Meet the top of the teaching crop: Phuti Ragophala

2011-10-15 16:23

When Phuti Ragophala noticed growing numbers of poor learners, orphans and unemployed parents linked to her school seven years ago, she knew it was time to do something about it.

The 53-year-old Limpopo school principal established a community farming project at her Pula-madibong Primary School in Mankweng, east of Polokwane, to help impart skills and create jobs for the mostly illiterate locals.

The married mother of three, a teacher for the past 24 years, wanted to use the Pula-madibong Itsoseng Permaculture Orphans and Vulnerable Children Resource Centre to help reduce the level of poverty by growing and selling vegetables and herbs, and raising chickens for sale.

“Learners from impoverished families were here. Torn school uniforms! No shoes! No what! All those challenges were facing me as principal. As a principal, I must make sure everyone is developed,” Ragophala said.

Ragophala’s efforts were rewarded this week when she walked away with the prestigious Stars in Education 2011 award.

Organised by the South African Council of Education, it celebrates the outstanding contribution that teachers make to the lives of our youth.

According to the Cape Town-based organisation, she was recognised “for turning a former dumping site into
what she calls a forest of food that benefits community members, orphans and neighbouring schools”.
Not bad for someone who became a teacher after failing to be admitted to nursing college.

Ragophala, who walked between 15km and 30km to school when she was a primary school pupil back home in Bochum, mobilised successful former learners of Pula-madibogo to give back to the community by adopting poor learners. So far, eight learners have been adopted.

She also organised computer training for her school’s 25 support staff members – illiterate and unemployed parents who had been volunteering for many years as labourers, cleaners and security guards in exchange for stipends.

Carthbertina Mothiba (39), a volunteer since 2007, said she was now able to use a computer to draw up budgets, type, write minutes and keep records.

“My wish is to be hired as a clerk at the school one day. That is my dream,” she said.

Jerrica Kgopa (13), a Grade?7 learner, said she already knew “how to type and store documents on the computer”.

A proud Ragophala said: “It’s quite amazing. I got two big awards within two weeks. What amazed the judges was that the unemployed parents, the so-called illiterate parents, are able to integrate IT with the sweeping, cleaning and running of the project. It is possible.”

Because the rules of the competition demanded that the R10?000 prize money be used for the development of the school’s support staff members, Ragophala decided to divide it among them, adding they will get R400 each.

“I enter competitions, but I do not use the money. I give it to them. But I said that the money must be used for the school needs of their kids. I want to see tangible things,” Ragophala added.

Ragophala, who holds a diploma in project management from Unisa, plans to retire in two years’ time and register a non-profit organisation to help poor beneficiaries of the country’s land restitution programme.

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