We have left our children in the cold

2010-09-18 13:26

I wept, overcome with emotion – heartbreak, overwhelming shame, helplessness, blinding ­anger.

I suppose it was a flashback to my school years in a coloured neighbourhood in the city I grew up in.

School was a vacated mint haphazardly divided ­into classrooms to accommodate us.

I remember that we had nothing.

Not enough textbooks, old gym equipment, there was certainly no money for the school to provide toilet paper.

Those of us whose parents could afford it ensured we ­always had tissues.

There were others less fortunate, so when nature called there was nothing to do but use newspaper or pages torn from notebooks and textbooks.

The toilets were often smeared with excrement and it was easier to hold on until you got home.

Yet no matter how bad things were for us then, it by no means comes close to what I saw this week in the Eastern Cape.

The witness to my tears – schoolchildren who seem to take their dire circumstances for granted.

Most of them just gawked at me not understanding what was making me cry.

I suppose when you are not used to any better you can’t want anything better.

But what a legacy this country is creating for these children – a legacy that says to them they don’t ­deserve any better. That what they have is the best that they are entitled to. A broken mud hut for a classroom.

A bush to relieve themselves behind. A steep trek to the nearest murky stream to collect water for drinking.

These children take it all in their stride, making an adventure of the climb, their cheerful children chatter reverberating through the valley.

Because of their circumstances, seven schools in the ­Eastern Cape are ­taking the education department to court to demand it provide them with proper ­resources.

These schools are by no means the only ones of their kind in the province but they certainly are some of the worst.

When you see the conditions of the dwellings that serve as classrooms – many of them for decades – you will understand the absolute desperation these schools find themselves in.

It is heartbreaking. Shameful.

Despite the conditions you would be hard-pressed to find teachers more dedicated. They return to the schools year after year.

And when you see the homes most of the children come from and know many of them have to walk for kilometres to school each day, hungry and without water, you wonder why they even bother.

Seven months ago City Press visited schools in the Eastern Cape where tornadoes had caused extensive damage.

We returned this week hoping that things had changed for the better.

What a disappointment. Many of the schools are worse off than before.

It’s as if time has stood still for them. Their ­futures in limbo, waiting on the promises that have remained unfulfilled.

Principals at the schools testify that when the ­story first appeared it prompted departmental ­officials to visit and make promises of speedy ­assistance.

As the months have passed so their hope has ­faded.

Now calls to those same officials are often met with further promises, or a curt “I’m in a meeting” or “We are working on it”.

Every official in the chain of command, from the lowest rung to the highest office in the land, should take full responsibility for this disgrace.

You are all failing these children. Many of you come from similar circumstances.

You know. Yet it seems that once you took up office you slammed the door behind you never to look back and those left in the wake of your rise to power and position have to see for themselves.

Why are you not taking care of your people? What more needs to happen, how much worse must things get before they are attended to.

Is anyone listening?

And if you are, do you care enough to do ­something?

» Feris is managing editor of City Press

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