We visited Teboho Trust, a Saturday school in Soweto and it was the first time we were able to see slums within the regions near Johannesburg. We met up with the volunteers cooking within the kitchen and were introduced to varying classrooms ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. I sat in on a classroom consisting of students from the 10th grade to 12th grade and observed as they read a book together. After they were done collaboratively analyzing the book’s message, I was able to talk to some of the students and get to know who they are and what their career goals are. They inquired about my cultural ethnic identity (South Korean) and how it compared to other Asian countries. Additionally, I introduced to them the similarities of race relations within Asia in comparison to Africa. They were intrigued and wanted to know about my native language. I taught them the basics in articulating the foundational symbols within the Korean language and wrote out their names and “I love you” so that they may be able to share with their friends. During recess, I passed the soccer ball around with some kids and played with a lot of the younger ones as well. Their unlimited amount of energy wore me out and I could not wait to get back to the classroom.
The older students were scheduled to attend “Life Skills” class after recess, and we were allowed to separate within smaller groups in order to have the opportunity to discuss our perspectives on life skills. Thus, allowing them to compare and contrast our perspectives with their own. I had six students, most of which I was able to get to know from earlier in the day and I knew they would be extremely receptive to my questions. We were in a completely separate classroom and I intentionally did this as a means of minimizing distraction and to allow for an easier flow of thought amongst the students. I began the discussion with the universal question of “What is life?” and immediately you could see them evaluate the question and analyze themselves. The students ranged from the age of 13 to 18, but their cognitive processes matched the levels of those within the university level. One of my students was very shy, but I was successful in getting him to open up to me. We were engaging within deep philosophical theories and questions we face within all our lives. Topics such as our meaning, purpose, time allotted, journey, beginning/end, ups/downs, right/wrong, priorities, responsibilities, history, family, friends, community, government, education, cost benefit analysis and women within about a 30 minute time frame were discussed amongst us. Proof, that there is no limit to what our youth can accomplish.
We were forced to end our engaging discussion so that we may be able to come together and share our ideas with the others. I specifically asked my more introverted student to contribute to the group and he did not let me down. He was amazing and after he shared his thoughts, my other student Gael beautifully articulated his thoughts and brightened up the room. I was so blessed to have the opportunity to meet and talk to these students on a more intimate scale. When the collective group concluded the dialogue, I asked my own group to come with me to a separate room so I could have the opportunity to thank them, give them sweets, and give them school supplies that would aid them in their academic pursuits for greatness. Gael began to tear and I could not keep myself from doing the same. It was tears of joy. Almost as if he was speaking for the group, he spoke of his deep appreciation for my ability to inspire them and he said “you gave us courage, you gave us hope.” He wished that he could give me something and then he gave me his lucky coin. I did not want to take his lucky coin, but as with Asian culture, it is disrespectful to reject anyone’s gift in African culture. It can be incomprehensible at times how much of an impact one can have on the life of another.
I had the hardest time leaving the school, but we had to go and it was time to go to the Hector Pieterson Museum. The images within the museum were so emotionally moving and hit you to the core of the Black Freedom Struggle within South Africa. The famed picture of Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying Hector Pieterson’s lifeless body could not be described with simple words. Additionally, picking up Hector’s body was not described as an act of heroism, but a job as his brother. Hector’s sister, Antoinette Sithole mentioned “He was an ordinary child without glamour. Why the glamour around his death?” Regardless of this sense of selflessness, his death has become a cornerstone within the foundation of what post-apartheid South Africa stands for, what democracy stands for. Hector Pieterson may have only been 13 years old, but how many of us can say that we died for the dream. Our dream, the dream we all share for us and for our society. Outside the museum, the Hector Pieterson monument had “To Honour the Youth Who Gave Their Lives in the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy” inscribed in stone. True democracy, what we struggle for and what we hope for. The struggles of our brothers and sisters shall not be in vain.
“One way we can build a better future for children is by empowering them through allowing them to speak up for themselves.” – Nelson Mandela (2003)
My name is Gregory Whittaker. I am an actuary by profession and inter alias a Fellow of the Actuarial Society of South Africa and a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries in the United States. I also hold a Bachelor of Economic Science degree from the University of the Witwatersrand.
