Weald Donates Books to South African Primary School

“The children just need education and inspiration”, said Mr. Sam Makama the principal at Witkoppen Primary, a school located in a township 40 minutes outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Jason Viola, senior vice president at Citigroup and parent of a student at Weald of Kent Grammar School, travelled to South Africa to make a difference at the school.

Mr Viola said, “With a little organisation, and the generosity of many of my colleagues and their families, prior to leaving for South Africa my team collected many books appropriate for the school’s age group. This included 14 copies of Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis donated by Weald Of Kent Grammar School, a story about  two Scottish children who track the migration of an Osprey to Africa.

On the morning of May 7, we arrived at school in good time for assembly at 7:30am. Like any other school in the world, children were arriving and starting to play but, in Africa, it’s a bit different. The grounds around the school are somewhat neglected and there are 40 or more children to a class. As plaques on the wall testify, any extra amenities these children have, are because of donations. Our presence aroused curiosity among the children and many of them were drawn towards us, so we introduced ourselves before assembly.”

Soon, the children were called to order and then treated us to their morning ice-breaker and prayers which involved wonderful singing and dancing with a very African feel.

After a few formal introductions, one of my team, spoke to the children about his own early life in Nigeria. His theme was hope, through education, listening to teachers and parents and treating others with respect, true potential is inside everyone but it’s how we choose to use it that helps us in life.

After a tour of the school, we met the principal and his leadership team and got down to the business of how we could help the school further. So many things were required but the most valuable thing of all was something we could not give and that was our time, long term. He told us he needed a sports coach and extra help with the disabled children in the school, but he didn’t have the funds to hire anyone. Instead, he relied on volunteers who could only come when they had spare time.

As we took the books to the library, we found several empty shelves and, with the assistance of the school librarian, we sorted them into categories and started filling them. While we were doing this, a volunteer arrived to read to the children. It was so rewarding to see her pick up one of the books and start reading its story. Watching those primary school children listening so intently and enjoying the story so much, made us all realise that we had, in a small way, started to make a positive difference.

We also donated a computer, a Wi-Fi adapter and hub and were keen to see what computer facilities the children had and how ours could fit in to their current learning program. We learned that the school really needs people with skills and time to start a learning project. With this in mind, one of our colleagues agreed to look at the possibility of starting a joint computer club between this school, and a local private school, using the same type of computer equipment we had just donated. The aim being that the private school could facilitate the time, people and expertise to make the project work. Once established, the intention would be for year 7 children to start a code programming competition between the two schools.

All members of the team went back to the principal’s office to sign the guest books that the school has diligently kept since 1943 and we all left comments and pledges that we would maintain our relationship with them. We were told of other illustrious names in some of the other books, such as Sir Harry Oppenheimer and of course “the old man” as Mr. Makama referred to him, Nelson Mandela.

Before we left Mr. Makama said he had been working for the school for 27 years, and had once self-funded a visit Eton school in England to share best practices.  He appreciated the books donated by Weald Of Kent and said he would consider another visit to England too see the school.

As we drove back to the office, we all felt we had been part of something special. Having seen the school and its pupils, we are determined not to forget them. We aim to deepen our relationship with the school beyond this visit, the books and the computer.

It is just one school, but as the principal has found, every donation makes a difference. When I think of the sense of community at Weald of Kent, and the kind of people we want our children to be, it’s easy to draw a comparison with the Witkoppen Primary school’s own motto; ‘Think Big, Speak kindly, Love Deeply’.”