Children at the Hamburg Primary School open every morning with singing and praying at 8:20. This after a long walk up a rutted road to the top of a hill that is one of the highest – and windiest – points in Hamburg. Alec is driving a decades-old Land Rover that is much better equipped to handle the road to the school than our VW Polo rental cars. As we approach the last half-mile to the school, we see a group of about 20 children all dressed in their school uniforms making their way to the school. We stop and ALL 20 children come running and somehow pile into the back of the Land Rover with our four children. They are excited for even just a few minutes’ ride in the truck to the school.
At the school, they all pile out of the Land Rover eagerly and form in about 8 lines in the “courtyard” of the school. They are lined up by grade facing the principal and their teachers. They begin to sing – and sing loudly and beautifully. Some songs are in their native Xhosa, some in English. They sing praise songs and the Lord’s Prayer. Everyday a teacher or a student reads from the Bible – today a teacher reads Psalm 121 from her Xhosa Bible. I look it up later and realize it is one of my favorites and hope that the school children take this message to heart.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth … The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
They have a prayer and then they bow to the principal, who says a few words. Then they start singing “Marching in the Light of God” and they all march in line to their class rooms. Thus begins a day at Hamburg Primary School. The teachers then go into the principal’s office and sign in, collect materials, and go to their classes. The school looks in much better shape since the first time I saw it in 2004.
Pat Thomas, Alec’s mom, has come several times and spends several months at a time, teaching and equipping the school with shelving for each classroom, a computer and printer for the principal’s office, uniforms for the girls’ net ball team. In February, she had students and some paid laborers to sand the desks and paint them bright colors of the South African flag. Today Alec talks to the principal about securing an extra room so that they can install a few computers for student use.
We visit Grade 1 and Mrs. Luvuno instructed her students to pull out plastic containers that rattled loudly when they handled them. When the students opened them, I saw why. They are filled with used bottle caps, which make quite useful counting manipulatives. The young students practice counting to 10 and 20 and backwards from 10. Some have a hundreds chart taped on their desks.
This is the school for the poorest families in Hamburg. Those parents who work and can afford the transport send their children to a better school in nearby Peddie. A very select few send their children to boarding school.
This school has such promise – the teachers are good and well-educated and the principal and the assistant principal are motivated to connect with other principals in the area and improve the services that the local government sometimes fails to provide.
The goal here is to get parents involved in the school, to have regular meetings with teachers, to ensure their children do their homework, and to hold the staff accountable. This seems so logical to us Americans, but it is a cultural shift to bring this to Hamburg Primary School, where parents may not have had education past elementary school themselves and do not feel empowered to involve themselves.
People here and volunteers like Pat Thomas and 25:40 will be involved in helping the school as much as we can – because these children are all our children and deserve the best we can give them.
– Amy Zacaroli