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EDUCATION

Columba Leadership’s uplifting impact on a school in Mabopane

Columba Leadership’s uplifting impact on a school in Mabopane
From left: Jabulani Seyoyo, president of MH Baloyi Secondary in Mabopane, Gauteng, Lerato Phooko, a dramatic arts teacher at the school and Naledi Ngobeni, a member of the Representative Council of Learners. (Photo: Supplied)

Columba Leadership is an organisation that gives school staff and pupils the skills and vision to tackle a range of issues. Naledi Ngobeni and Jabulani Seyoyo, students at MH Baloyi Secondary School, and Lerato Phooko, a dramatic arts teacher at the school, tell how Columba changed their lives.

The Department of Basic Education assists Columba Leadership to select a pool of suitable schools. Principals from these schools are then invited to an information session where they learn about the potential benefits of participation. One of the schools selected is MH Baloyi Secondary, a quintile 1 school located in one of the most underprivileged communities in Mabopane, Gauteng.

Read more in Daily Maverick: How Columba is transforming the lives of learners and teachers across the country

A platform for a change-maker

“Being in a quintile 1 school does not limit us to not show the greatness that is within us, but it pushes us to become better people for our communities,” said Naledi Ngobeni, a matric student and part of the Representative Council of Learners (RCL), the mandated leadership body in the school.

Ngobeni describes herself as someone always interested in doing something for others: “I am passionate about bringing about change and making a difference in the school, and I want to make this difference in my community.” 

Ngobeni credits the Columba leadership programme with ensuring that the greatness within learners is being shown to communities.

“These values have done a lot for me and have carried me very far. I went and gave a presentation about my school in Cape Town, because of the confidence that I got from being part of Columba… I got the confidence to speak… I have learnt planning and organisational skills,” she said.

From negative influence to school president

Jabulani Seyoyo, who represents the school student body, turned over a new leaf after attending the Columba leadership residency.

Seyoyo said he was selected to attend because he was exhibiting negative behaviour and negatively influencing learners around him.

“Columba has changed my life because I am an orphan. I do not have both parents and I come from a poor background. With Columba, I have managed to persevere through all challenges, and I have managed to push myself to do well and now I am the president of my school,” he said.

Following the residency, he was selected to be the chairperson of the academy away team, which is tasked with implementing projects and raising awareness about certain issues.

“Coming back from the academy, we were driven to be positive and enthusiastic towards projects implemented and our goals to achieve,” he said.

Seyoyo said the Columba leaders meet every Friday after school to discuss projects, goals and issues in the school and share testimonials: “We started as 15 members and the more we raised awareness about Columba, the more learners came to the programme.” he said. 

The current Columba team consists of 150 members.

“We had to come on Saturdays to do our projects… we were able to have meetings on our own without the elders because of the integrity values we learned from Columba,” he said.

Improving the school, one goal at a time

There are numerous goals Columba leaders have attempted to achieve, including providing learners with transport to school, improving academics, improving the school’s infrastructure and environment, and creating sports and recreation opportunities, said Seyoyo. 

“I was one of the learners who struggled… because of travelling long distances and not being able to attend my morning classes,” he explained. The school transport has reduced the number of latecomers and allowed learners to attend sports meets. 

Improving the school’s infrastructure was a top priority for the leaders, said Ngobeni. There are insufficient learning materials and study equipment in the library, a science laboratory in need of a revamp and classrooms with insufficient equipment. 

The learners took it upon themselves to clean up the facilities and create a more conducive learning environment. 

“We decided we were going to use our school’s facilities to the fullest… even the bad conditions of our facilities did not limit us,” she said. 

A matric boot camp aimed at helping matriculants to prepare for their final exams and mitigate the low pass rate was also implemented and has yielded results as the school was top of all the Mabopane schools, with a pass rate of 87%. 

“We do not let these conditions limit us in any way,” she said. 

The school now has extramural activities such as debates and public speaking and rugby for girls. The leaders have also undertaken various projects including the “I_menstruate” project and “Reassuring Repeaters” — Ngobeni and Seyoyo cite both projects as being among their proudest achievements. 

