Empowering South African Youth Through Education

by SPARK/The Umkhumbane Schools Project
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
Empowering South African Youth Through Education
The USP's Tracy Khuzwayo assisting applicants
The USP's Tracy Khuzwayo assisting applicants

For those of us who remember when college acceptance letters came in the “fat envelope,” having the entire application process unfold online is a new world, indeed.  Here in Cato Manor, where stable and affordable internet access is not a given for most of our learners, the COVID-19 lockdown moved the application process entirely online, exacerbating breakdowns and backlogs in a process that was already difficult for our learners to navigate.  

In the midst of these challenges, thanks to your generous support through GlobalGiving, the Umkhumbane Schools Project’s higher education guidance program has remained in full swing…with fantastic results for the candidates who have just now begun the 2021 school year!  We managed to see 48 learners through to acceptance and enrollment in universities across South Africa, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Wits University, Rhodes University, the University of Johannesburg, the University of South Africa, Nelson Mandela University, and the Durban University of Technology.  

Our involvement in the process began last year with initial career and program choice guidance.  We then provided assistance in filing all applications and accompanying documents online, support in paying application and acceptance fees, and help with applying for funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.  Required online communications were further hampered by particularly frequent rolling blackouts, which prevented reliable and timely communication with admissions officials, who were working from home.  Throughout it all, your GlobalGiving donations helped keep our team staffed, online, and continually available to go to bat for our applicants.

One exciting extra … we also have three new Moshal Scholars for 2021:  Mluleki (BSc Computer Science and Information Technology), Nkosinathi (B Engineering: Civil), and Sanele (BSc Computer Science and Information Technology), all at the University of KwaZul-Natal.  We are so proud to be a nominating organization for this wonderful and highly selective scholarship program, and even prouder still of this year’s three successful candidates —  who bring the USP’s total number of Moshal Scholarships to seventeen.

Thanks to you, our GlobalGiving donors, the doors to higher education have been opened for these inspiring young people.  We are so grateful for your continuing support, and we look forward to meeting the challenges ahead!

With our heartfelt gratitude,



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Meet Sibhekile, one of the wonderful participants in an exciting new initiative of The Umkhumbane Schools Project.  For the last several months, we have been building on our work in the area of sustainability and environmental education to give our learners an opportunity to share their knowledge and apply their skills in their community. 

Thanks to you and our other generous GlobalGiving donors, learners in our Sustainability Group have been practicing their gardening skills and helping us develop a prototype portable home garden kit.  After some experimentation, we have chosen materials and plants for a pilot program to bring portable home gardens to a small group of households in the Cato Manor community surrounding our schools.  Sibhekile is one of our inaugural home gardeners and her small garden of spinach and green peppers is thriving! Our Sustainability learners will continue supporting Sibhekile and our other new gardeners with home visits in the coming months.

This initiative is a direct outgrowth of a project that earned one of our learners a Gold Medal at the 2019 Eskom Expo for Young Scientists --  also thanks to the generous support of our GlobalGiving donors.  It is so exciting to see this project evolve to where it can have a real impact on the community, further our learners’ skills and motivation, and promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals --  in particular Goals 2, 3, 10, 11 and 13 (Zero Hunger, Good Health and Wellbeing, Reduced Inequality, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Climate Action).

Meanwhile, our other programs are continuing strong despite the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our WAO! WhatsApp Maths teaching and learning platform, developed with the help of your generous GlobalGiving funding, is a big success.  Initial impact evaluations show that learners with high attendance in the program had average marks on the 2020 final maths exam that were approximately 50% higher than those of learners who had not participated in the program.  We are continuing with the WAO! initiative in the 2021 school year that is getting underway in about two weeks.

We are also eagerly awaiting college and university acceptance decisions and will soon know soon how many of our learners have gained admission and how many will have scholarship support.  We promise to keep you updated! 

As always, we are so very grateful to you and all of our GlobalGiving supporters.  We hope you can feel our gratitude, the excitement of the learners and the greater Cato Manor community, and the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a direct, tangible difference in people’s lives.  We are so grateful to have you on our team.

