BACK TO SCHOOL CAMPAIGN
BACK TO SCHOOL CAMPAIGN CONTEXT
In April 2020, schooling was disrupted for over 1.5 billion learners in more than 190 countries worldwide. This was the result of nationwide school closures in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Past experience indicates that many schoolgirls in this position may not find their way back to school, even after they have reopened. This is particularly the case for marginalised adolescent girls. UNESCO estimates that some 24 million children and young people, including more than 11 million girls and young women, are at risk of dropping out of school, following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Immediate and longer-term effects of the pandemic include an exacerbated burden of unpaid domestic work placed upon girls and women; an increased risk of gender-based violence; early and forced marriages; sexual exploitation and abuse; early and unintended pregnancy; the potential for a growing digital divide between men and women; and economic hardship, leading families to reconsider the costs associated with the education of their children.
A global campaign was developed by UNESCO and partners, in an effort to keep girls “in the educational picture” by getting them back to school as soon as possible and feasible. This campaign spread across various mediums, including videos, testimonial video stories and a social media campaign.
UNESCO, in the context of the COVID-19 Global Education Coalition’s Gender Flagship, launched the #LearningNeverStops Campaign campaign. This campaign aims to safeguard any progress made in the interests of girls’ education, to ensure girls’ continuity of learning during school closures, and to promote the safe return of girls to school once schools reopen once lockdowns are lifted. The aim of the campaign is to demonstrate what happens in the lives of those girls who don’t return to formal education to continue with their learning. The #LearningNeverStops Campaign campaign was launched on 31 August, 2020, and by the end of October that year, had reached more than 360 million people.
UNESCO ROSA saw the need to contextualise the imagery, information and messaging in order to roll out the campaign at both regional and national levels in the SADC region. Graphics, videos and other materials needed to be adapted to reflect the region’s inhabitants. The campaign targets school going children, their caregivers and their communities (including religious and traditional leaders), as well as education stakeholders at both regional and national levels, with a specific focus on the SADC region.
SITUATION in THE SADC REGION
The SADC region faces a uniquely complex situation when it comes to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling. While some caregivers in this region are reluctant to send their children back to school for fear of them catching the virus, certain others, particularly those from families that require “all hands on deck” in order to just survive, choose to keep them away from school so that they can help to earn money for the family.
Caregivers in the SADC region find themselves having to weigh up the benefits of formal education for the children in their care against those gained from having an extra helping hand at home, or from the income generated from youngsters who are no longer attending school due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
The result is that reading, studying and learning are being placed on a par with fishing, digging and ironing… and, in some cases, even sex work.
The situation is one of instant gratification versus long-term benefits, and is marked by the survival instinct to put food on the table. Many lower income populations in Southern Africa are facing this dilemma, due to the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
UNESCO ROSA’s #LearningNeverStops campaign, through the “At The Crossroads” audio series, in tandem with social media assets, campaign video, posters and training - in four languages i.e. English, Portuguese, French and Swahili - sets out to correct some of the widely held misconceptions around the importance of education, and to highlight the necessity of children returning to school, in the interests of building a better future for both youth and their communities.
We must continue to protect #GirlsEducation. As we recover from this crisis, let’s build back equal and ensure every girl’s safe return to school. How are you making sure that #LearningNeverStops in your community?
For many girls, school is so much more than a key to a better future. It’s a lifeline.
We must protect their education and make sure that #LearningNeverStops.
#LearningNeverStops. As schools begin reopening; so too are books, hearts and minds. We are here to support you. Education is a lifelong path.
We all need to play a role in bringing every one of our children back to school. Join hands to bring back equality and to ensure that #LearningNeverStops.
As schools reopen, we are protecting the health and safety of all learners, teachers and other school staff, to ensure that learning never ceases.
Your education is your right. Nothing should stand in the way of your future.
INTRODUCTION – SERIES CONCEPT
The reality is that when COVID-19 affected SADC, it plunged those youth who were already facing considerable challenges into an even deeper hole. When schools were placed under lockdown, many caregivers – who were themselves already feeling the effects of the economic pressure which the lockdown had placed on them – turned their focus towards using the young, school going youth as tools to survive. All of a sudden, there was no schoolwork to take up their time. There was no school to be the reason why youth couldn’t go to work in mines and on farms. Caregivers now felt justified in saying to the children in their care, “Go and help the family survive by working on a tobacco farm.”
On the other hand, school children suddenly began to feel the power of having money in their pockets. They felt they were contributing to the well-being of the family more than they had been when they were attending school – they were helping to put food on the table and they were contributing towards paying the rent. They also discovered that they were now even, on occasion, able to spoil themselves with a treat, such as something sweet. Children were no longer asking their caregivers for the money to buy themselves sweets – they could now work to earn the money to pay for them themselves.
