The excitement could not be contained at Stephen Primary School in Lotus River on Wednesday, as young learners with beaming smiles, lined up for assembly, waiting to receive stationery packs for the new school year. Learners and staff at the school were overwhelmed with gratitude at the handover of the VOC Makro Stationery Drive, also supported by Sanzaf and Muslim Hands. VOC staffers were out in full force ready to broadcast live from the school at 7am, with Breakfast Beat presenter Yusuf Mallie and Afternoon Cruise host, Ayesha Laatoe as MC’s.
“We have been so excited ever since Quanita [coordinator] phoned to say that we are the beneficiary. It’s truly a blessing for them,” says Principal Aubrey De Wet.
The school is located in a sub-economic area, where most parents are unable to afford the high cost of school uniform or stationery. Most times, the children are not even sent to school with lunch. It was usually by June that some learners could afford to buy stationery. In terms of infrastructure, the school lacks proper sanitation and is currently using portable toilets for learners.
Given the urgent need, De Wet said the school supplies were important in ensuring the learners are equipped for class.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to see each child has stationery for the year. At least now with the stationery the children can learn and the teachers can teach,” says De Wet.
The VOC Stationery Drive selected Stephen Primary as its beneficiary after the school was nominated by a domestic worker of one of the learner’s families from the school. Phillipi resident Erica Monsinger saw the dire need of impoverished conditions in which the school existed and made her appeal to VOC for assistance.
“Every Friday, I work for Muslim people and I listen to the radio station. One day I heard about them wanting to donate books and stationery and I asked my boss Shereen Khan to phone in and nominate Stephen Primary School and Lotus River High School.”
“A lot of the parents of the children who attend this school do not work and they don’t have money to support their children or themselves and I know how it is because I live in an informal settlement,” says Monsinger.
The school’s staff complement is 21 and the number of students registered for this year is 562. The school serves a very impoverished community of farmworkers, and is situated close to the ‘marble flats’. The school has a functional feeding scheme providing daily meals to more than 350 learners.
This year, stationery was sponsored by Makro, Muslim Hands, SANZAF and Blisters For Bread. Makro Ottery donated a R10 500 cash donation in the form of a gift-card to be spent on stationery. They delivered the stationery packaged to the school on the day.
Stationery items such as wax crayons, blue and black pens, colouring and basic pencils, erasers and sharpeners, rulers, glue sticks, scissors, pencil cases, copy paper, A4 exercise books, and sunblock were handed to each child.
When VOC visited Makro on Tuesday, they offered the best bargains including value packs. VOC producers Quanita Kamaar and Zulfa Brown inspected the shelves on a rampage through the stationery aisle to find the best quality and quantity of stationery items. They went through the shelves at the retailer and made notes of what they needed.
The one thing that made the task simple is the prescribed stationery lists that principal De Wet sent Kamaar. However the hardest part was to decide what to budget on as a stationery list for each class of every grade at the school was provided. This overwhelmed Kamaar and Brown as they needed to prioritize on certain items and omit others due to a limited budget.
“We used a prescribed list for each grade. We started per class and marked down the important things we think we can get. The biggest challenge was deciding what to leave on the stationery list. It was hard,” says Kamaar.
With the assistance of customer services and marketing at Makro, they decided to prioritize on books as they were the most expensive items to purchase.
“We prioritized on the expensive items first like books, files and Pritt, as pencils and pens they can pick up cheaper. Items like the 192 page hard cover books are the most popular. Those are the books the kids need most,” said Makro customer service manager Nadeema Jacobs.
The South African National Zakah Fund (Sanzaf) donated R5000 which was used to purchase stationery. Muslim Hands, an Islamic non profit organisation, donated 100 stationery packs and branded back packs, in addition to providing each learner and staff member with food and beverages. The humanitarian organisation donated a stellar R40 000 to the project.
“Relief work is our focus and alleviation of poverty. We gladly provided stationery packs as education is vital. The idea behind providing the food today was that we wanted to feed every learner and staff member, as you can’t learn on an empty stomach,” says Muslim Hands director Imraan Roomaney.
One of the feeding schemes at the school, Blisters For Bread, provides food for the learners regularly. They said most of the learners go hungry as they do not have food at home and come to school without lunch.
“Some of the children don’t even eat breakfast at home and they don’t have a meal at home,” said volunteer Gwendoline Booysen.
Most of the children were overwhelmed with gratitude and agreed that the stationery they received would save their parents a lot of money.
“I feel very grateful because it would save my mom a lot of money to get free stationery,” says Abigail Cotton, a grade 4 learner.
Another Grade 4 learner Farah Emandien was ecstatic.
“It’s not everyday that we get stuff for free. And stationery is very important!”
“I’m very happy I got free stationery and I’m grateful to the school for doing this. It will save my mommy a lot of money,” added Leayanre Brown, in Grade 5.
“I’m very grateful and glad and it will save my mommy a lot of money,” says grade 4. VOC
Project coordinator Quanita Kamaar said the stationery project was close to the hearts of VOC staff.
“Being part of this project again is amazing. Again, we have realised the difficulties our communities face and the struggle of our children. The project simply reinforces our role as a community radio station, to support and uplift our community.”
While the project had been intense work behind the scenes, it could not happen without key roleplayers.
“We have to thank our sponsors Makro, SANZAF and Muslim Hands. Without them, this would not have been the success it was. And a huge shukran to VOC listeners for always supporting us.” (Naila Cornelissen)