Itís 16h30 and my office is strangely quiet. The pupils and teachers have left and not even the persistent call of the Red Chested Cuckoo can be heard. The only sounds audible are the quiet hum of the computer and the steady trickling of the rain in the gutters and on the tin roof outside. Itís pouring out there and a parched Eastern Cape countryside is rejoicing at the life-giving water that has been so meagre in the coming since the start of summer. Iíll probably be drenched and covered in mud when I get home on my motorbike but with the end of term in sight, there is little that will dampen the spirits.
Itís hard to believe that I have now finished my first year here at Healdtown and I find it difficult to describe my feelings as I look back over all that has transpired this year. Much has happened and much hasnít, and so it is with a cautious sense of satisfaction that I look back over what has been an incredibly challenging year.
This report serves to document the activities at Healdtown for the fourth quarter of 2009.
Following a very successful week-long visit by four HeronBridge pupils here in August, we sent six of our Grade 11 pupils up to HeronBridge during our September vacation for a week, to experience Johannesburg and what happens in a fully functional school where excellence and industry are a part of the fabric of the place. This exchange blew the minds of our pupils and they came back with a vastly different perspective and outlook on life. They now know that it requires hard work and discipline to be successful and on their return they spoke about respect for teachers, the need for homework and that passivity in the classroom is not an option. A comprehensive debrief on both sides after the trip brought to light that his exchange was not without its problems and that issues like differences in culture and communication styles created a variety of difficulties which had not been anticipated and so a plan of action has been put in place to improve on this exchange next year. The relationship with HeronBridge has been of great benefit to pupils from both schools and so we will pursue it further next year.
Our relationship with Kingswood College is also paying some dividends and it was particularly heart-warming to hear from their choir master that after our visit to their College last term, a number of Kingswood pupils had gotten together and were going to attempt to raise some money for music instruments for Healdtown. Iíve learnt that talk is cheap, but it seems that these choristers are in a different league and without much help from their teachers, they were able to convince the Cape300 Foundation to part with R11 000. Thatís initiative Ė with heart!! We are hoping to acquire a set of Marimbas with this money to enhance the already wonderful music our choir already makes.
Our feeding scheme has been one of the highlights this year. Adele Latchman from Sanlam visited us this term and was thrilled with the cleanliness of the kitchen and the quality of the food the pupils were receiving. I am delighted to report that Sanlam has agreed to sponsor this feeding scheme at Healdtown for another two years and I would like to extend my gratitude and that of the Healdtown community for their munificence. We are using some of the funds that were left over from this year to restore a small building next to the Gymnasium which is suited perfectly for a kitchen. This will free up the classroom we are currently using to prepare the food. We have employed a local builder from one of the surrounding villages to do the restoration and I have been very impressed with the quality of his work. Mr Patrick Seager, Corporate Social Investment & PR Manager from Plascon, visited us some time ago and I approached him with a request for paint. Not two weeks later a consignment of paint arrives on my doorstep and so we are now in a position to paint our kitchen as well. Originally I wanted to ask for the seven colours of the rainbow. Picture it Ė this bright array of colour as you enter the otherwise drab and derelict buildings of Healdtown. Alas, I opted for the more conservative approach, but my thanks to Plascon and Mr Seager the kitchen will look beautiful anyway.
The Eastern Cape Education Department stipulated these rather strange term dates this year which dictated through their common time tables that the exams finished three weeks before the actual closure of the schools. What a waste of good teaching time! I decided to offer my grade 8 Mathematics pupils a summer school during this time wondering whether they would be keen to do Mathematics for a whole week when everyone else was on holiday. It was incredibly gratifying to see their eagerness and most of them were there. I had an education student from Stellenbosch helping me and the week turned a great success. Thabisa, our feeding scheme lady, cooked them slightly more scrumptious meals for lunch and the occasional sugar laden incentive for various competitions, helped to make this a really fun-filled and productive time.
At the annual medal presentation of the South African Mathematics Olympiad I had the opportunity to speak to the deputy minister of Science and Technology, Mr Derek Hanekom. He was very interested in our venture to create an academy of excellence in Maths and Science here at Healdtown and pledged to visit the school in the near future. I will follow up with him next year and hope to establish some kind of link with his department.
