sinothile and Sthabiso, the first official students of I Learn to Live. It was a bitter-sweet start for Sinothile as sadly her mother passed on yesterday and will not be on this journey with her daughter. I know that she must have been incredibly comforted by the fact that Sinothile is being given the opportunity to study further and undoubtedly change the course of her life forever.

Sthabiso & Stix at the Career Centre

I took the girls to the Richards Bay Career Centre; an amazing set up which gives students the opportunity to participate in an interactive journey of career exploration. We began with a workbook session and the girls had to fill in sections which enabled them to explore the following:

○ What kind of a person am I?

○ The value of being me.

○ What would I like to do?

○ What can I do?

The students are given a series of questions which relate to various personality types. These categories were introduced by psychologist John Holland who defined what are called “Holland Codes” – very basically these codes refer to six personality types “described in a theory of careers and vocational choice”. The premise of this theory is that the type of vocation which one chooses is an expression of one’s personality. So the six codes are used to “describe both persons and work environments”.

Once the girls tallied up their scores, they were able to pinpoint their three main personality types; amazingly, both girls were Enterprising, Social and Investigative. Freddy, the facilitator, was quite amazed as he’d never had two people write the test together, both unknown to each other, and have the exact same personality types. However, it was soon evident that the girls were interested in very different career paths. Sinothile was keen to explore a career in nursing or in tourism. I had a mini heart attack as nursing is not offered at the FET College. I called the local University to find out the first year fees and was quite taken aback by the cost of first year, which is approximately R20 000, and this is before you add on transport fees, food stipends, books, etc. Luckily, the idea of studying for 4 years was quite off-putting and Sinothile decided on studying Tourism. Stha opted for hospitality and I couldn’t think of a better field of study, and ultimately work, for this vibrant young woman.

Both girls have applied for bursaries which are offered by the college and will have to work hard to prove that they are worthy of receiving one. Bursaries are offered according to a number of criteria – the first being a financial means test, and obviously our girls are not financially able to support themselves so they qualify on this point. The girls must also prove that they are doing their best academically; government has spent nearly 1 billion Rand on bursaries and FET colleges have experienced a nearly 80% drop out rate. Drop out rates are influenced by a number of factors, such as incorrect academic streaming. This is why the career test and placement test and counselling are so important prior to students applying for a course.

So, the easy part is now over, the exciting yet daunting part is about to begin. I’m coming up with some very creative fundraising and sponsorship ideas. While financial assistance is always top priority, we also need ambassadors for I Learn to Live; people who actively share our story and create awareness and support, and we need mentors – people who are willing to give up some time to encourage and support students. In fact, we welcome ANY support and assistance that you can offer.

A huge thanks to the wonderful team up at the Umfolozi College and Career Centre in Richards Bay; Natasha, Mark and Freddy. You guys are fantastic and I really appreciate how you’ve supported and assisted I Learn to Live.

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