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“Schools a lifeline for children”, says Gavin Rajah on mission for UNICEF, visits with orphans and vulnerable children in KwaZulu-Natal

UNICEF/South Africa/Mtolo
© UNICEF/South Africa/Mtolo
Internationally acclaimed South African designer, Gavin Rajah, interacting with learners in their classroom at a junior primary school in Kwa Mashu, KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Durban 4 May 2007 - “Your schools are a lifeline for children and the lifeblood of the communities around them,” said internationally acclaimed South African designer, Gavin Rajah commending teachers and community members at two junior primary schools in under resourced communities in Kwa Mashu Township, in his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, on a one-day advocacy mission for UNICEF . 

Deeply moved by the minimal learning conditions at the schools, which lack basic amenities including a library, recreational equipment and safe playing fields; and which feature poor infrastructure leaking roofs, broken windows and doors, Rajah said he was nonetheless impressed by the commitment of teachers and neighbours to help children learn, keep them safe and protected.  Both schools also have significant numbers of orphans and vulnerable and the surrounding community hosts several child-headed households.

Rajah said he undertook to make the visit in order to see, learn and understand first hand about the difficult circumstances that affect the daily lives of so many South African children -- from the sickness and loss of their parents to domestic violence and poverty.

And he was touched by the strong desire of the of the orphans and other vulnerable children he spoke with, some of whom were taking care of up to four younger siblings, to continue to attend school and to uphold the standards of cleanliness and discipline set by their parents, despite their dire circumstances.

Child friendly Schools

UNICEF South Africa works in partnership with the Department of Education in to implement a child-friendly schools programme, which aims to provide quality education for all children. The child friendly schools model, which features six dimensions, translates children’s rights in the classroom aiming to increase access, retention, completion and learning achievement for the most vulnerable children, particularly girls. 

According to UNICEF, at minimum, a child-friendly school is a rights-based and inclusive school; maintains a safe and protective learning environment; promotes health and gender equity and has strong relationship with the surrounding communities where children live. 

The child-friendly school programme also supports life-skills development to reduce HIV infection and violence against children and provides support to ensure proper sanitation and other infrastructure are a staple of the schools.

UNICEF/South Africa/Mtolo
© UNICEF/South Africa/2007/Mtolo
Children accompany designer Gavin Rajah to their classroom during his visit to their school in Kwa Mashu, KwaZulu-Natal.

Schools are the lifeline for children

In the communities visited by Gavin Rajah, education officials say children sometimes simply drop out as parents cannot afford to pay the annual fee, which may be as low as forty rands, to keep their children in school.  At the same time, the schools cannot afford operational costs without charging a small fee.  In many instances, it is these schools that reach out to offer much-needed support to unemployed, sick or dying parents and to the children left behind to fend for themselves in communities fraught with stigma and discrimination. 

Rajah thanked the teachers, parents, Department of Education officials and community members who organised a performance of traditional Zulu dances by young children at the end his one-day visit.  “This has been an eye opening and inspiring experience for me,” he said.

 He pledged to take the stories of the children to those whom he knew could help UICEF make a difference in their lives, and urged teachers to continue to nurture the children’s dreams, so that “they will never believe that their present situation was all life had to offer them.  “Who knows that amongst these children there isn’t going to be another Nelson Mandela,” he said.



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