Maverick Citizen

HUMAN RIGHTS REFLECTION

Simple #ActsofGoodness can change the future of children in South Africa

Simple #ActsofGoodness can change the future of children in South Africa
An optometrist with one of the Zamintuthuko Primary School pupils during a health and eye scan organised by Universal Rights Association. (Photo: Atilla Dag)

Maurice Maeterlinck was right when he said: ‘An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it.’ Our support to a primary school in Mamelodi, linking it with a private school in Pretoria, proved that people want to overcome social injustice.

Currently, there are about 11 million people in South Africa who are food-insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meal is coming from. 

Hunger and malnutrition impair the learning abilities of children and may force them to drop out of school and work instead, limiting and undermining their enjoyment of their right to education.

Humanity has three main problems: ignorance, poverty and disunity. I believe education is the key to tackling these problems; an educated person will be in a better position to protect him/herself from poverty and it will be easier to deal with conflict and disunity in an educated society. 

Quality education for all will be a sustainable and permanent solution to most of our problems. Quality education will feed the system and society with qualified, educated individuals who will build a just, equal and brighter future for all in South Africa. 

We still have many challenges, especially in our public schooling system, in terms of the physical and socioeconomic conditions of the school environment and schoolchildren. As the Universal Rights Association (URA) we believe that we should work for the improvement of our schools and children, to at least give them an opportunity to concentrate on their studies and excel in their subjects to save themselves from those three enemies. 

Food about to be distributed by the Universal Rights Association. (Photo: Atilla Dag)

In 2021, we decided to start supporting a public school, Zamintuthuko Primary School in Mamelodi. It has about 580 pupils from grades R to 7 and only 10% of them can afford to take lunch to school. We decided to support the school with nutritious food which we’ve planned to gather from a private school in Pretoria East, Star College Pretoria

Besides not having the funds to provide the food ourselves, we thought it would be a good idea to link schools from privileged areas to those in underprivileged areas, for the sustainability of the project as well as social cohesion between rich and poor. 

In the beginning it wasn’t easy since we weren’t sure about the response from Star College Pretoria. 

In a meeting with principal Murat Kalayci, I said: “Let’s start the project and ask students in your school to bring sandwiches every Wednesday. If they don’t bring anything I will bring 10 and you will bring 10 sandwiches and we will cover at least one classroom in that school in Mamelodi.” 

This is how we started our #TheActofGoodness project. 

Read more in Daily Maverick:Inhumane and unconstitutional economic policy ‘takes food from the mouths of children’

After the first announcement at Star College Pretoria, it was the happiest Wednesday for both of us when we saw hundreds of sandwiches as well as different types of fruit brought by the parents, teachers and students. I must thank the school community who still support this project and continue to be part of #TheActofGoodness. 

Pupils happily wait in line for fruit and sandwiches. (Photo: Atilla Dag)

After we started making presentations during our meetings with different people and sharing the photos of our school visits on social media, one businessman started donating half a cow every month, while volunteers started asking if they could be part of the project. We even had donations of school shoes and clothes for pupils.  

Our main purpose, however, wasn’t only distributing food and clothing, but improving the education level and school environment, too.

Food and education  

With that in mind, we asked the Outreach Foundation how they can be part of this and began organising an education session on bullying for the pupils. Social workers from the foundation did a great job and later paying weekly visits to the youngsters. They are still having meetings with children and parents. 

A few weeks later, we met some young doctors and told them about #TheActofGoodness, asking if they could contribute. Then, a GP and an optometrist joined us on some of our school visits to do health and eye sessions. Those doctors worked hard and selflessly and helped so many pupils. 

And we are planning more. 

Rewarded by smiles

It wasn’t easy carrying and distributing hundreds of sandwiches and sometimes hundreds of kilos of fruit every week, but it is amazingly fulfilling to see the smiles on the faces of children when we do. It is also quite amazing to feel that “I am part of a positive change and doing something for someone else who I don’t even know in person, without personally expecting anything in return”. 

I think Maurice Maeterlinck was right when he said: “An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it.”

Read more in Daily Maverick:It takes a full stomach to feed the mind: The ins and outs of South Africa’s school feeding scheme

During one of the weekly visits the school principal, Matome Ramokhufi, said: “Even though school drops and attendance is sometimes a problem for us, we always have a full house on the day that you are here.”     

An educational session on bullying run by the Universal Rights Association and the Outreach Foundation at the Mamelodi primary school. (Photo: Atilla Dag)

It is quite wonderful to see the difference since we started. We even have a scholarship programme with the support of Star College Pretoria.   

We recently approached other schools and have already started spreading #TheActofGoodness among them. The number of students we are trying to help has increased to more than 2,000 from grades R to 12. Our next step is to build a “Homework Club” for kids whose parents are unable to help them with their homework. 

We are also working on arranging free Saturday classes for those who are studying for the matric exams. 

We know that our work might not make a change in a few months or a few years, but we know it is the way to a sustainable and permanent change in South Africa. To do more we hope that we will get support and contributions from those who would like to be part of #TheActofGoodness. 

As our great leader Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We need this positive change for the people of South Africa and the world. DM/MC

Atilla Dag is the co-founder and director-general at the Universal Rights Association (URA): [email protected]; uniras.org. The URA is a civil society organisation dedicated to promote and protect peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development as prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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