Our origin story

By Heidi Segal
18 August 2023

Formal schooling as we know it has origins in the Byzantine Empire, circa 425 AD, and has been employed by empires ever since to educate us, sometimes with nefarious consequences. At the end of the formal school day today, thousands of children start making their way home. Some will arrive home much sooner than others to a warm drink, a snack, and help with their homework. In these suburban homes, many mothers are supporting the education of their children after school, and by our definition, are running an after-school program. This is not the result of a think tank on innovative responses to a failing education system in South Africa. Instead, it is a natural outworking of a caring adult wanting to see a child succeed at school. 

Now come with me, a little further from the leafy suburbs, to communities where many children have to travel by taxi or bus to get back home, arriving to no parent or guardian, with little to eat and certainly no internet access for finishing off that blended-learning project. In these communities, there are many caring adults looking for ways to help the most vulnerable of children around them. They are moved to opening their homes, churches, and backyards, to create a safe space where children can gather after school, maybe get something to eat, and get help with their homework.

These programs are not affiliated with schools as they serve all the children in the community, and should probably more accurately be referred to as outside-of-formal-schooling-hours programs. It was just such a program that Laura and I started in 2010, opposite a taxi-rank in Mowbray. Within weeks, we had 70 students come every Tuesday afternoon for help with homework and a sandwich prepared by the ladies in the local church. There was no model, no predetermined pedagogy, no elaborate monitoring and evaluation to measure impact. We invited students in, asked them what help was needed, and did our best to keep one step ahead of them as we reacquainted ourselves with high school Mathematics. Tutors were a motley crew of university students, retired teachers, and interns from an accounting firm. “Are you a real-life accountant?” exclaimed one student in disbelief that she was going to be helped by an actual accountant. 

So why would we do this week after week? It was often cold, the chairs were uncomfortable, and most adults prefer to contain thoughts of trigonometry to their 3am nightmares. Our motivation was, and continues to be, the faces of each individual student as they hope and dream of a better world available to them if they just pass Matric. Many alumni of this first after-school program have completed their tertiary studies and are now pursuing a career of their choosing. 

Since 2010, we have met and worked with amazing men and women who have started more than 350 after-school programs, all with one purpose: to ensure that children have access to a safe space where they can work hard and stay in school. Every student that drops out of school is a student who has given up on their dreams and this breaks our hearts. Next time you see a student walking to the taxi rank or bus stop, and feel burdened by the likelihood that their dreams will not be realized through education, consider joining our movement. We’d love to hear from you.

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