Saturday, February 19, 2011

First Comes Matric, Then Comes Nada

I was leaving school one evening this week when a young woman stopped by for a chat. We'll call her Thelma.

Thelma is in a pickle, a pickle that many young South Africans from rural and/or poor regions find themselves in. She worked very hard through her school years, and passed her matric. While that is an impressive and inspiring feat for a learner from Loopeng, Thelma's story does not have a happy ending. In the years, yes, years, that Thelma has been out of school, she has been doing nothing.

"I just sit at home with my parents," she reports, "What can I do?"

"How about a student loan for a tertiary degree?" My only suggestion was about 90% wishful thinking. Suggesting a student loan to someone who's never had a bank account is like suggesting an i-banker raise cattle for a living. It could happen, but it could hardly end well. In addition, passing matric alone is hardly sufficient preparation for tertiary coursework.

Thelma needs a job. She needs to figure out how to get one. She needs guidance. She needs a role model. She needs advice on a thousand things I cannot counsel her about.

Depressed yet? Yeah, me too.

Carolyn is another friend in a slightly better position. She passed just last year and earned a scholarship from the Department of Education, but is she using it? No. Currently she's volunteering in the school office at Moshaweng and struggling to wander through the application process to university. Again, she came to me for help and advice and there was next to nothing I was able to do. It's a classic case of the blind leading the blind, but at least we're floundering together.

Any less depressed now?

Marie is one of my host sisters. She did not pass her matric. Like many girls, she got pregnant and life interfered with all of her grand plans. However all is not lost for Marie. Marie has several other sisters who have done well for themselves, earning diplomas and degrees, working in cities and towns, living in decent homes and driving cars. Marie has help, guidance, people to look up to, to pattern herself after. She is in driving school now, and hoping to earn her living as, well, a driver in a few months.

Although the names are not real, all of these stories are true. I'm sharing them for many reasons, but mostly to emphasize the importance of the involvement of community and family members in the process of improving the lives of their fellows. While Thelma and Caroline are bushwacking their way to a better life, Marie is on a packed road. It may not be paved with gold, but it's a start.

You know who doesn't have to carry a machete to move up in the world on their life journey? Any learner lucky enough to earn a KLM scholarship. They have faculty mentors, peer mentors and, of course, each other. They are also expected to give back to their communities in their final years at Uplands and, in doing so, provide the sort of role models underdeveloped villages so desperately need.

Many, many, many thanks to everyone who has supported KLM both this year and last. I've already doubled the minimum fundraising required, but if you've got funds available I assure you KLM is a cause worthy of your support.

And if anyone has any leads on a job for Thelma or admission to a June course at the Univeristy of the Free State for Carolyn, do get in touch.

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