The advantages of sharing

The divide between the haves and the have-nots is as wide as ever, but many of the better-off schools are reaching out to help

OUTREACH programmes are often perceived as one-way affairs, conducted by schools with a surplus. While some might argue that most outreach programmes don’t go far enough, maintaining a stereotypical relationship between the haves and have-nots, certain schools are clearly more committed than others.

Marso van Staden is the outreach coordinator at Herschel school in Cape Town, a position she describes as “immensely rewarding”.
She maintains that any outreach programme must be “mutually beneficial. There must be a two-way flow,” she says, “a dynamic. We continually evaluate the effectiveness of our projects,” she adds. Community services are the joint responsibility of the school’s interact club, which focuses on fund-raising for charitable causes and volunteer work, and the outreach programme, which concentrates on the transferral of skills.

Van Staden’s experience has taught her that “it’s better to make ties with two or three schools than trying to address too many of them”. A delicate process of trust-building must occur. At present, the school has close links with the Westlake Day Care Centre, which has recently received a television set, video machine, CD player and lockable cabinet from Herschel. Regular collections also supplement the centre’s collection of toys, books and clothing. Teachers from Herschel assist in developing the skills of the day care providers, and classes from Westlake spend a day at Herschel Pre-Preparatory each term. In addition, these children attend a Christmas dinner at Herschel, where all receive presents.

In the junior school, teacher support is the focus of outreach. Since 1998 the class teachers have engaged in a twinning programme with the teachers of Rosmead Central Primary and regularly meet to exchange views. Some cultural functions are shared, such as the Kids for Kids concert and art competitions.

In the senior school, the pupils themselves are involved. Regular workshops for matrics have been conducted by Herschel pupils for their counterparts at underresourced schools. When asked what Herschel girls have gained from these workshops, Van Staden begins by praising the commitment of all the girls involved.

“Whether as facilitators during workshops, or through fund-raising for specific needs within school communities, or by attending camps and events where the focus is on exchanging views, team-building, problem-solving or just relaxed social contact, the girls gain an insight into the problems that other people might face on a daily basis, which leads to greater social awareness and responsibility.”

The outreach programme could not function without committed teachers, who volunteer significant amounts of their free time. Drama, catering and computer skills classes are offered on a weekly basis. Here these teachers will be found assisted by some of the 40 or so girls who form the core of the outreach programme. Van Staden says she wants to widen this base so that every girl at the school has more exposure to the variety of projects in operation.

Pupils who attend outreach classes are drawn mainly from nearby Thandokhulu High, which has a very limited number of computers. There is an almost 100% attendance for computer classes. At the end of the year-long course, pupils are awarded certificates, which can help to find holiday employment. Although the certificate is not a qualification, it is a valuable recognition of completing the training programme.

An 11-week entrepreneurial course called the Mini Enterprise Course is regularly conducted at the school. This year, 27 students from Strandfontein High, Elsies River High and Langa High will have their entire R400 school fee sponsored. This is due to funding from the Bishops outreach fund, the Herschel outreach fund and donations from Herschel parents, as well as profits from the school tuck shop. Through programmes such as these, underprivileged pupils gain opportunities they might not otherwise have had, and privileged pupils in isolated communities can begin learning about the kind of citizenship that our new democracy demands.

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, May 15, 2000.

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