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2020 - A YEAR OF COMMUNITY

People all over the world will have powerful memories of the year 2020 – it is a year where ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘staying at home’ became the right thing to do in the midst of a potentially devastating pandemic sweeping across the globe.

But, in a time when being physically distant and physically separate has become important, there is no greater need for community and connectedness. The world may not be the same post-COVID19, and South Africa may not be the same after lockdown but, in defeating a common (and invisible) enemy, human beings have never been closer or more united.

Of course, the economic, social and educational implications of the pandemic will be devastating. Schools and educational organisations, like St Andrew’s School for Girls and uBambiswano, are more relevant and necessary than ever before. Not only to educate and help students to follow the curriculum and pass their exams, but also to support and prepare students socially, emotionally and physically for their futures in a changed world.

UBambiswano is mindful that strengthening society is a collective responsibility. Now going into its third decade, the community initiative has many achievements to celebrate. As we started our 30th year, celebration was first and foremost in our minds. Now, three months into 2020, we realise that it will be a turning point for our organisation and our students.

 

We are already reaping the benefits of our involvement in the Daveyton and Etwatwa communities. Our students are happy, engaged and excited to learn. Our programme focuses on the whole child, which we believe is essential for their development and learning. By giving students a strong foundation and self-confidence early on, they feel empowered to achieve.

 

Already, our beneficiaries are disadvantaged. Not only in their community life, but also their school life. Many of the schools in their communities suffer from an absence of direction and vision, which results in teaching and learning being compromised. All of this has brought about a whole different set of challenges for our students. Increasingly, we need to be actively involved in students’ lives beyond the classroom. There is a great sense of urgency to engage in the communities we serve in a way that will tip the scales, gain momentum and bring about meaningful progress.

So how does uBambiswano sustain its legacy and meet the ever-changing needs of our students on the journey forward?

Part of our vision needs to include seeking opportunities to engage collaboratively and in partnership with other organisations. In doing so, the bonds between private, public and third sectors must be strengthened so that all sectors are working together – in short, we are stronger together.

 

This interaction can lead to creative and innovative solutions to the pressing educational and social problems in our students’ communities – problems that will only be exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown.

 

In the midst of it all, we must not forget who uBambiswano serves: the students and their families. UBambiswano is rooted in the needs of our beneficiaries. These collaborations allow us to consolidate our relationships with schools, provide support, share best practice, and provide guidance and encouragement. We look back at the leaps and bounds made since Mr Frank Simmonds expressed his vision to share the resources and facilities enjoyed by St Andrew’s with the community of Daveyton in 1990, and imagine ways that we can build on this foundation. We begin to set new goals for how we will set ourselves up for success, and work hard to achieve those goals.

 

As an organisation, uBambiswano is committed to playing an active role in transforming society, and to making a meaningful contribution to education in our country. The students of uBambiswano (both former and current) have achieved academic and personal success as a result of their involvement with the Saturday School programme.

 

It is these satisfying results that have motivated and energised us for the past 30 years, and that continue to motivate us as we move bravely forward hand-in-hand with our partners and our beneficiaries into this new world.

 

A world where new, productive and safe communities are formed in order to allow us to grow and prosper.

Mr. Siphiwe Vilakazi (Head of uBambiswano)

Note:

uBambiswano is a well-respected Saturday School programme in service of Black South African students from disadvantaged communities in Daveyton and Etwatwa. We currently reach 97 young people from Grades 6 to 9. Our educational approach is a holistic one: we work to improve the students’ literacy and numeracy, and we also provide opportunities for students to engage in sporting and cultural activities.

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2020 - COMMUNITY IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

As an organisation, uBambiswano welcomed 2020 with excitement. We had many 30th birthday celebrations planned and couldn’t wait to share stories with our beneficiaries and sponsors alike of our past and present successes, and imaginings for our future.

Then, in late February, we started to hear concerning news. Evidence of an unknown virus that was enough to worry entire cities and countries into shutting their borders and pausing economic activity. Our own government announced the closure of schools on 15 March, followed by an unprecedented nationwide lockdown a week later.

So, while it is not the 30th birthday we expected, it is certainly one to remember!

We have had to make many adjustments to our own teaching and learning style, while staying true to our vision of supporting children so that they are happy, healthy, well-adjusted and excited to learn. Our theme for our birthday year is “community”. The silver lining for us is that we have been able to emphasise what

community truly means even when we are encouraged to be socially distant and under lockdown. Together with St Andrew’s, we began using #TogetherApart to connect with our community on social media. It has been touching to see the response to this and has proven that physical distance is no barrier to love, compassion and friendship.

The reopening of schools is a complicated task. In order to support our students while this work is going on in the background, we launched a distance learning programme that we are incredibly proud of. Our teachers have worked hard on a method of teaching and learning that leaves no child behind – we introduced a physical delivery model where the students’ caregivers collect packs from a designated site every couple of weeks and drop off any work that needs to be marked. These packs ensure that the students are on top of their schoolwork and encourage them to work flexibly and to have fun. We stay in touch with the students via WhatsApp support groups, which we use to monitor their academic progress, as well as their emotional and mental well-being. Their overall well-being is incredibly important to us, as an unhappy and unwell child cannot learn effectively.

WhatsApp has been a lifeline of communication for us and our families – not only do we use it for our Support Groups, but we also send regular updates from the Head of School, as well as weekly online chapel services. All of this serves to hold our community together, even while we are apart.

Nelson Mandela once said, “It seems impossible until it is done”, and this is certainly true of the past few months. Our initial reactions of fear, panic and anxiety have made way for determination, concern and protectiveness. St Andrew’s School for Girls and uBambiswano are committed to the communities that we serve. Part of our commitment is to work hard to find new ways to connect, to teach and to learn. We are proud of everyone involved in this endeavour – not least our students, who have been adaptable and inspiring in their ability to cope with uncertainty.

We will continue to connect with our students virtually and through the delivery of school packs, but we also look forward to the day that our campus will once again be abuzz with the voices of healthy, smiling and enthusiastic students.

Mr. Siphiwe Vilakazi (Head of uBambiswano)