Building bridges between rich and poor in South Africa


18 February 2009 Building bridges between rich and poor in South Africa Jewish and non-Jewish primary schools in Johannesburg’s affluent northern suburbs are twinning with tumbledown cr ches in the Dikhatole township as part of a visionary new project devised by ORT South Africa. Launched on Tu BeShvat, the Jewish ‘new year’ for trees, the Lend Hands by Giving Rands project plants seeds of cooperation and empathy among communities which are at polar opposites in terms of socio-economic prospects while living only a few kilometres apart. ‘The response has been amazing,’ said ORT SA Fundraising Manager Carol Rod. ‘This was launched as a one-month project to maximise its impact but we’ve already had schools ask us to prolong it. Essentially, we intend to keep raising money and raising awareness for as long we have the support to do so. So we would love to hear from ORT fundraising countries and South Africans abroad who would like to get involved.’ Ms Rod can be contacted at [email protected] . The makeshift shacks of Dikhatole are home to some 60,000 people, 15 per cent of whom are children under the age of 15. The one primary school in the area, just east of Johannesburg, has 1,400 pupils leaving thousands more out of the education system. The cr ches which dot the area often offer barely enough to simply keep the children safe while in their care. ORT SA’s Lend Hands by Giving Rands aims to remedy this by giving relatively well-off children in each of 12 primary schools a personal connection with a cr che in Dikhatole. ORT staff members have given presentations at each of the schools showing the children what the conditions are like in the cr che with which they are twinned. ‘We wanted to bring home to these children how other children were living,’ Ms Rod said. ‘Rather than simply raise money to help an anonymous community the children in our project know the name of the cr che, the name of the person running it, will see pictures and presentations showing how it develops with their help. Ideally, we would like to take the children to visit their peers in Dikhatole but there are security issues which have to be addressed before that’s possible.’ The primary school children have thrown themselves into fundraising with tremendous enthusiasm, with those at one school making bracelets to sell, those at another organising a cake sale and staff at another allowing themselves to be targeted with wet sponges for a day – to those willing to pay for the privilege. The money raised will allow the cr ches, which together look after more than 1,000 children, to buy basics such as educational toys, picture books, musical instruments, educational posters, blankets and bedding, outdoor climbing equipment and plastic tables and chairs. However, with sufficient funds, the cr ches can also be helped to make structural improvements. ‘This is such a brilliant idea,’ said Ariellah Rosenberg, ORT SA Provincial Manager for Educator Empowerment, who knows Dikhatole and other townships well because of the ORT projects on-going there. ‘It’s so important to raise some funds for these places because any amount will go a long way. But this project is about so much more than raising money; it’s about raising awareness, too.’ ORT SA has already been long involved with one cr che through its provision of adult training at the Digital Village, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. Thanks to ORT’s help, the cr che is relatively well provisioned. ‘It’s a two-room brick home while other cr ches are shacks built from corrugated iron and other waste material,’ Israel-born Ms Rosenberg said. ‘The cr che is not an actual ORT project but the woman who runs it was trained by ORT and ORT staff members deliver books and toys.’ The cr che cares for some 40 children aged between three months and six years, providing them with food and shelter and giving them opportunities to develop their play and social skills – activities whose importance could not be underestimated, Ms Rosenberg said. But conditions were still far from desirable, with little room for outside play. Ms Rosenberg often writes about her work for ORT in a blog,, which she uses as one way to introduce teachers in the townships who are having their skills increased by ORT SA to integrating technology into their work. ‘Teachers in these communities have to deal with so many things; educating is just a drop in the ocean,’ she said. ‘Teachers also have to be mothers and doctors, nurses and social workers and care givers. They often have to help a child with abuse they experience in the home or on the way to or from school. The teachers’ response to our input is very positive. I like working with them so much; it’s very rewarding working with them because they really appreciate what they are getting.’