Happy New Year, Everyone!  May it be a year of good health and new hope for us all!

With our sincere thanks,

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Learning Resumes in our Gr 12 Friday Math Program
Learning Resumes in our Gr 12 Friday Math Program

At a time when disruption and uncertainty are the new – hopefully temporary – normal in the world of education, The Umkhumbane Schools Project ("USP") is grateful to have been able to keep moving forward during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa.  Change can be disconcerting but can also present opportunities for growth and innovation --  and this has certainly been true for us in these last few months.

Our last report came to you in the exciting early days of our mobile math initiative.  We are continuing to provide real-time math instruction to learners from all five of our schools on their cell phones.  This is surely one area of growth and innovation we would not have predicted pre-pandemic.

Schools have reopened in South Africa on a staggered schedule (for all but the Grade 12 learners, who attend every day) and this has presented us with another opportunity.  Because the Grade 9 learners whom we were working with in the USP Maths Centre are currently on the school schedule only one day per week, we have met with the management team at two of our schools and are now teaching math to the Grade 9’s in those schools on two additional days during the week.  The learners are already hard at work and seem so eager for the additional instruction! 

We have recently resumed our Friday Mathematics program for our Grade 12 learners and continue to navigate the challenges of providing a safe setting for in-person teaching and learning.  The wonderful community library room where we used to teach is closed, so we have moved into classrooms at one of our partner schools, dividing the learners into small groups that meet in separate rooms and hiring additional teaching assistants to cover each room.   So far this is working well, and attendance has been steady and enthusiastic.

Many of these Grade 12 learners are among those selected for this year’s AHEAD program – another Umkhumbane Schools Project initiative which has remained in full swing despite the COVID shutdown.  We are pleased to have identified a roster of 59 promising learners drawn from all five of our schools, whom we are providing with wrap-around assistance in applying to college and finding scholarships.  So far, the learners in our AHEAD group have submitted a total of 118 applications across 11 of the most well-recognized South African universities and universities of technology.  Four of these learners have already received conditional (early) offers of admission.  And we are proud to note that The Umkhumbane Schools Project has nominated five new candidates for the prestigious Moshal Scholarship for the coming academic year!

Thanks to your generous support as one of our wonderful GlobalGiving donors, The Umkhumbane Schools Project is alive and well during these uncertain and unprecedented times.  Now, more than ever, we feel the significance of being a steady presence in our learners’ lives, helping them reach towards a brighter future even as so much of what is around us has been shaken.  We are truly grateful to you for making this possible.

We hope that you and your family are safe and well.  

With heartfelt gratitude from all of us here at The Umkhumbane Schools Project,


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"Not Your Ordinary Maths Class..."  has long been a motto for the Friday and Saturday mathematics  lessons that The Umkhumbane Schools Project has been teaching since 2012.  Facing  the closing of schools and the banning of large gatherings as South Africa braced for the COVID-19 pandemic, we were determined to stay active through this time when nothing is ordinary... and to continue teaching and mentoring when our learners perhaps need us more than ever.  

How to reach them?  This became the driving question in those early days in March when we realised we could no longer gather with learners in person and could not rely on conventional online learning methods.  Our learners lack computers and WiFi at home, which effectively excludes them from the online learning tools that were quickly being adopted by well-resourced schools in South Africa and throughout the world.  

Could we teach them on their cell phones?  This was the next question, cell phones being the one device to which our learners have access.  Thanks in very large measure to GlobalGiving donors who responded to our microproject appeal, we have answered this question with a resounding “Yes!” over the past eight weeks.  Using cell phones, WhatsApp, and the seemingly inexhaustible energy, dedication, and creativity of our teaching and administrative staff, The Umkhumbane Schools Project has enrolled over 180 learners in maths tutoring and interactive classes.  Each learner has been placed on a team led by a dedicated maths tutor.  Teams receive problem sets over their cell phones and can interact with their team leaders and teammates 7 days a week to learn new maths material, stay updated with accurate information about the virus, and be part of a group that will encourage and reassure them at this difficult time.