Our relationship with Rhodes University is also being strengthened and we are in the process of crafting a memorandum of understanding that will be beneficial to both Healdtown and the University. Then the chairman of IFULA Holdings, which is a private investment management group based in Rivonia, came to see me last week. He was at Healdtown till 1975 and was subsequently jailed in Grahamstown and sent to Robben Island for 10 years. He has a great interest in the restoration of his Alma Mater and Iím hoping that this contact will bear rich fruits in our endeavours to put Healdtown on the map again.
Earlier this term I was invited to speak at the speech day and prize giving of Merrifield College in East London and also that of St Charles in Pietermaritzburg. Both schools showed an interest in getting involved at Healdtown through their outreach projects and Iím optimistic that we will be able to build some kind of relationships with these schools. As you can see, we have a number of irons in the fire in terms of connections that we have made and I am confident that these contacts will help to bring the changes we are needing, to Healdtown.
Just before the close of term, two representatives of an NGO ďTeach South AfricaĒ came to visit Healdtown. This organisation recruits graduates from various universities to teach in schools for two years before going to work in their respective professions. Iím hoping that they will be able to place some of their ĎAmbassadorsí here at Healdtown Ė our pupils need to do so much catching up that these students would be of invaluable assistance to them. In an e-mail to me after her visit, Vuyiswa Ncontsa brilliantly captures the emotions in writing that a number of people have experienced whilst visiting our school. ďThe visit to Healdtown was both inspiring and demotivating. The richness of the history and heritage was overwhelming. The interview with the kids haunted me well after I came home and my husband bore the brunt of it when I woke him up at 02h00 to tell him what was keeping me awake.Ē In their personal capacity, she and two of her colleagues have offered to sponsor the school fees of no less than nine pupils. Wow!!
Trevor Websterís book on the History of Healdtown is progressing well and we hope to have it ready by Foundersí Day next year. In reading some of his work it has again become apparent to me that this school should be a National Heritage site. The number of leaders in the business sector, the legal fraternity and education, the number of prominent politicians and influential people in a host of other fields that were part of the struggle against Apartheid and that were educated at Healdtown is quite astounding. To leave this school in ruins would be a grave mistake, in fact a travesty, and so Healdtown presents itself as a wonderful opportunity for potential donors to get involved in a project that will not only restore some dilapidated buildings but more importantly a sense of pride and recollection of where we have come from as a country.
Iíve always been someone that has wanted to build Rome in a year Ė in fact Iíve usually pushed for doing the job in six months. This project is unfortunately going to take a little longer and if there is one thing this year has taught me, itís that the devastation that Apartheid caused is not going to be remedied easily. Work ethic, initiative, having a dream, discipline and respect for others are things that take time to develop. If I look at our current Matric class, not one of whom passed their trial examinations, I wonder what hope there is for them in a country where the downturn of the economy has cost almost one million citizens their jobs this year. At times one becomes almost frantic in this kind of environment but then Iím again reminded of how God intervened in History and Nehemiah was, against all odds, able to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Certain inspirational people also cross oneís path and Mr Ramugondo of Mbilwi High School in Limpopo is one of these. I visited him at his school two years ago and spoke to him again in October this year. He heads up a rural school of just over 1700 pupils just outside Thohoyandou and his school was on the list of the Sunday Timesí top 100 schools Ė in fact it was ranked number 8. What makes it a remarkable place for me as a Mathematics teacher is the fact that they do not offer Mathematical Literacy as a subject Ė everyone does Mathematics. This is something that not even the rich private schools can boast about Ė there is somehow a magic there that defies all the rules. Speaking to Mr Ramugondo, I was again encouraged. He spoke of patience and persistence and so when I look over 2009 and all that has happened, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude to God for carrying us through some tough times, but also with a sense of expectancy and confidence that 2010 will bring good things to Healdtown.
It remains for me to wish you all a wonderful holiday. While youíre on the beach, spare a thought for some of my Grade 11 and 12 boys who are in the bush living in some dingy self-built huts having just had their foreskins severed in their traditional initiation ritual of becoming men.
May your Christmas be filled not only with presents but with Jesus himself and may 2010 be a year filled with surprises, laughter and Godís richest blessings.