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ROVING REPORTERS

Wild Coast schoolchildren document their Covid-19 hopes and fears

Wild Coast schoolchildren document their Covid-19 hopes and fears
Poignant prose from pupils in lockdown has sparked a daily feeding scheme in Mzamba village near the Wild Coast Casino. (Photo: Theo Delort-Laval)

Amid the invisible threat of Covid-19, a series of writing competitions looks set to spark a creative spirit among learners missing out on classes.

This article first appeared on Roving Reporters.

A 12-year-old Wild Coast lad, Mfundo Tshezi, says he “feels like the breadwinner of his family” after winning second prize in a writing competition – a R750 food hamper.

Such is life in Mzamba, a rural village adjacent to the plush Wild Coast Casino. The contrasts between the two are immense – a microcosm of South Africa where the poorest of the poor have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown

“Street vendors suffer a lot since they can’t sell and provide for their families,” wrote Mfundo. But the Grade 7 pupil did not only dwell on hardships.

Mfundo Tshezi. (Photo: supplied)

“I live in a warm home with love. I eat more healthily because I am not allowed to buy chips and sweets,” he wrote. He said he missed his friends and school, especially Natural Science, “because it gives me a clear knowledge of nature”.

Lockdown he wrote, was “one of the hardest things my family has ever experienced” but he had kept himself busy, attending to household chores, looking after his dogs, watering plants, and doing lots of thinking “under a tree in the backyard”.

“I personally think it was a wise decision for the president to announce a lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” wrote Mfundo.

In the meantime, staying home was the best option “since we waiting on government to get a vaccine”. But what might happen if no vaccine is found soon, ponders Mfundo. “What will happen to us?” he asked.

Mfundo’s entry was one of more than 30 received in the writing competition catering for Grade 6 and 7 pupils at Ithuba Wild Coast Community College, a not-for-profit private primary school, built and funded by Austrian benefactors.

Environmental education is part of the ethos at Ithuba WWC where learners take pride in cleaning up the surrounding environment, including grasslands near Mzamba Gorge (Photo: supplied)

The writing competition was organised by the environmental journalism training agency Roving Reporters with the modest prizes sponsored by Founders Golf Tournament – the sole South African funder of the school.

The joint winning entries were from Onele Dimane and Khanya Mkhonza, earning them food vouchers of R1,000 each and praise from the adjudicators for their “mature understanding of the situation” and “wonderfully refreshing” observations.

The acute impact of the Covid-19 lockdown and fears of a coronavirus outbreak in Mzamba were a central thread in many narratives.

“At home, we have never suffered hunger ever since I was born, but now we are out of groceries and no one is able to go to work, or buy blankets, warm clothes or even medicine for fever,” wrote Onele, whose family has been using limited supplies of Sunlight soap for sanitising.

She described Ithuba WCC as a fun and adventurous school with its own vegetable garden that contributed to nutritious lunches that learners received every school day.

20-year-old, Ziphzonke Dlezi, was also among 180 Mzamba residents who received food parcels. (Photo: Fred Kockott)

On reading the entries, Founders chairman John Cheshire arranged an additional 180 food hampers for learners from the neediest homes. An Austrian volunteer, Theo Delort-Laval, has also since started a soup kitchen in Mzamba, entirely funded on donations from friends abroad.

While Amahle Nqadini, who won the third prize, also misses the school lunches, she said her biggest concern was catching up on missed lessons, and how long it would take “for life to be normal again”.

“My favourite subject is Life Skills. It teaches us how to carry ourselves in life, careers we can follow, and freedom of expression. I can’t wait to go back to school, but what will happen if coronavirus is still out there?”

Wild Coast learners keen to get back into class

Meanwhile, the school is getting ready to resume amid the Covid-19 pandemic, says Jackie du Toit, the general manager of the Ithuba Wild Coast Community College.

Over the past week, the school management team and staff have been grappling with the myriad safety regulations to ensure a safe environment, some of which could prove challenging for cash-strapped rural schools like Ithuba.

“Our teachers are concerned about lost teaching time, and learners are desperate to get back into classes,” said the principal, Tembakazi Makedama, who had hoped that classes would resume on Monday 1 June.

70 year old, Mabhaylela Mxunjini, was among needy Mzamba residents who recently collected food hampers at Ithuba Wild Coast Community College. The food hampers were sponsored by Founders Golf Tournament, the sole South African sponsor of the school, in response to learners’ stories, Life in Lockdown in Mzamba. (Photo: Fred Kockott)

“But the invisible threat of infection and the lack of certainty around a potential outbreak hangs thick in the air, creating a fear factor,” added Du Toit.

She said orientation and training had already commenced to provide teachers with a full understanding of the potential risks.

“We are hoping for an uncomplicated rollout of all the government regulations and guidelines provided by the Independent Schools Association of South Africa,” said Du Toit. These include temperature screening and sanitising at the school gate at the beginning and end of each day. Strict access control will also be in place and parents and health authorities will be immediately alerted if a child shows symptoms of the coronavirus.

Amid these fears, Roving Reporters is rolling out the next round in its series of Covid-19-related story writing competitions for select schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The theme is, Life After Covid-19: The Future We Want. DM

To support these journalism-themed writing competitions contact Roving Reporters director, Fred Kockott on 083 277 8907 or email [email protected]

For more information, see www.rovingreporters.co.za

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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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