Experiencing Activate!

ActivateI dream that Mount Frere will produce the top performing matriculants in the country and all its schools will achieve a 100% matric pass rate. Those of you who know Mount Frere know just how big my dream is, but for those of you who don’t here are the facts:

  • lowest matric pass rate (47.2%) in South Africa, 2011
  • 4.2% of the population have completed grade 12
  • 168 mud structure schools (65% of schools in Mount Frere)
  • Insufficient number of teachers (225 vacant posts in the district in 2011)
  • Rural schools receive little or nothing from provincial educational budgets*

Unlike most youth in Mount Frere, my parents were able to send me away to a good boarding school which not only gave me the best education but also separated me from the desperate social realities my peers were living. It wasn’t until I stayed at home for a period longer than the school holidays that ‘their’ problems became my problems. The heart-sinking sight of crowds of school learners roaming the streets aimlessly after school and learning that the majority of them will drop-out of school and become unemployed and unemployable, because they (or the system?) failed matric, is the reason why I joined Activate! Because of the magnitude of my dream I had to admit two things; I don’t know how to achieve it and I cannot achieve it alone.

Module one of the Activate! Programme was an intense nine days of self-realisation as we went on a journey to define ourselves- to figure out “my identity”. It was a challenge articulating my strengths, values and goals and even more challenging was having to prioritise them in order of importance. It seems unreasonable to have to decide between compassion for those born into poverty versus belief in self-reliance or sharing generously with those without versus ensuring you have enough to take care of your own. But when you don’t have a magic wand to fix all the problems in education those are the tough choices you have to make. Should we first support teachers i.e. fix the quality of learning, or should we be supporting the learner first i.e. providing them with basic and necessary materials to learn?

When you are young and ambitious you believe you can fix everything all at once but the washing line exercise humbled me. We had to plan a project by hanging up all the activities on a washing line in order of implementation. The activities had to be accurately and precisely detailed to enable successful execution without reference to any other source except the washing line. Many practical lessons were learnt including the importance of planning to the last detail and the S.M.A.R.T project management methodology, but the greatest lesson, as shared by one of the Activators, Pearl Mjajubana, was to “Think Big; Act Small”.

On commencement of the programme our first instruction was to ‘trust the process’ and Activators made commitments to create a safe place for honest sharing of our past, present and future lives. Opening-up to 29 people you have just met about the good and bad places you come from, how those experiences have shaped who are you, and sharing your deepest desires for your future wasn’t easy, but it sure was worth it. Strangers became friends and individuals unified as a team. Yes, our battles may be different- poverty, inequality, unemployment, education and health, but we are all fighting the same war- social transformation.

The highlight of the programme, so far, for me is the connection to people whose paths would ordinarily never cross but are yet so inter-dependent. Powerful networks are being created. Realising that the resources each of us need to make a difference in our respective communities are among us and then considering how much more resources we have in the other 782 Activators is extremely empowering.

Our passion for our common purpose not only united us but also restored our energy levels which were starting to run low after a laborious day of volunteering at Volvertroue old age home, in Standford.  Our combined strengths and efforts created a beautiful garden and interior decor for their anniversary party. This is where we started- making a small difference in an old age home. Leading public innovation is where we are determined to end.

Pointing at the sardine packed shacks in Khayelitsha as we entered Cape Town on our return, Nozuko Masiba asked us, “How do we activate this?” Not just the Activators who stay in Khayelitsha but all of us, together, can transform Khayelitsha into a “new home.” And the same goes for Mount Frere, Kwa-Mashu, Kraaifontein, Orlando, Fraserburg, Skukuza…etc.

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