The I_menstruate project was about breaking the stigma and myths around menstruation and educating both boys and girls about the menstrual cycle. Girls now feel more free to ask for sanitary towels, and sometimes boys even ask on behalf of the girls, says Ngobeni. 

The Reassuring Repeaters programme is close to Seyoyo’s heart, as he is a repeating learner himself. The programme is aimed to help repeat learners with support groups and encouragement. 

“I am one of the learners who repeated their grades and we implemented this project to make the learners who have repeated not feel guilty about repeating and to not see it as a failure, but as an opportunity to improve,” he said.

“The part I am most proud of is that I was among the motivational speakers motivating our learners to do well in their studies,” he said.

Projects in the pipeline

An upcoming project known as Boys Matter will take place at the school on 15 June. Typically, many projects and events result in gifts and donations for female learners, while male learners are left out, said Seyoyo.

“With this coming project, we are looking more to put them [male learners] forward and to make them see that they are also seen and appreciated in our school,” he said. 

As a quintile 1 school located in one of the most underprivileged communities in Mabopane, many learners come from very poor households.

“We actually have learners who eat from the school nutrition sites each and every single day and that is all they live on,” said Ngobeni. The Nature Feeds Me project seeks to aid learners by creating a school garden.

“We will be using it to feed the needy learners, create food parcels that learners can send back home, and also to add on to what is already in our kitchen,” she said.

“Nature Feeds Me is a way to mitigate the hunger levels in our school… to try to reduce the number of learners going back home hungry and reduce the number of learners who are struggling to focus in class because of empty stomachs,” she said.

Awakening the cultivator

columba mabopane

Lerato Phooko, a dramatic arts teacher at MH Baloyi Secondary in Mabopane. (Photo: Supplied)

Lerato Phooko, a dramatic arts teacher at the school, said before she went to Columba, she felt overworked and tired.

“I had more than 300 learners that I was teaching. My energy was just depleted, I just felt that I was overworked and that it’s just too much for me,” she said. The school principal, Stephine Mashilo, noticed and encouraged her to attend the Columba Academy.

“My life changed because I realised what my purpose was… who I am, why I wanted to teach… the teacher in me was reignited,” she said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Excellence awakened – teachers sing praises of Columba Leadership’s mission to transform schools 

Phooko considers herself a cultivator who helps young students realise their full potential in life and excel in it. 

“I believe that I’m a cultivator. I am a nurturer. I’m a mentor… I mentor, I build and I’m encouraging hopeless young people,” she said. 

Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement and a push in the right direction to help learners, she said.

Phooko credits Columba and the school principal for the culture and attitude at the school. 

“Our principal is constantly encouraging us to go and be creative, find ideas and be innovative. We are so grateful to be in this particular school, where our principal is constantly giving us the go-ahead with events that are always bettering the child,” she said.

She encouraged people to visit the school and see the projects in action. 

“Come to our school, see our culture, see what we are offering the learners, and help the teachers by giving us workshops if there’s anything that they’d like to empower us in. Because once you’ve empowered the teacher, then you’ve empowered the learner,” she said.

A lengthy priority list 

Going forward, Phooko said there are many things the school needs, but one of her priorities is to acquire a form of shelter. 

When the school wants to host an event, they often have to fundraise and a large portion of that money goes toward securing a tent.

“Shelter for assembly, shelter for these events, because we are constantly having life-changing events for these kids,” she said. 

A better library is also top of her list. 

“Learners lack books… the learners want to read but the material is not enough – they do not have enough short stories and novels,” she said. 

There are also insufficient textbooks at the school, which makes it challenging to teach and for learners to learn. 

“We don’t have textbooks for dramatic arts, physics, life science… there’s a lot of subjects that lack textbooks,” she said. 

Lending a helping hand 

“Some learners don’t have shoes, some of them don’t have a proper school uniform and some of them don’t even have food… we are calling out to say, help the kids, donate whatever you can to the school — clothes, uniform, shoes, bursaries, anything,” Phooko said. DM

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