Work in Progress - Teacher-Training in the Squatter Camp

A chance meeting in a Johannesburg café two years ago led Pieter Steyn, head of St James School, Johannesburg, into a remarkable partnership.

Pieter was entertaining some ERT visitors from London the day before they were due to run a workshop for teachers.

Into the café came a striking young woman and a troop of schoolchildren from the nearby Zevenfontein ‘informal settlement’ (that’s PC language for a squatter camp, a collection of shacks where 15,000 people live precariously, with no running water, electricity or drainage. By comparison Soweto is Mayfair).

But Zevenfontein does at least have a school for small children, run voluntarily by the young woman, Busi. There’s no government support, and schools like Busi’s rely on private charity to survive. They came to the café to sing for their supper – the café owner gives them his unsold food, and they sing to the customers in gratitude.

Busi was invited to attend the workshop the next day, and she loved it. She kept in touch, and later on there came a request: can you come and train me, and voluntary teachers like me, to be better teachers?

So now, once a month, a Teachers Group of heads and assistants from seven schools in Zevenfontein meets in a house belonging to a St James parent. With Pieter they explore together the central themes of the St James philosophy of education. To teach a child you have to become a child. The example of the teacher is paramount. Good material is vital. They also learn about teaching reading and numeracy to young children, and how good values can be conveyed through prayers, songs of praise and good stories. Year 7 pupils from St James have taken on Busi’s school as a special project. They fundraise, and have launched a toys-and-blankets appeal for Busi’s children.

Pieter says that Busi’s story is one of tremendous love and courage. Her desire is to make a difference to the lives of the children of Zevenfontein.

The ERT has helped with a grant to cover materials, books and chairs and desks for the children. We have also passed on a grant from the Paget Trust in the UK, which like us was inspired by the story. Now Busi faces a new challenge: the settlement is due for demolition, and she needs a permanent home for the school.