Children’s champion: Rosemary Kashaka runs an afterschool tutoring class in Soshanguve, but takes no payment . (Delwyn Verasamy)
A one-year-old daughter strapped to her back, Rosemary Kashaka sits on a chair with a desk covered in exercise books and textbooks before her. Four young children surround her.
“Ma’am, I do not understand this question,” says a girl, handing over a piece of paper to Kashaka. It is a grade eight economics and management sciences homework question.
Kashaka explains the question. The girl leaves.
She turns her attention to another young girl sitting next to her. This girl is in grade six.
“How do you celebrate births in your culture?” Kashaka reads from the English workbook. “For example, in my culture we buy gifts. What do you do in your culture?”
She moves on and helps a grade two boy with his spelling homework.
“Black, plot, blue, lock,” the two say in unison.
Kashaka, 36, came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in 2013 to be trained at a fast food restaurant. But because she could not speak isiZulu she was disqualified from the training in KwaZulu-Natal.
Her high-school friend, who is now her husband, found her a job as a teller at a local shop in Soshanguve outside of Pretoria, where he also works.
She left that job after three months because customers complained that she could not speak Sepedi.
In 2014 she was a stay-at-home mother. She says because she only spoke English, at the time, children loved her.
“When I was going to the shop I would be followed by ten kids. They would also come to my house and I would help them cover their books and I would read them stories. They were so interested in speaking English,” she says.
Her husband suggested that she start a programme teaching the children English and assisting them with their schoolwork.
One Friday morning she went around the neighbourhood informing parents about the programme.
The Mail & Guardian met with Kashaka this week at the three-roomed RDP house that she rents in Soshanguve Block X with her husband and three young children.
The yard is busy with children rushing from school to start with their other learning at the Rose After School Tutoring Programme.
“I had to go and introduce myself: ‘Hi, my name is Rose. I’m Wilson’s wife’. They know him. ‘I want to start a project to assist your kids with homework so can you please allow me to work with your kids.’ I did that from 10am until around 5pm that Friday,” she says.
Many parents were receptive and excited about the programme. At the time she was staying at one of the squatter camps in Soshanguve, so she did not have space nor any resources for what she wanted to do.
One of the parents, Esther Mashala, and her husband offered her space in their garage, as well as chairs and tables.
“From there I saw God at work with my idea,” she says.
Kashaka bows her head, presses her hands on her eyes to fight back tears.
With her eyes red from crying she lifts up her head.
“That was something huge for me.”
Mashala told the M&G that her son, who was in grade four at the time, was struggling with his schoolwork and she found herself not having the patience to assist him. She says she and her husband knew that by giving Kashaka space they would also assist their child in the process. Her son is still part of the programme.
She recalls: “My son could not read, ausi. It used to break my heart. You would give him a book to read and he would not be able to. But since he started coming here my child can read English and Sepedi. There is progress.
“I am happy with what Rose is doing here. I even bought my other child who is in grade one. She is doing well, she is excelling.”
On the first day of the programme, in 2018, Kashaka registered 15 learners from all grades. By the end of that year the number had grown to 45. In 2019 she had 85 learners and 72 last year before Covid-19.
Kashaka says most of the children that attend her programme cannot read or write English.
She says some of the learners attend private schools but come to her programme after school because their parents need help with them.
The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy study, which tested reading comprehension of learners in their fourth year of primary schooling, found that 78% of South African learners at this level could not read for meaning.
There is another disruption during the interview. Two learners stand at the door.
“Ma’am, sorry we came late,” they say.
“It’s fine,” she replies.
Classes start from 4pm until 6pm. Some learners are dropped off by scholar transport at Kashaka’s home and other parents wait in their cars for the children.
Kashaka says the children may come from homes where they stay with their grandparents who cannot assist with their schoolwork. Other parents leave home at 4am and only return at 8pm, tired, and still others are illiterate.
Parents pay her R200 a month as a “thank you”. She uses the money to buy chairs, tables and stationery “because some of the kids come without a pen or pencil” and she also has to pay two of her assistants.
“I am doing this from my heart but I cannot force them to be like me. So we have to give them something so that they are happy to work with our kids,” she says.
One of the assistants helps the learners with mathematics.
“I hate maths. I hate overthinking,” laughs Rose.
Kashaka also sells sofa covers as a way to fund the project. On days when her husband is off from his job they clean people’s yards. That money also goes towards the project.
Though there are 60 children enrolled this year, only 20 parents pay R200 a month – but Kashaka won’t turn children away.
She runs the programme at the back of the house in a makeshift shaded area. Children sit in groups based on the schoolwork they want to be assisted with. When the older learners are done with their work they assist the younger ones with reading.
When it rains the children squeeze themselves into the three-roomed house. And because it is winter and it gets dark earlier, those with cellphones use them for light.
Kashaka says she loves children and that is her motivation for what she is doing.
“I grew up with nothing,” she trails off and begins to cry again. This time she allows the tears to run down her face.
When she was in school she did not have shoes and would go months without school books because there was no money at home.
“But here they have everything, everything. And yet no one is there to tell them how important education is … I want to show them how important education is,” she says.
Kashaka says if she had been educated she would not be living the kind of life she lives now. She dropped out of school at the equivalent of grade 11 in Zimbabwe.
“I do this because I want them to have a better life.”