Since the beginning of 2009 I have been a volunteer at Teboho Trust’s Saturday School Academy and have in the main tutored Mathematics and English to high school students. Since my involvement with the Teboho Trust Saturday School Academy we have been using the premises of the Phefeni Secondary School in Vilikazi Street in Soweto.
I am happy to give of my time freely for the simple reason that I believe in uplifting communities through education. The approximately 350 children that attend the Teboho Trust Saturday School Academy are well-mannered, grateful, disciplined and respectful. This is as a result of the values instilled in them by the founder and director of the Teboho Trust, namely Mr Jose Bright. Jose’s commitment, compassion and dedication towards each child is relentless. He has created a sustainable community model that can be used throughout South Africa.
Whilst the school that the children have been using to date is in a total state of disrepair and the toilet facilities are a disgrace; they always clean up after themselves and appreciate the fact that they have had a place to learn. Not once have I seen a Teboho Trust child littering or vandalizing the school.
It would be a sad indictment on South Africa should the Teboho Trust not find a new home, especially in light of the circumstances surrounding their eviction from the Phefeni Secondary School.
Without hesitation I would recommend that the appropriate authorities favorably consider relocating the Teboho Trust to a safe, learner-friendly environment so that the excellent work of the Trust may continue.
Gregory A. Whittaker
I am disheartened to hear about the recent event by the school's new board. I have been aware of the many activities of the Teboho Trust for many years. Even before your organization was formalized, you have been championing a holistic approach to advancing the education and enriching the lives of so many young people in the Soweto community. The impact of your efforts have extended far beyond the geographic boundaries of Soweto and South Africa. Your efforts have been truly inspirational worldwide. I sincerely hope that the decision makers will realize that short term expediency and the long term impact of the selfless efforts on Teboho Trust.
Five years ago one of our employees passed away, leaving behind a 3-member child-headed household. Although we tried to assist the children, it was difficult for us to make a meaningful difference because of practical issues like limited time, cultural and language barriers and transport problems. Despite all our efforts to counsel and advise, when the oldest child came of age, he dropped out of school, took his meagre inheritance and squandered it within two months.His future prospects are very bleak, he is unemployed, he takes drugs, he keeps bad company and we suspect he may be involved with crime.
Although we tried to assist, we feel that we failed this youngster and, after hearing about Teboho Trust, we approached Jose to take the two younger siblings under his wing. The middle child, a girl, now regards Teboho Trust as her family. Despite setbacks she continues to work hard and is persevering at her studies. We are confident that she will pass her matric and continue with some form of tertiary education. The Teboho Trust Saturday School has helped tremendously. Amongst other things this girl was battling with Xhosa, her first language, because without the mother there, the children stopped speaking traditional Xhosa and adopted "township lingo". Teboho Trust assisted with lessons and text books.
The youngest child, a ten year old boy, is also a challenge as he has grown up without discipline or social skills. He likes to spend his time playing in the street and is too immature to realise the benefit of education. We fear that without some form of intervention, he will follow in the footsteps of his older brother, and we have again approached Teboho Trust for assistance. They provide the things that money can't buy - a caring family environment that gives the children a sense of belonging, assistance with practical, everyday problems, as well as the vital educational and social skills needed for success in adult life. Without the assistance of Teboho Trust, this entire family would have become yet another statistic of the South African AIDS epidemic. We are very happy to support the Trust and commend Jose on his foresight and commitment to assisting our vulnerable children, and in turn, the future of our country.
Employee Wellness Manager Afrox
Dear Jose Bright:
I would like to thank you, the students, volunteers, staff and community board for helping to make my trip to South Africa special and complete. Having the opportunity to learn more about the services provided through Teboho Trust was more than inspirational. Listening to the students talk about their MATRIC results sent shivers through me; I felt the Lord breathe on me.
I was able to see first hand that the students were given high expectations and standards, and the tools and support to achieve them. Being provided with such love and support can only lead to a sense of personal empowerment and economic development. Having the opportunity to socialize with everyone over lunch was also special and if you will remember I did not want to leave. I have a passion for high quality educational opportunities and my only regret is that I am not there to volunteer.
On behalf of our young people, our future leaders, thank all of you for doing good work.
Patricia L. Pickles, Ph.D.
To whom much is given, much is expected