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A different kind of school

Sancta Maria is a primary school in Vanderbijl Park. Like all schools, Sancta Maria is quiet on Saturdays. But Sancta Maria is only quiet until two o’clock. Then a completely different school starts.

On Saturdays 80 grown-up men and women come to learn. They are learning to read and write for the first time. They are all people who did not go to school when they were children.

Learn and Teach runs the school. Mike Nteko is the organiser. Mike says, “There are many people who did not go to school. But there are few schools for grown-ups who cannot read and write. So Learn and Teach tries to help these people.”


Rebecca is one of the learners. She told us how she came to the school. “I heard about this school from one of my friends. When I first came to this school, I was very frightened. I thought that people will laugh at me, such an old woman — and I don’t know how to read and write.

“But I found that everyone is the same as me. Sometimes we do laugh at our mistakes. But everyone laughs together. We don’t laugh at people because we are all the same.”


The story of most learners is the same. “I grew up on a farm near Bethlehem in the Free State,” says Elizabeth Tsotetsi. “There was no school near us. And my father needed me to help him. There were no boys in our family so I looked after the cows. When I was sixteen, I went to work in the farmer’s house.”

Another learner said, “In our family it was different. There was a school nearby. But my father thought it was a waste of money to send girls to school. My brothers went to school but I stayed at home and worked. I was eleven when I started working in the farmer’s house.


Everyone agreed that it is important to read and write. “Look at me,” said Miriam. “My children are still on the farm. I worry about them. Before I came to this school, I could not read their letters — and write my own letters.

” I used to go to a friend and ask her to read my letters. But sometimes people are busy. And they get cross with you. Now I can read and write my own letters. It is much better.”


Aletta, another learner, says, “You need to read and write. When I sent money to my children, I asked the people at the Post Office to do everything for me. Sometimes they are very rude. They could also cheat me because I did not know what they were writing.”

“If you cannot read, you are like a blind person,” said Lettia. “When you go to the shops, you can’t read the prices. But if you can read, you can read books and learn about other places. You can read the Bible. I am a domestic worker. It is very lonely, far away from your family and friends. Reading helps to pass the time.”


All the teachers at Sancta Maria are young. But they respect their older students. Elizabeth Mathiale tells us why she started to teach. “My people were feeling pain and I wanted to help. I had lots of time. So I started to teach here.”

Oumama Rakgetsi also wanted to help people learn to read and write. Johannes Matsie works at the OK. He is a shop steward in his union, CCAWUSA. Johannes teaches at is Sancta Maria because he feels that it is important that people come and work together.


Anna Nyareli is a Form Four student in Sharpeville. She told us about some of the problems of teaching older people. “It is very difficult teaching. You must be very patient, otherwise people leave the school. They feel hurt.

“But you can’t just talk about reading and writing all the time. Sometimes people can’t learn because they have problems at home. So we talk about their problems in class and try to help people.

“We have six groups at Sancta Maria. The groups are small so that everyone gets a chance to talk in class. It also gives us teachers time to help each learner.”


Minah Nhlapo is a learner. She says, “I have been coming to the school for three years now. In the beginning the school was not so good. Sometimes we sat for two weeks with no teacher. But when the new teachers came, the school got better.

“Our school helps us in many ways. We are not just learning to read and write. We also talk about our problems. We try to help people with their lives. I am a member of the South African Domestic Workers Association — SADWA. So when women have problems at work, I tell them about SADWA.”


There is one thing that all the learners at Sancta Maria say and that is — it is never too late to learn. They say, “People who did not go to school, must not give up hope. They must try and get what we have. It is better to learn than to just sit. If we can do it, then so can everyone.”


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