This week I tagged along on with Nokonwaba and Phindiwe to do school registration. It lasts from mid-January until mid-March, and we go to the Junior Secondary Schools (JSS , grades R-9) and Senior Secondary Schools (SSS, grades 10-12) that Hlomelikusasa represents to take down information about all of the orphans and vulnerable children in the school. Most of the OVC don’t have uniforms (or very shabby ones) or the necessary school supplies. The children are not always in the Hlomelikusasa system, either. If you can believe it, our office is horrifically disorganized. Sometimes it takes months for a report to be added into the computer (if at all) because Fikiswa is the only person in the office with computer literacy. (Oh, but we’re going to give computer lessons next weekend! woo hoo!).
Nokonwaba & Phindiwe registering students at a rural JSS
Here’s what I saw:
It is a tough process, probably somewhat altered because umlungu (‘white person’ or more accurately ‘interloper’) was there to observe. The teacher at one school complained to me that the orphans were pretty well off, and that it was the children with two parents who had the real problems. I’m sure most children in the rural areas have it pretty bad, but our focus at Hlomelikusasa is to help orphans, and I doubt the OVC have it as ‘great’ as she seemed to think.
Children in line for registration at a rural JSS
The kids waited in a line outside to be seen and assessed by Nokonwaba and Phindiwe. The village health worker for each area comes, too, so she can help wrangle the known OVC. Each child came in one at a time to give their vital stats: age (some kids don’t even know how old they are), grade, whether or not they already have a Child Care Grant or Foster Care Grant. The kids were poked and prodded (in a relatively friendly way) to check their size for a new uniform. And then we gave them learning materials–a pencil for the youngest kids; pencil, pen, simple calculator, and pencil box for the old kids.
Most kids are wearing school uniforms that are either too big or too small, and completely falling apart at the seams. The situation with uniforms is ridiculous. They cost about the equivalent of $20 for a full uniform, but some kids need 2 uniforms (one for special occasions), or also a track suit, or a blazer, pantyhose, scarves… It’s ridiculous to ask for these things from kids that don’t even have enough money to eat. Some schools deny entry if the kids aren’t wearing uniforms.
Rural JSS. Most schools have solar panels for electicity (most have been stolen, but this school had a nice one, and a TV in the teacher's lounge!)
The age range is unbelievable. There are kids as old as 18 that are still in grade 6. Most kids are older than you’d think for the grade they’re in, actually. Some of the really old kids are “mentally disturbed” and shouldn’t even be in the schools they’re in. Unfortunately, the special schools are for reeeaaallly disturbed kids, and most of these guys wouldn’t fit the criteria. “Mentally disturbed” is the blanket term that they use for anyone with problems. I may have already mentioned this in another post, but I think a lot of the “mentally disturbed” kids are autistic, and many of them probably have fetal alcohol syndrome. There are so many drunks around here, men and women alike.
The government has started providing nutrition in schools--used to just be bread 2x a week, but now it is semp & beans every day (I think). Tasted pretty good!
One little boy was so dirty it looked like he’d been beaten. Nokonwaba made him unbutton his shirt, and what looked like giant scabs was just layers and layers of dirt. The child had no one around to make sure he bathed. It was sad and gross.
Oh, this was crazy: at one school, a JSS, there was no grade 9. The way Nokonwaba explained it to me, they had eliminated grade 9 because all the kids were leaving to get married. I asked her “Why?” and she just shrugged and said, “I guess they’re parents are into it.” I haven’t met a married 15 year old, but I guess it’s pretty common.
Very poor rural school. In case you wondered what they do with broken chairs, they put them on the roof to keep it from blowing off.
Another boy had moved on to SSS but was visiting his old JSS to try to get a teacher to stand up for him to get his birth certificate. I’m unclear on all the details, but basically, when he was a baby, his mother had locked him up in a room for days at a time. When a neighbor found out, they sent him to Mount Frere to live with his grandmother. When the grandmother died, he moved to the grannies sister’s household. Now the boy is 18 and he doesn’t have a birth certificate and he doesn’t know who his parents are. In order to get monetary support from the government you need to have death certificates of your parents and your own birth certificate. The teacher kept asking me what I was going to do about it, and I didn’t know what to say. That is such a common story around here, and there is so much red tape. The kid is already too old to receive a grant, and his great-aunt’s pension is probably stretched between a dozen people at their house.
As soon as you get the camera out the kids come running!!!!!
School reg. is a long, exhausting process. There are almost 100 schools to assess, and most of them are very remote. It’s difficult to assess more than two schools per day, and so the kids that don’t get seen till the end will be without uniforms and school supplies for the first 2 months of the school year. It seems like there should be a more efficient system, right?