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

Some are studying plants. Some are conducting experiments in chemistry and microbiology, with guidance and lab space provided by our local university. Others are conducting social science research on topics as varied as taste preferences in french fries and the impact of social media on friendships. Thanks to the generous support of our GlobalGiving donors, this year’s group of aspiring young scientists in The Umkhumbane Schools Project’s mentoring program for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists is off and running!  

One of the most beneficial aspects of this program each year are the friendships and camaraderie that develop among our Expo learners. Teamwork and mutual support always seem to spring up spontaneously…and this year is no exception.

Pamela, the Grade 11 learner pictured above among the tall grasses, is conducting an experiment on the amazing capacity of vetiver grass to absorb contaminants and improve water quality. When the time came to collect her water samples from three sites of the Umkhumbane River, Pamela knew she could use the help of another set of strong arms. So Lusanda, who is busy with his own experiment on chemical toxins in unregulated cosmetic products, volunteered to come along and help. The water collection process went on past dark, as Pamela and Lusanda together hauled 120 liters of water from the river. This was a day to remember!

Learners in township and informal settlement areas in South Africa still lack access to solid educational opportunities, and science and mathematics remain areas of particularly vexing failure and exclusion. The USP’s Expo mentoring program is central to our mission of harnessing the power of education to transform lives, to provide a ladder out of poverty and into well-paying employment, and to build a more just and propserous future for us all. It is thanks to your generosity that we can bring these experiences to a team of bright and promising young people each year.

A short while before that long afternoon of collecting water samples from the river, a visitor was at the USP’s office as one of our Expo learners was nearby.   When I asked the learner to come say hello, he introduced himself to our visitor and then added, in a clear and confident voice, “…and I am a Young Scientist.”

That pretty much says it all.

Thank you so very much for making our work possible.   We will keep you posted on our learners’ progress at the Eskom Expo Regional Competition in August… and beyond!

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Saturdays are definitely my favorite days here at The Umkhumbane Schools Project, as that is when we host our lively and focused crowd of determined math learners.  By 9:45 AM the learners from all five of our schools begin congregating outside of the community library where we meet, some of them having walked 30 minutes to get there.  For those of you  who have never visited, it might be hard to imagine that a math class could be such a welcoming, fun, and energised event!

Thanks to our GlobalGiving donors, this year's Saturday Math classes are well underway, with attendance of approximately 80 Grade 11th-graders each week.  We do things a bit differently from what the learners are accustomed to in school.  For one thing, every learner works in a group of about 14 young people, with each group mentored by one of our amazing Math Mentors.  These devoted and inspiring mentors are all students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, each of them motivated by a heartfelt desire to give back and make a difference in a younger scholar's life.  Each mentor captains a group, teaching them, motivating them, pushing them to be the best students they can be.  

Learning in this space is fun, as we work to give each young person the agency to solve problems and become his or her own best teacher.  We minimize lecturing at the blackboard, and instead have the mentors work closely with their groups, encouraging learners' independence of thought and giving them the freedom to ask questions.

Why the focus on mathematics?  Because in the 21st century mathematical competency is truly a global development issue, a civil rights issue, even a human rights issue  --  when so many areas of employment and technical competency either begin or end with a young person's learning in math.  To stand by and watch whole populations of economically disadvantaged youth remain excluded from success in this vital area of human learning and leadership is to abdicate our responsibility to advance a just, sustainable, global future.  Thanks to your help, we are making a small difference.

This Saturday, wherever you are, you can think of our bustling hive of mathematics learners upstairs at the Umkhumbane Community Library.  They will be engaged, inquisitive, and at times...noisy!  A good sign that they are having fun!

From all of us at The Umkhumbane Schools Project, Thank You! 

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January in South Africa...a New Year, the start of a new school term, and time for university admissions decisions to be finalized in time for classes to begin in February.  In some ways, these weeks are a culminating moment for all that we do at The Umkhumbane Schools Project, as the learners who have come through our programming aimed at getting them into college and a bright future are finding out if the door to higher education has, in fact, been opened to them.  

We are so happy to report that Yes...the doors are opening!  Remember Sanelisiwe, one of the aspiring young researchers from our 2016 mentoring program for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists?  She has just been accepted to study for a BSc in Biological Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Pietermaritzburg campus.  Do you recall Yanga, our young Expo investigator who researched the effect of chewing gum on concentration?  Yanga is headed to Wits University to study for a BSc in Mechanical Engineering.  And how about Bongumusa and Spha, the two young investigators pictured above from their days in our 2016 Expo group?  Bongumusa will be pursuing a BSc in Life Sciences (Maths Stream) and Spha is headed for a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting, both at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Westville campus.  These are but a few of the Umkhumbane learners with whom we have been working intensively over the past four months to help them translate their high school achievements into successful college applications.  

All of The Umkhumbane Schools Project's university admissions efforts are supported directly and completely by your Global Giving donations.  Thanks to your generosity, we are able to assist learners with entrance test fees and preparation courses, with trips to campus to deliver documents, with career guidance meetings with people in the fields that interest them, with sessions online to submit scholarship applications, and with the payment of registration and acceptance fees.  Though some of these activities would seem routine in a different setting, in the township area where we work, the burdens of poverty, a lack of access to information, and the many other dimensions of marginalization that learners face turn these tasks into daunting -- and often insurmountable --  barriers to higher education access.  Your support brings this whole process within reach for our learners.   Moreover, we are able to assist and recommend them with confidence and commitment, having already worked with most of them for two years in our maths and science programming --  also enabled by your generous giving.

