A neglected city and its school worthy of pride

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Youth Skills

A neglected city and its school worthy of pride


In Manenberg, the wounds of apartheid haven't healed.

The South African township was created for poor families of color in 1966. Access to resources and jobs in nearby white cities were deliberately kept away from residents. Though explicit government segregation is over, there’s still little money for schools. Poor grades and street gangs claim swaths of students every year. Academic success stories arrive on a small scale, without much expectation.

But a new school structure that includes financial support from businesses is building optimism and pride, feelings long held inside.  Last year, 92 percent of students at The Leadership College in Manenberg passed South Africa's national examination required for continuing education past the 12th grade. The national average is around 70 percent.

The Leadership College opened seven years ago with 47 students, three teachers and a principal. Now, 530 children who achieved top marks in elementary school attend grades 8-11. None of them pay fees to go there.

Thanks to well-allocated government and charitable dollars, students' uniforms, textbooks--even a daily lunch for some--are all covered. The provincial government provides 60 percent of tuition costs, and the rest comes through scholarships from supportive businesses.

What seems to be setting the school apart is how it retains students, all from families making no more than $640 a month. The school provides free counseling and access to psychologists and occupational therapists. Few Manenberg children have the chance for mental health treatment, despite the daily trauma of life in the township.

The school's teachers and administrators are strict and their expectations are high. There’s no easy solution to the chaos and crime in the students' neighborhoods, but the regimented structure and supportive network around the children provides a sanctuary of learning and pathway to success.

Read a recent profile of the school by BBC's Mo Allie here.  Linked is an interview with Ashra Norton.


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