Despite odds, Yamkela may realise his dreams

2011-02-01 11:26

Yamkela Myeti (16) gets up at 5am each day to prepare for school.

The youngest in his family, he shares a single bed with his brother. Four other siblings sleep on a foam mattress and double bed in their mud hut with its bright green walls and hard dirt floor partially covered with an old, broken piece of linoleum.

Yamkela has to make do with a cold wash most days – winter or summer – as there is no electricity in the village of Gqweza in Nomkolokoto location in the Eastern Cape’s Mount Frere district.

After a quick wash, Yamkela dresses in his neatly washed and ironed uniform – canary-yellow shirt and black pants. A huge rhinestone buckle belt completes the outfit and he is ready for the walk to school. His shoes gleam.

He slings his red bookbag emblazoned with the emblem of a local beer across his shoulders and heads out the door.

Outside, his father sits on a wooden bench and watches him leave. A rooster crows and the sounds of a village coming to life can be heard. The smell of manure, rain-soaked earth and the smoke from an early-morning fire fills the air. There is no breakfast. Yamkela also doesn’t take a lunch box to school.

It is going to be a long day – the school nutrition programme at Nomkolokoto Junior Secondary School has not started yet, and it will be a few more weeks before the school gets its allocation of beans, soup, tinned fish, rice, mealiemeal, onions and cooking oil.

Yamkela’s first and only meal of the day will be supper – rice and cabbage from his mother’s garden – which the family will share. It is not unusual for most of the children at the school to get one meal a day – it’s a poor area. The school is a no-fee quintile one, which ­caters for the poorest of the poor.

A 2.6km walk along a dusty gravel road takes the boy to school. He passes over hills and streams where ducks slumber peacefully and neighbours give friendly morning greetings.

In the background, sunlight pushes its way through the dark sheet of storm clouds tumbling over the nearby mountain range.

School starts at 7.50am and children stream in through the gates. Many have had to walk further than Yamkela. At least they have made it on time. Several teachers who get a lift from the deputy principal have called to say they will be very late – they are hiking to school from Mount Frere, about 44km away, as the deputy’s car broke down the previous day.

A proper transport system from Mount Frere to the school and surrounding village is almost non- existent. There is one bus that goes to town – it leaves the village at 7am and returns at 5pm. Three privately owned canopied trucks struggle over the rough terrain as they make several trips to and from town each day. Miss any of these and it’s a long walk anywhere.

Yamkela is doing nine subjects this year – maths, natural science, economic and management sciences, arts and culture, social science, life orientation, Xhosa, English and technology.

The classroom he shares with 30 other students is small and is one of only four that remains standing after a tornado destroyed much of the school on October 25 2009.

There are large holes in the roof, a few desks where pupils are crammed in two or three at a time and two cupboards stacked with books. There is no visual learning material.

It hardly seems adequate surroundings for pupils to be learning subjects like arts and culture and technology.

City Press has been following the plight of the schools since last year when it became evident that there would be no quick fix to the problems besetting them.

For six months last year pupils were housed in tents but in October the contractor removed them, saying the department had not paid a cent for them.

So when the school opened on January 19 this year more than 200 Grade R, 2, 4, 5 and 7 pupils started class in the open air.

Their desks were set up on the open school ground. One class moved into the crumbling ruins of a destroyed classroom.

Then just a few hours into the second day of schooling, principal Monica Busiwe had to dismiss the pupils because of mist and rain – proving just how vulnerable the school is to the elements.

Today, with teachers still trying to get to school, the remaining staff members try to keep all the pupils busy. But with one Grade 5 class alone that has 56 pupils, it is proving to be a hard task.

By midday Busiwe decides to let the pupils go home.

School usually starts at 7.50am and ends at 3pm and on normal days the pupils will stay for sport.

Yamkela is a pitcher in the baseball team. Baseball games take place in the hard, uneven schoolyard. There are no facilities for any of the sports offered – netball, softball, soccer and baseball – nor is there proper kit for the teams. But the deputy principal is still eager to introduce cricket and rugby.

Yamkela’s days are long – he usually gets home by 5pm. As soon as he reaches the family compound of four mud huts, he changes, fetches a blue plastic basin, collects water from the nearby communal tap and starts washing his uniform.

He hangs it up to dry on a nearby wire fence. His young niece comes for a quick cuddle and he plays with her for a few minutes.

His mother has started cooking the family meal – two three-legged pots are steaming over an open fire. Their size hardly seems enough to feed a family of four, much less the entire Myeti clan.

Yamkela has chores to do. He rounds up the family’s brood of chickens and secures them in the compound. He still has to iron his uniform for the next day. It’s a laborious process. A metal iron has to be heated over the fire.

After his chores and supper it’s time for homework. It usually gets done by the light of a candle.

His day ends at about 9pm when he goes to bed. With no electricity there is no television or even a radio for entertainment. The boy’s only entertainment is his battered cellphone on which he plays games for hours.

In spite of his humble beginnings Yamkela has lofty dreams – he wants to be a doctor one day.

“I want to help people,” he says and after some more thought he adds that he also wants to make money and help his parents financially.

His mother grows vegetables on a small patch of land in front of the compound. The family survives on this and the two social grants the parents receive.

Yamkela’s mother, a sangoma, is passing on some of her skills to him and has taught him how to nurse her when she gets ill. She often does. He steams horse manure which she inhales and this eases her pain for a few days, he says.

His teachers don’t doubt that he will be a success. “He is one of our good hopes,” says Busiwe.

And if Yamkela has any hope of fulfilling his dream it seems he is in the right place.

In spite of its awful circumstances, Nomkolokoto has proved to be the little school that can.

Last year it obtained an average pass rate of 60%, and two cardboard boxes on a cupboard in a ramshackle classroom that serves as storeroom, staffroom and principal’s office, are packed with trophies awarded to the school.

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