Rural children deserve a better life too

In this 2015 picture, at Gwabe Primary School in Willowvale, Eastern Cape, 86 pupils from Grade R to Grade 4 are forced to share one large mud building as a classroom. Others have to sit under trees to receive their education. The promises of democracy have clearly not arrived for many rural poor and they have had enough – they cannot wait another 25 years before they benefit. Picture: Gallo Images /Sunday Times/ Simphiwe Nkwali
In this 2015 picture, at Gwabe Primary School in Willowvale, Eastern Cape, 86 pupils from Grade R to Grade 4 are forced to share one large mud building as a classroom. Others have to sit under trees to receive their education. The promises of democracy have clearly not arrived for many rural poor and they have had enough – they cannot wait another 25 years before they benefit. Picture: Gallo Images /Sunday Times/ Simphiwe Nkwali

Rural communities in South Africa are facing several crippling challenges, both socially and economically. The plight of having little or no access to basic essential resources such as electricity, water, sanitation and transportation has varied implications for those living within these communities.

These challenges also affect the most vulnerable in these rural communities: school children. They are confronted with the reality of living in homes without running water or electricity, which makes studying difficult.

They have to walk long distances to and from school as transport is scarce. This leaves them exposed to the dangers of being knocked down by vehicles or meeting strangers who might have bad intentions. Many rural schools lack infrastructure as well as resources.

In many schools there are no feeding schemes, the only source of nutritious meals for most children. The most disheartening thing is that the children wear worn-out uniforms and use plastic bags to carry books.

As the Foundation for the Smart Nation, we have identified the lack of backpacks as a challenge and we have devised a plan to improve this. Versatile bags, with more than one function, can hopefully reduce the children’s load while we tackle other challenges.

Read: Millions of children in SA set up for failure

The Tshenolo backpack, which has several components such as reflector tapes and a rechargeable solar light, was designed to bring hope to the lives of school children in rural areas.

As NGOs, there are many social issues that we can help eradicate.

However, as a collective, society needs to play a bigger role in addressing the socioeconomic challenges that perpetuate the disparities in our country.

Unfortunately, the challenges of rural communities are not just limited to the issues of everyday living.

They extend to issues such as the climate crisis.

Rural children walk long distances in the rain. Drenched and cold, they still have to sit through lessons in wet clothes and in discomfort.

There was an overriding need for us to create a backpack that could also deal with such unfavourable weather conditions.

The water resistant backpacks, made from recycled canvas material, have a rain poncho to protect both the pupils and the school bags.

We need to ensure that children do not miss school due to issues that they can’t control.

For many girl children going through their menstrual cycles, having to carry a plastic bag as a school bag is intrusive and impairs their dignity.

When children in rural areas cannot attend school due to their material conditions then we have fundamentally failed them.

Our focus is educational support for children facing challenges in disadvantaged areas.

Ask yourself if you have identified a challenge that rural school children are facing and how you can help contribute towards its alleviation.

It starts with us. Communities develop through the collective efforts of those in and around those very societies.

Nkuna is co-founder of the Foundation for the Smart Nation


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July 2020

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