Clarks Kicks for Soul Of Africa World Cup a Huge Success PART 1
As I’m driving down toward the valley of Ndedwe, situated in Botha’s Hill, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, I’m struck by the breathtaking landscape as the sun rises, streaking the sky and valley below with life and colour. Who would think that deep in the heart of this picturesque setting, lies a little school called Mnamatha, that is filled with children who are hungry for education, yet face so many stumbling blocks along the way. As I drive through the school gate, my heart is filled with such joy as I watch Patrick Hlongwane’s (Mnamatha’s Headmaster) broad smile spread across his happy face as he rushes toward my car. “I owe Dee my life for finding Soul of Africa and Clarks… what they have done will make the difference to the lives of many, many children for years to come,” Patrick says grinning. “We can’t say thank you enough!!!” says Pearl (the school librarian), jumping up and down with excitement.
Below: Patrick Hlongwane, aged 51, Mnamatha’s Headmaster
You see, it is thanks to the Clarks Kicking for Soul Of Africa Campaign over the World Cup Period that has enabled Soul Of Africa to bring a positive change to this little school. Clarks have donated 50p on their children’s training shoe brand called CICA, to Soul Of Africa for the specific use on the Mnamatha School Project. The total amount raised throughout the duration of the campaign has been an incredible R580 000.00 (£50,000.00).
Armed with my camera and notebook, we walk past the overcrowded classrooms toward the existing toilet block. I note that this is a happy school. A school where there are on average 50 children packed into each classroom per grade – yet they are happy and want to learn. Although faced with many hardships over the years, the teachers and pupils alike smile broadly through broken windows and wave as I walk past. There is an energy around me that lifts me up and makes me remember a saying by Christopher Reeve, “Once you choose hope… Anything is possible!” Thanks to Clarks we are able to make the changes to Mnamatha possible!
Mnamatha school has 441 children (junior and senior primary), 137 of these children are orphans losing their parents to the vicious AIDS pandemic in South Africa. 11 of these children are from child headed households. The number of AIDS orphans thrust into parenthood is soaring in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the hardest hit province in South Africa, long the hardest-hit nation in the world.
As we near the existing toilet block the air is filled with the unmistakable stench of rotting human waste. I find myself wanting to wretch while thinking how on earth it could be possible for these little ones (all 441 of them) to share 6 noxious portable toilets. Not to mention the health hazards! These toilets have clearly not been emptied in ages. Stricken, Patrick tells me that these toilets have not been emptied in a very long time as the council has had no money to do so.
Says Patrick, ““We have applied for a toilet block from the government in 2001 and they said that they would put them in but we are still waiting… 6 years later. The local department hire's 6 portable toilets which they are supposed to come every Friday to service but sometimes they don’t come and we have to wait 2 weeks for them to be emptied. They are a terrible health and safety hazard to the kids as they are dirty and they smell. The little ones can’t even reach the seats and the bigger kids don’t like to go in them so they go in the bush behind. They don’t have water so they cant wash their hands afterwards. Some kids will go home at break to go to the toilet rather than use the ones we have now and then they don’t always come back to school afterwards.”
I get my urge to empty my stomach contents onto the floor under control while silently saying prayers of thanks to Clarks over and over again. You see, thanks to the Clarks / CICA campaign we are able to build a brand new toilet block (2 x 6 toilets) one for boys and one for girls as well as 2 staff toilets for teachers. “The new block will be so much better and safer for the children”, says Patrick, “We will have running water and monitors from each year group to make sure they are kept in a nice condition. Also the staff will have their own toilets which will be better.”
Below: Current toilet block
Below: Proposed site for new toilet block
I breathe a huge sigh of desperate relief as Patrick steers me away from the stench of the toilets toward where the new classroom is going to be built.
Below: Proposed site for new classroom
“We are so short of space right now that the classes are over flowing with children,” says Patrick. “A new classroom will let us take smaller groups that need more attention away from the big groups so each learner will have more teacher time. Also when we have community meeting with the parents then we will have the space to meet properly instead of squashing into one classroom.” Looking down at the hard dirt ground Patrick tells me that having no play area, only dirt and dust areas, “I would like to maybe also put some chess sets and a basketball hoop in the new classroom so the kids have something to do at break times.” Just then someone sounds the old fashioned school bell and I watch as children spill out of their classrooms into the tiny, dusty ‘play area’ for break time. I watch as the older boys and girls stand around in groups talking and laughing while the younger children with boundless energy run around causing a mini dust-storm around everyone. I feel my heart tug as I imagine what a difference a grass patch and a soccer ball or two to kick around will make to lunchtime for these children. Simple things… simple things that you and I take for granted…
Below: From left to right: Lunchtime queue for pre-school children to use the toilet.
Washing hands in dripping rainwater caught in the Jo-Jo tank from a pipe leading off gutter of a classroom roof into the tank. This is the only means for the children to wash their hands. If there is no rain they cannot wash their hands. There is one tap on the school property, which is only used for drinking water for the children. Crowded dusty play area during breaktime.