Most exciting of all are the “classes” that happen on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with students in Grades 10-12 learning simultaneously on WhatsApp with our highly trained and experienced teachers.  They can ask questions, see demonstrations of problems, and hear their teachers’ familiar and reassuring voices.  It is an amazing experience to “attend” one of these classes and see the learners’ questions and answers pop up in quick succession, with as many as 40 learners present for a class period at one time.  

We are in the process of rolling out content in areas other than maths, to make even fuller use of this unique and effective way of keeping our learners connected, encouraged and learning during these very challenging days.  Our college admissions advising is also continuing, with 70 learners having been tapped to participate in our AHEAD university access programme for 2020.  And this coming week we hope to start providing grocery vouchers to those of our maths learners who are facing significant food insecurity.  We look forward to keeping you posted as these efforts continue to unfold!

Not your ordinary anything. A good motto for these times.  We send extraordinary gratitude and our best wishes for health and safety to each of you.  



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Among other things, Luthando is an artist.  As the photo above (taken at our 2019 Youth Day History and Arts Festival) suggests, Luthando has been a well-known presence among the group of learners attending  after-school art classes with The Umkhumbane Schools Project.  But Luthando has long had another passion in addition to art  --  a vision for his future that has driven him to work hard and excel academically

Just a few hours before this GlobalGiving report was written, Luthando got a lot closer to realising that vision when the call came from the admissions office at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  Luthando has been accepted to medical school!

For all of us at the Umkhumbane Schools Project, this news is cause for special celebration  --   as well as special gratitude to you, our GlobalGiving donors.  Luthando is part of our AHEAD program, the initiative through which we identify, mentor, advise, and assist learners in their quest for college admission.  These are learners who have been part of our Friday and Saturday math classes, our science enrichment programming, our environmental education programs, our art lessons...all aspects of our learner programming...and some of them since 8th grade.

In the 2019 school year that just ended in December, we poured more time, effort, and financial resources into our AHEAD program than ever before  --  thanks to funds that came in through our GlobalGiving campaigns.  And the results have been so exciting!

Here are some of the numbers:

  • 45 AHEAD learners for the 2019-2020 admissions cycle (roughly double last year’s number)
  • 27 have received firm offers of admission to universities and colleges throughout South Africa
  • 9 have received or are shortlisted for scholarships
  • 43 have received National Student Financial Aid Scheme funding

The remaining learners who have not yet received firm admission offers are still waitlisted or are busy putting in change-of-mind applications.  Which means we are quite busy, too! 

Thanks to your generosity, The Umkhumbane Schools Project was able to offer twelve AHEAD learners free admission and transport to preparation courses for the NBT exam (similar to the SAT or ACT, but only required for certain courses at certain universities).  For the group as a whole, our staff was able to help with all aspects of the admissions process, from assisting with online applications, to providing guidance as to where to apply and in what fields, to transporting learners to and from campuses for interviews, to helping with all aspects of applying for National Student Financial Aid funding, to providing wrap-around assistance and recommendation letters in support of learners’ search for scholarships.  

Truly, we could never have extended this much guidance and support to these inspiring young people had our GlobalGiving support not been as generous as it was in the past 12 months.   College guidance, in general, is not commonly available in South Africa, even in far more affluent schools than ours.  The potential impact of this work is especially great in the Umkhumbane community, where poverty and a lack of exposure to opportunities puts even the most talented of learners at a deep disadvantage.

A few weeks from now, in early February, you can think of Luthando and all of his AHEAD peers from our five partner schools as they set off on their exciting next chapter as university students.  And you can know that it was your GlobalGiving donation that enabled us to help them get there. 

Their futures are bright, and we are so grateful for your support!  



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Organization Information

SPARK/The Umkhumbane Schools Project

Location: Durban - South Africa
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @umkhumbane
Project Leader:
Martha Bishai
Durban, South Africa
$62,254 raised of $75,000 goal
492 donations
$12,746 to go
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