For more than thirty years, veteran teacher, Sarah Mathebula (58), has tried all she can to give the children of Bhojwana, a small farming community near Warden in the north-east of the Free State Province, a fighting chance of survival, and success, in life.

But as Mathebula told; it has been a hard battle keeping the rural community’s children at her one-roomed school, which caters for 20 learners from Grade R – 6.

“We try as hard as we can to keep the children in school so that they can become better people tomorrow. However, there are many challenges – many of which are poverty-related –which lead them away from education. These include teenage pregnancies, unemployment at home and the constant evictions which occur in our rural community,” said Mathebula, who is also the principal of Bhojwana Primary School.  According to statistics, unemployment is very high in the area, with some two-thirds (65%) of the population not working. Of those employed, the average wage is around R1 600 a month.

Mathebula was speaking at the official handover of school shoes to the school’s 20 learners. The gift to the pupils came courtesy of the African Continent’s Global (Corporate Social Investment) CSI Conference 2018, which is to be held in Cape Town in the middle of this year.   In total, 48 pairs of brand new shoes were donated to learners in the area, with 23 shoes going to Ebhojwana while the rest went to Esihlahleni, another farm school.

Simphiwe Mtetwa of reached Media, the organisers of the four-day gathering of top thinkers and players in the CSI sector on the African continent, said this year’s CSI Conference was special as it emphasised critical thinking to accelerate Africa’s growth.

“The theme of the Conference is critical thinking for advanced digital growth. Critical thinking requires the viewpoints of diverse role players and recognition that no single sector holds the key; solutions may be found in unlikely pairings and adaptations, based on the contributions of many. What, for instance, has the development sector to say to those in the African diaspora? What do Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) have to say to business, and what partnerships might exist between academics, business and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)? The conference opens the arena for all to listen and engage. In this, it marks a clear departure from past practice, which has seen sectors engaging almost exclusively amongst themselves,” Mtetwa said.

For the children of Bojwana, though, the forum, which will be taking place hundreds of kilometres away from their scenic valley, is important because it also aims to raise funds which contribute to the purchasing of more school shoes in the coming two years.

Said Mtetwa:

“For each ticket booked for the Conference, a child gets a pair of school shoes. Further, each child gets a ZAR50 invested on their behalf – and it matures after 12 months – meaning that each child will possibly get another pair of shoes for each ticket bought. In effect, a child gets a pair of shoes for two years with every ticket bought for the Conference.”

While a pair of schools shoes may not seem an important investment to many in South Africa’s towns and cities; it means a lot in rural communities such as Bhojwana, where many only get work seasonally (the area grows maize and potatoes). What is worse, local Councillor, Ouma Mokoena, said, is that most of the members of Bhojwana do not have Identity Documents (IDs), making it hard for the government to assist through interventions such as child support grants or old age pensions.

“We are very happy about the donation of shoes to these children,” she said.  Mokoena, who is the Councillor for Ward 5 in the Phumelela Local Municipality – a sparse area home to a few thousand of Warden’s 11 000 residents, also called for more hands on deck in order to tackle the deep poverty that she witnesses every day in the ward.

“We wish that these children could have access to things like tablets and internet at school as we live far from libraries and clinics. Those will encourage the children to continue with their education as well. Importantly, it will help the youngsters when they move to Grade 7 in schools in town as they would be familiar with such technology. Most of their parents have cellphones but many do not have smart phones which can help with the education of their children,” she said.

Mtetwa urged those working in the CSI space to register as soon as possible for the event.

“In order for delegates to target what interests them most, the programme is split over the four days:  Day 1 – Funding issues: NGOs, NPOs and social sector development; Day 2 – The Big Continental Picture: framing, diagnosis and discourse around challenges; Day 3 – Practical steps: the tools and resources needed to get moving and Day 4 – Making it work: fostering partnerships, collaborations and frameworks,” he said.

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