However, when schools eventually began working towards reopening, or sharing online learning materials to keep students in the learning picture, caregivers and children found themselves facing a dilemma. Suddenly, schoolchildren were standing “at the crossroads”, unsure as to which route they should take. On the one hand, the feeling that they were now useful in life was comforting; it gave them power. Having money in their pockets was a good feeling. On the other hand, they were aware of the fact that education opens doors to worlds they could never gain access to without it. The crossroads they were standing at offered them a choice between instant gratification versus long-term benefits.
Our insight into this situation planted the seed for the concept and formulation of the audio series; “At the Crossroads”.
“At the Crossroads”
Each story is based on a single individual, and documents each of their own, unique experiences during the COVID-19 crisis. We identified specific COVID-19 themes that are affecting school children during this crisis and we attached each theme to an individual. As the stories revolve solely around the characters and the issues each one of them faces, “character” and “issues” become the two main focal points of each story. While geographical locations play a supporting role in each story, they are not mentioned by name. The entire story is related by its owner – whose story it is to tell, with a narrator providing a supporting function in helping to carry the story forward
STORY 1: THANDEKA – BEATING THE ODDS
Thandeka is a girl with big dreams, who wants to prove to the world that girls can achieve anything they want to, if they only set their minds to it. Thandeka, who has just turned 18 years old, is the daughter of Carol and Godfrey Dladla. She has a younger brother, Lethabo, who is 14.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, a national lockdown was instituted in South Africa. Thandeka, like her teachers and fellow classmates, thought she would soon be back at school. Unfortunately, the initial three-week lockdown was substantially extended by the government, and lasted many more months longer than South Africans had expected it to. Thandeka’s parents worked throughout the lockdown, because they were considered to be “essential staff”, due to her father’s job as a taxi driver and her mother being a shopkeeper. With both parents working full-time and Thandeka unable to attend school – which the government had closed during lockdown – she became the designated housekeeper. At first, like every other child, Thandeka enjoyed the change of environment. She liked being back at home, playing housekeeper and not having to attend classes.
However, when the lockdown was extended, it began to take its toll on everyone, including Thandeka. She grew tired of constantly having to do household chores and began to really miss going to school. Although she continued to receive schoolwork via WhatsApp from her teacher, it was not the same as actually attending school. She missed the schooling environment and her friends, particularly her favourite classmates, Zam and Nina.
Then, during those long, tedious months, tragedy befell the Dladla household. Thandeka’s father contracted COVID-19 and was taken away to be treated at a hospital. Tragically, he was not able to survive the virus, and eventually, he passed away. Thandeka never saw him again after he had been taken away from home to be treated. This made things at home more challenging for the rest of the family. Thandeka now had to do her home chores as well as helping out at her mother’s shop. This meant she no longer had the time to do the schoolwork her teacher was continuing to send her. Her mum wanted her to concentrate on the shop and on the household chores, not on her schoolwork. As a result, Thandeka’s schoolwork was forced to play second fiddle to her other commitments.
A few months later, there was a partial lifting of the lockdown and the schools in her area reopened. However, Thandeka continued to stay at home because her mother had decided that her younger brother was better off going back to school than Thandeka, due to the fact that he was a boy. Thandeka’s teacher, Mr Manzini, pleaded with her mother, but she was adamant that it was more important that her boy child receive the education than her daughter.
One day, Thandeka started to feel very ill, and discovered that she had contracted the COVID-19 virus. Her mum left the shop to take care of her sick daughter, while her younger brother took care of all the cooking … and even took over the responsibility for some of the housecleaning and the laundry. Luckily, Thandeka made a full recovery. Then – as her mum later shared with me – she and Mr Manzini had spoken about Thandeka’s situation to a Community Support Group. The group’s businessmen and community leaders had decided to sponsor her final examinations and had even offered to help with groceries and the family’s other bills! The extension of this helping hand led Thandeka’s mum to agree to her returning to school. Thandeka was elated to be reunited with her friends, back at school doing what she loves. In fact, she was so overjoyed that she now enjoys her household chores more, knowing that she has homework waiting for her at the end of them!
STORY 2: DANIEL – A SECOND CHANCE
Daniel was a high-school student who was forced to drop out of school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His father had a job as a technician at a prominent hotel, while his mother worked as a cook at a school. During the nationwide lockdown, as his parents’ jobs were classified as “non-essential services” by the government, both Daniel’s parents were retrenched, which placed a lot of strain on the family.
While the family was facing these challenges, Daniel’s father decided there was no need for his son to concentrate on his education any longer. It was more important that he got a job to help bring in money to feed the family. Daniel’s father had just started a new job at the mines, and Daniel soon joined him there. Although it was a tough job and definitely not Daniel’s dream job in life, he put his best foot forward and made the best of it. After a while, he got used to his new job, which he viewed as a temporary job which enabled him to save some money to pay for his school fees.
But then, things in Daniel’s life changed dramatically. During this time, he was dating a girl called Palesa. One day, she informed him that he was going to become a father. This put an even heavier load upon Daniel’s shoulders, and he saw his life crumbling before his eyes. First COVID-19, which meant he had had to give up his schooling, and now he was soon going to be a young father.
