Jenny Laurence’s South African Adventure

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 Jenny Lawrence, our first Vicky Tuck Scholar, reports back from her amazing experiences volunteering abroad.

I chose South Africa as my destination for the Vicki Tuck Scholarship, firstly because I was interested in the socio-economic situation of the country, because the culture of the country intrigued me, and lastly because my work as the Development Prefect had already led me to become involved in CLC’s relationship with the Diocesan School for Girls (DSG).

A town of 11,000 inhabitants, Grahamstown is 1 and half hours north Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Grahamstown and took 18.5hrs of travelling to get there.

My contact with the school was certainly not the first they had heard from CLC-Miss Beale, one of our early Headmistresses, spread her ideologies and passion for female education across the world, sending teachers to start schools, or to head recently started ones – the Diocesan School for Girls was one of a total number of 50 influenced schools by the turn of the 20th century.

Amazingly,  their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th Headmistresses were ex-CLC pupils or teachers… as you can see, it wasn’t only our values and motivations that travelled across the continent!

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The school is international, like ours. With students coming from all over Africa, and as far as Russia, Australia and the UK even, this creates a similar environment of acceptance and belonging of all kinds of people as CLC does.

Their boarding houses look and feel incredibly similar. Watching videos, messy rooms, and laundry day are all part of routine, although their houses are all on site. I also observed house roll call, at 8.30 in the evening, which required students to come to their common room to be ticked off.

 

Unlike us, however, they are required to learn at least another language throughout school,  and many are already bilingual before they get there. There are 9 official South African languages, and Grahamstown is home to English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.

 

I worked at Holy Cross Primary School for a number of mornings, which goes up to Year 4, and which is a concentrated  learning environment for rural children, and a community engagement partner with DSG. Every morning I would come in and help the students with maths, and English as well as break time duty.

 

Having seen about 8 primary and secondary schools in my 3 weeks, I understood better how commendable the Holy Cross school was. 80% of schools across South Africa fail to get a majority of students to pass their final exams. 80%. That falls to almost 0% at DSG.

This is down to some students needing employment instead, or because they had come one for their one free meal one. An accountability problem in the education system also means that students may not have a science or maths teacher for a year, because their previous one will not be replaced. This is on top of an already over-stretched teacher to student ratio at 1:70.

I had been interested in the socio-economic situation of South Africa for a number of years before this summer, and so the amount of information I absorbed was deeply satisfying, but also concerning.  The image of South Africa portrayed to the world is one of a first world country when it’s definitely third. If Grahamstown is anything to go by, with families going hungry, and living in totally unsuitable housing, the country needs to change. I sensed a complete frustration from both the privileged and the poor, about the lack of speed at which South Africa is changing. Apartheid was 20 years ago, but then again, it was only 20 years ago and there is still a job divide, although this does change slightly in the cities. Nevertheless, the country has come a long way. The white population is only 13% of the country, but was almost 100% of the uni student population before democracy. Now that has fallen, with a greater majority of black students at most universities. Opinions are also being made public, including against rape culture, which can be a serious taboo subject, and corruption, which needs to be addressed urgently.

My experience was not as a tourist, but as an observer of realities- the trip provided invaluable insight.

 

All photos are Jenny’s own

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