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.

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