/ 1 November 2013

Bringing literacy to all

Bringing Literacy To All

Research indicates that by the year 2015 an estimated 5.7-million children in South Africa will be orphaned, many of them left without any kind of support or infrastructure.

Five years ago, Angela Larkan established a low-resource model called Thanda After-School that uses existing school fields and classrooms to provide for orphans.

Not only does this school feed hot meals to more than 350 children each day, it also offers employment to people living in the community of Umtwalume, about 100km outside of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

Established in 2008, Thanda After-School delivers a realistic and sustainable solution to the orphan and poverty crisis in rural South Africa. The children receive nutrition and education in an environment that is non-judgmental and supportive.

The average age of beneficiaries is between four and 20 years, and through a variety of programmes these young people are given the skills they need to overcome personal traumas and forge new futures for themselves.

“The concept of Thanda was created when my friend Tyler Howard and I decided to deal with the issues that affected these rural communities in a tangible way, to offer comfort and to help these children develop critical thinking skills that would empower them and help them to develop their communities,” says Larkan. “It’s a collaborative effort and none of this would have been possible without Tyler and our amazing staff from the local community.”

Everyone at the school is involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of all the programmes started by the school. These focus on three main areas: education, life skills, and empowerment and support.

Educational programmes are designed to encourage curiosity and inspire learning so children become lifelong learners. They focus on sustainability within communities, giving children skills in entrepreneurship and agriculture.

Value-driven programmes
The life skills and empowerment activities have been created to provide the children with emotional support while simultaneously boosting creative development and understanding.

The programme includes visual and performing arts, sports, HIV and Aids education, sexual and reproductive health education, and counselling.

“These activities promote a sense of self-worth so that our children have more than knowledge, they also have the self-confidence to make good decisions and become active within their own communities,” says Larkan. “We address issues that are relevant to them and provide them with the tools they need to think about their lives and how they can make a difference.”

Larkan and Howard have worked hard to ensure that every endeavour builds the community as a whole. Their focus on training has allowed them to use a full local complement of staff, which is both sustainable and effective.

“Tyler Howard helped to plan and design Thanda and moved to South Africa with me in 2008 to start the school,” says Larkan.

“Since then he has been the director of operations and in charge of all the internal training of our staff. Sibusiso Msimanga and Simiso Mfeka were part of our first team when we started and today they are all managers and lead teams underneath them. They are incredible role models full of hope, energy and ideas. Many of our staff were kids in Thanda and have stayed with us since.”

Thanda has recently implemented a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system to measure the effectiveness of each programme, to ensure they remain invaluable to the children under its care.

A look at the results of one of the latest programmes, the entrepreneurship project of 2012, shows that this strategy is working.

At the end of the course 90% of the participants were employed, with 50% getting a job in the trade they studied at Thanda, or had started their own business.

It’s a self-supporting recipe for success that has changed the lives of many children for the better.

Thanda recently built the first library in the municipality to promote literacy and learning.

Alongside the library, the school has established community gardens and it trains hundreds of people in organic permaculture, household vegetable gardening and nutrition.

The Thanda Community Centre has a computer room and a kitchen, uses solar power for electricity, purified rainwater for drinking and a bio-digester to transfer gas to the kitchen for cooking.

Income-generating activities such as egg production and jewellery making have been created, and each initiative allows people to learn new skills and potentially build sustainable lives within a poverty-stricken area.

“Angela’s visionary idea is turning a community ravished by poverty and social crises into a place where youth can overcome their problems and be inspired to take action to help themselves and their community to create a bright and prosperous future,” says Subashini Govender, one of the members of Thanda After-School.

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.