Monday’s Starfish – Helping One Child At A Time

By Thobekile Mkwebula

When I found out which community I would be assigned to for my year of service, my face filled with fear. I felt uncertain about how exactly I would be able to make a difference in an unfamiliar place, and a totally different community to the one I grew up in. But that fear and apprehension all disappeared after the warm welcome my teammates and myself received from the school we would be serving in.

Once I had spent time interacting with learners in the classroom, I was struck by the overwhelming sense that my presence was highly appreciated, and that just by being around, a change had already been made.

After settling in, I discovered that, as is often the case, learners were being paired according to their academic capabilities. I found this to be limiting, and wanted to create a space in our after-school programme where all my learners had the opportunity to excel and flourish.

I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about creating that space, and thought that in order for me to achieve the idea I would need the help of someone wiser and more experienced. But I also came to the realization that if I was able to identify the challenge, it was likely that I also possessed the ability to work on it and overcome it.

As I identified learners who were having trouble with certain subjects, I started having one-on-one conversations with them, to discover exactly how they viewed their lessons in class. I discovered that the challenge lay in their ability to understand and unpack the lessons they were given.

So I decided to try something a little different. I started using cue cards as a means to improve their literacy skills, and to my surprise that provided a lot of help. They loved it so much that they eventually took over the responsibility of creating the cards themselves. My job suddenly became a lot easier, because the students became eager to learn.

Helping those learners improve their ability to read and write was rewarding, but what has made my experience as a Service Leader worth it, was one learner in particular. He isolated himself from all the activities, and was always distracting the other kids in class. Approaching him about his behaviour was a challenging experience, because most people had already given up on him. But all it took was one conversation with him. I was deeply touched by the way he spoke to me, revealing how inferior he felt amongst all the other students. His difficulties were not rooted in being a problem child, but rather in how he had never been given a chance to truly express himself.

I spent time working with him over the next few days, and was over the moon when he scored over 70% for a spelling test the following week. But the best part, was the light I saw in his face whenever an educator was in class. The doubt I had in myself at the start was the same doubt he had in himself, and I would like to believe that by us coming together, we were both able to overcome the uncertainty that had trapped us. It is my honour to have met him, and helped him achieve what he is truly capable of.

My Year of Service

By Kamogelo Masoko

While a lot of people have been living an ordinary life, as ordinary citizens, I have been living an extraordinary life. I have been blessed with the honour and privilege of serving my people, communities, and my world as a whole. In February 2013 my journey as a City Year Service Leader began, and after my training was completed, my teammates and myself were assigned to Somelulwazi Primary School, in Freedom Park, Soweto.

Since joining City Year, my life has changed tremendously. I walk to and from Somelulwazi Primary every day, rain or shine, as taxis, cars, buses, bicycles and motorbikes furiously pass me with amazement and amusement. My teammate Zanele joins me on these walks, and both of us get a chance to demonstrate the City Year founding story of Moccasins, which is adapted from a Cherokee prayer, and goes as follows: “Oh great spirit, grant that I may never criticize my brother or sister until I have walked the trail of life in their moccasins.” Zanele and I put ourselves in our fellow South African’s shoes as they go about their daily commutes, walking and traveling through hardships and happiness.

My role at Somelulwazi Primary, is to facilitate English lessons with grade 7 learners during our after-school programme, which we call the City Year Children’s Club. I also spend time with the learners during the school day to provide them with one-on-one support. The kids that I work with are an inspiring reason for me to serve in Freedom Park. I love the three days a week that I get to serve my community and country, and spend quality time with children of Somelulwazi. As well as tutoring and mentoring the kids, I also help with preparing and serving food for their lunch. My team also spends time working at Freedom Day Care, which takes care of smaller kids. We wash dishes, help with cleaning and prepare and serve them food.

The City Year team serving at Somelulwazi Primary provides hundreds of children with a reason to smile, and gives them an extra incentive to come to school every day. Even though primary school kids are sometimes challenging to work with, I can always see potential in them. They face vast difficulties, and the way that I see it, I can play a part in helping them overcome those difficulties so that they can be successful and happy. After all, it is what we do, not what we say, that ties our humanity to one another. Freedom Park may be my first assignment as a change-maker, but it will most definitely not be my last.