Liz Mackintosh is well known in White River as an author and custodian of many heritage documents concerning the town, as well as hosting groups of international youth who visit White River to spend time performing community work. Liz has kindly agreed to write a monthly blog for We Are White River detailing her experiences and lessons learned from her work.
The African Schoolroom in White River is part of a collaboration with the University of St Gallen for teacher training in Switzerland. It involves a compulsory three week practicum in schools where the language of tuition is English. Their lecturer can forecast which locations his students will choose. The more adventurous ones with open hearts and curious minds who want to make a meaningful contribution during their teachership choose to work and live in townships in Mpumalanga, home-hosted by families challenged by the ubiquitous water and service delivery restraints, rather than a super-privileged school in, for instance, Los Angeles, hosted by Hollywood movie directors in mansions with two swimming pools, one indoor and one out, and private helicopter pads.
Sandra was one such student who chose the option she believed would broaden her horizons the most, as well as those of her family who she convinced to come along for the experience. As can be expected, and in spite of correspondence and information prior to her arrival to prepare her for what lay ahead, she was catapulted right out of her comfort zone. She was shocked at the large class sizes, the lack of resources and facilities and the plight of the many orphans and vulnerable children she encountered. Close to opting out, she persevered and immersed herself in township school life. Her children were warmly welcomed into the classrooms, delighted to forge new friendships and proud of the Siswati names bestowed upon them – three new pupils in crisp new uniforms, conspicuous with their blond heads. Sandra’s partner, Ruben, fixed the broken toilets and built an admin building.
The family has been back every year since, sometimes for just a few weeks’ annual vacation, and once even for a year. In the interim they raise funds in the name of the NGO, Project South Africa, they established on their return after that first visit in 2011. Their contribution to schools and communities in the White River area and beyond is immense.
What is their motivation, I ask? Apart from an innate compassion for their fellow man, they are constantly moved by the humility of the people they meet here and their resilience even under challenging circumstances. The lebensfreude that exists here – a love for life that transcends adversity – inspires them. There is joy and hope here that is hard to find in their home country. They are the epitome of ubuntu and are as proud to have become an integral part of our White River community as we are to have them.