Big Questions

Grade 12 students completed their final exams in November 2015 and, on January 6th, will learn whether they will graduate (matriculate) from high school.

South African learners take 7 subjects in grade 12. The minimum academic requirements to earn a high school certificate are: 3 subjects including Home/Native language with a minimum grade of 40%, 2 subjects including English or Home language with a minimum grade of 30%, and a 6th subject with a minimum grade of 20%.


Phumlani & Siyabulela

Not surprisingly, these minimum requirements will not qualify a student for entry into college or university. However, the learner will have graduated/matriculated from high school. The 2014 matriculation rate for South Africa was 75.8%. However, only 55% of students who commenced primary school in 2003 (class of 2014) made it to grade 12, for a “real” matriculation rate of only 41.7%. (January 6th update: The matric pass rate for 2015 declined to 70.7%)

This raises the next question we are sometimes asked…

Are we making a difference? Put another way, are your donations making a difference? Along with “How could we do more?” and “Are we doing the right things?”…these are the big questions.


Knysna (township)

Dr. Martin Haberman has devoted over 46 years to teaching urban youth and researching better ways to improve teaching for children living in poverty. His latest book (2005) is entitled Star Teachers of Children in Poverty.


Dr. Martin Haberman

We subscribe to many of Dr. Haberman’s views and trust that they speak to the big questions regarding our initiatives in South Africa. Dr. Haberman writes:

“Many of These kids have no chance but that offered by school and mentors.”

“For children in poverty, success in school is a matter of life and death, and they need mature people who have a great deal of knowledge about their subject matter, but who can also relate to them.”


View towards Knysna (from Indian Ocean)

Dr. Haberman’s findings regarding Star Teachers of children in poverty:

“They tend to be non-judgemental”. “They are not easily shocked”.                             “They don’t really expect schools to change much.”

“They think their primary impact on their students is that they’ve made them more humane or less frustrated, or raised their self-esteem”.

“Stars focus on the effort the learners demonstrate, quitters focus on how far the kid will go in life.” “To stars, school is life and death. Kids must have it, as it is their only hope of a better life and they have no other source of life skills and guidance.”


Some of the guys…

Complicating matters is that much of what we do, in particular Jim, can not be captured in photographs or shared on our blog. Many of the ways we make a difference entail matters which are personal in nature, and respecting the boys’ privacy is key to maintaining their trust.

An interesting pattern is developing. When someone questions whether we are making a difference, or whether the “problem” is simply too big to impact, there is one thing which shifts mindsets in a big way:

Take the person into the township and enable them to meet and question some of the youth whom we tutor or mentor. 

The shift in mindset following first-hand contact with the boys or their families is dramatic. Doubters become financial supporters, and comments like “now I understand why you do what you do” are typical.


“The difference between carbon and diamonds is that diamonds stayed on the job longer” – Thomas Edison

Rest assured, “we” are making a difference. Not in everything we do, but certainly in much of what we do. Your moral support, donations, and feedback on our blog posts makes you an integral part of the “we” which is changing lives. Thank you.

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