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It takes a village to raise a child and a community to build ablutions for its children


Prof Michael le Cordeur is Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch. He is deputy chair of the Stigting vir die bemagtiging deur Afrikaans.

When a Catholic school outside Stellenbosch needed a proper ablution block built, the whole community rallied around and got the job done.

It is a beautiful spring day in October as I enter the gate of St Vincent Primary School in Koelenhof for the inauguration of the ablution block of this little Catholic school outside Stellenbosch. Although we are at level 1 of lockdown, and I still avoid unnecessary socialising, I cannot miss this event. I am armed with a mask and umbrella as there is the promise of rain: maybe showers of blessing?

The Covid-19 pandemic has once again drawn the attention of South Africans to the 3,000 schools which are still forced to make use of pit latrines. I have pointed out the necessity of running water during the pandemic more than once in my columns. The deafening silence from teachers’ unions about this crime against teachers and learners cannot be ignored. The inaction of ministers whose work it is to ensure water and toilets in schools also cannot be ignored. It is blatant dereliction of duty and a violation of human rights.

The school had only two working toilets for nearly 900 learners. According to William Glasser, you have a choice of how to react to challenges. You can complain until Jesus comes and hope that the government will wake up one day, or you can roll up your sleeves and do something yourself. When the principal of St Vincent, Sister Lucie, approached the Het Jan Marais Fund, of which I am a trustee, for assistance to build a new ablution block, for me it was a matter of carpe diem: seize the moment, I thought. Every time the funds ran out, I had to go back to the trustees. I commend them for seeing the value of the project.

What began as a crisis developed into an opportunity for cooperation. Neighbouring farmers assisted, the church mobilised its parishioners, and others put the shoulder to the wheel physically to ensure that the project did not lose momentum. Of course, there were challenges. During the pandemic the project manager and some of his workers got sick. But every time, Sister Lucie managed to get the building project on track again. The way in which she united the whole community around the project testifies to good leadership and skills you do not learn in an education class. Together they made a difference.

Eventually, the big day arrived. Sister Lucie welcomed the guests, Master Nicky thanked everybody, I said a few words and the bishop of the church cut the ribbon and blessed the new ablution block with holy water. A boy, Amijoli, recited a fascinating poem, a girl, Aphiwe, sang a beautiful song, and the school choir rounded the day off with the Lance James song “Dankie” on the recorder. I was truly moved.

As I drive home, I am intensely aware of how privileged I am and so many others are. The learners of St Vincent are poor, but they don’t know it, because today they are rich in potential, in love and respect for their teachers, and especially for their principal.

Sister Lucie may not be the Apostle Vincent, but if you visit the school, you might just see a modern version of an angel. DM


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