Many, many thanks to all of you for making this work possible.  The doors are indeed opening and these wonderful young people are headed to some very bright futures.  

Happy New Year from all of us at The Umkhumbane Schools Project!  

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Boarding the Bus for Johannesburg
Boarding the Bus for Johannesburg

There was a huge thunderstorm here in Durban the night before the regional competition for the Eskom Expo, the science fair that becomes such a central part of our work each year from late August to early October.  A small group of diehard volunteers was camped out with the learners in an upstairs room of the community library where The Umkhumbane Schools Project holds a lot of its activities.  It was long after hours  --  the doors officially close at 5:00 PM  --  but the security guard was helping us out...we had stayed behind in one of the upstairs rooms to finish typing Expo reports and posters in our last flurry of activity before the competition, which was scheduled to begin the following morning at 7:30 AM.  The sound of the rain on the metal roof overhead was deafening, like a drum roll to lead us up to the moment when the games would begin.

Seven determined young scientists got home late in the pouring rain that night, and appeared the next morning for the start of the 2017 Eskom Expo.  Pamela had been researching water conservation practices in the township community.  Nondumiso had spent weeks making microscope slides and analyzing the number of stomata in leaves on some trees in her schoolyard.  Sibusiso's project was on communal care for dogs in the township, and Luyanda had built a projector to use with smartphones. Thalente had discovered that biodegradable food packaging works just as well as petroleum-based plastics.  And in the Social and Psychological Sciences category, Nqobi had surveyed his schoolmates' experiences with sadness and depression, and Zinhle had looked closely at attitudes towards vitiligo among her peers. 

Fast forward five weeks to a morning in early October.  Our intrepid young researchers had garnered five medals and two Highly Commended certificates at the Regional Competition, and now five of them were getting ready to board the bus to Johannesburg for the Eskom International Science Fair.  In the pre-dawn hours of that October morning, we had fetched them from their homes, their suitcases in tow, as they set out on their journey northward.  Little did we know then that a bus breakdown would delay them for six hours...but they arrived safely and had, by all reports, the most amazing four days of learning, getting to know other students from far away places, and gaining immeasurably in their own self-confidence and sense of what is possible in their lives.  

"Expo is just the best thing!"  was how one learner summed it up.  And it wasn't just about the Bronze Medal and five Highly Commended certificates that the learners were awarded at the international level.  It was about a sense of belonging and an opportunity to work with dedicated volunteers who take the time to understand and champion their ideas.  It was about successfully standing up next to a poster and speaking with confidence...in English...to not just one, but up to seven, individual judges who came to inquire as to what your project was all about.

Thanks to you, our GlobalGiving donors, The Umkhumbane Schools Project was able to provide this life-changing experience to this year's wonderful group of young Expo Scientists and Engineers.  Before we arrived in Umkhumbane/Cato Manor in 2012, learners in our five schools had never heard of the Eskom Expo, much less had a chance to participate.  In 2017, our fifth year of taking learners to the competition, we can celebrate this:  61 learners and 38 medals at the Regional competition to date, and 24 learners...with 11 Medals...at the International Science Fair.  This would not be possible without your sustaining financial help.  

From all of us here at The Umkhumbane Schools Project...thank you for your generous support!  

At the Library...without Rain!
At the Library...without Rain!
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June 16, 2017…Youth Day in South Africa …what a day it was! Thanks to the generosity of our GlobalGiving donors, The Umkhumbane Schools Project was able to host its Second Annual Youth Day History Festival on this day, bringing together learners from all five of our schools to celebrate the promise of youth and the power of education to shape a more just and sustainable society.

It was a day of powerful, magical, moving performances by our learners…poets, dancers, actors, and singers.   It was a day of joy in seeing young people join together to express their greatest hopes for a brighter future. Inspired by an idea brought to us last year by a musican and friend in the community, the Youth Day History Festival was the best and most meaningful way we could think of to bring our learners together during this day off from school, to commemorate the youth of 1976 while celebrating the promise and potential of our young scholars in the present day.

June 16, 1976  --  the date that is now etched in South Africa’s timeline as Youth Day  --  was the day of the Soweto Uprising, when young people in the Soweto township stood up against South Africa’s apartheid regime and its education policies. What began as a peaceful march ended in the the deaths of 176 young people at the hands of police. Days of violent protest and crackdown followed, leading to a death toll estimated at as many as 700.  

Forty-one years later, township schools all across post-apartheid South Africa still lag far behind their more privileged counterparts in terms of resources and performance.  Through our maths and science programs, our chess league, our girls empowerment projects, our higher education guidance work, and a host of smaller initiatives, The Umkhumbane Schools Project is striving to make a difference in the lives of young people in one such disadvantaged township -- the beautiful, resilient, promising community which is Cato Manor.   Our GlobalGiving supporters continue to enable not only this ongoing work, but also this inspiring Youth Day Festival --  a day of hope and affirmation which, two years in, can now safely be called an annual Umkhumbane Schools Project tradition!

In the days following the Festival, there remained a palpable energy among all the learners, teachers, volunteers, and performers who gathered on June 16. As we settled back into our more routine tasks, the sounds of the singing, the words of the poets, and the beauty of the student art work that was on display lingered and lifted us all.

From all of us here at The Umkhumbane Schools Project, Thank You!!!

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SPARK/The Umkhumbane Schools Project

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