After lockdown, while Daniel’s friends went back to school, he was struggling to work enough overtime to earn the money needed to support Palesa and the baby. When the baby was a few months old, Daniel’s father found a better-paid job at a factory, and encouraged Daniel to join him. Working at the factory was an improvement from the mines.
One day, Palesa’s father asked Daniel over for a man-to-man conversation, during which he offered to take care of some of the baby’s costs, on condition that Daniel return to school. This lifted an enormous weight from Daniel’s shoulders. He had been given a second chance in life – not only a second chance of being a full-time student, but also a second chance to better his life and that of his new family! He returned to school and was soon back doing what he loved the most in life; learning, doing his homework and engaging in school studies. Now, the challenges he faced at school no longer felt like a frustration to him, but rather simple, everyday obstacles that he was willing and able to overcome.
STORY 3: THANDIWE – FOLLOWING MY DREAM
Thandiwe was just 13 years old when her mother passed away from COVID-19 in January 2021, leaving her 10-year-old brother and five-year-old sister orphaned. Thandiwe took on the responsibility of fending for her two younger siblings, and decided to do whatever it would take for her to be able to take good care of them. As she didn’t have any support from other family members, Thandiwe needed to find ways to pay the rent for the room they continued to live in after their mother died, and to buy food and clothing for her siblings.
Thandiwe had kept in contact with one of her mother’s male friends called Sam. He frequently checked up on Thandiwe and her siblings, and ultimately, Thandiwe ended up falling for him because she viewed him as their saviour. He was 30 years old and the only person in the world who cared for them. He would bring them food and pay for their rent. However, he didn’t have enough money to pay for Thandiwe’s school fees as well, so she stopped dreaming about one day going back to school, and focused instead on starting a family with him. It seemed like the only way forward.
When Thandiwe’s landlord discovered what was happening, she raised the alarm and sought assistance from the church. As Sam was an adult involved in a relationship with a minor, and an orphan at that, he was breaking the law. One day, two women from an NGO that supports orphans visited Thandiwe and her young siblings to check on them. This made Thandiwe feel like their privacy was being invaded, and that they were being bothered by people who would not be able to help them. But the women brought Thandiwe and her siblings groceries and clothes, and paid for their rent. They also offered to pay for all their school fees.
When Sam heard about this offer, he immediately became aggressive. Thandiwe found herself torn between two worlds – going to school or staying with him. Sam was not pleased with the idea of Thandiwe going back to school. He reminded her of her responsibilities, and she felt obliged to stay with him because of the personal sacrifices he had made for them. Sam began to search for another place for Thandiwe to live, but her landlord soon stepped in and stopped the whole thing. After a nasty fight with Sam, Thandiwe’s landlord locked her gate and threatened to call the police, reminding Sam that Thandiwe was still a minor and he could be arrested. He left very angry and never came back again.
The interventions of the landlord and the NGO turned the lives of the orphaned Thandiwe and her siblings around. The landlord volunteered to be the three children’s guardian, and the NGO set up a fund to support children like Thandiwe in her community. Best of all, Thandiwe will soon be returning to school, where she can continue with her education that was interrupted when disaster struck her family.
STORY 4: DIANA – RISING FROM THE ASHES
Diana is a 17-year-old girl who is enjoying her high school years and has always dreamed of becoming a lawyer. However, one day, a chance encounter almost destroyed her vision for the future. Diana comes from a township where the quality of education is poor and there are very low rates of academic success.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Diana was excited to be counted amongst the very few in her community who was on track to make it all the way through school and on to university. But when the lockdown was implemented, it changed everything. Diana had to place her dreams on hold, as her school was closed down for its duration. Then, when lockdown was eventually lifted, her parents found they could no longer afford to pay for her schooling. The effects of the lockdown meant that her father wasn’t making enough money from the tailor shop where he worked to support the family, and Diana’s mother also wasn’t able to bring home enough money from her vegetable stall at the market to feed the family.
Diana wanted to help out at home and also save up for her school fees, so she found a job as a waitress at a restaurant in the town centre to earn some money. The family who owned the restaurant had a son, who had come back home from the city and was now a university student. He noticed Diana and before long, the two had fallen in love. He was just the pleasant distraction that Diana needed to take her mind off her troubles. Diana became completely focused on her new relationship, and it didn’t take long for her to forget why she had started working in the first place – to earn and save money to pay for her school fees.
One day, Diana discovered that she was pregnant, and everything in her life began to crumble. When her Dad found out that she was pregnant, he chased her out of the house. Then, her boyfriend refused to take responsibility as the father of the unborn baby and instead, went back to university as soon as they reopened the campuses, leaving Diana alone and without any support. Diana was in a state of desperation as to what she should do, when she remembered meeting a lady one day while walking past an NGO rally, in the days when she was still with her boyfriend. She looked for and found the lady’s office, and went in to ask for her help.
The lady from the NGO was called Mrs Mabuza. She introduced Diana to a nun, who took her in. Those were the most difficult months of Diana’s life, but Mrs Mabuza and Sister Evangeline never gave up on her and never stopped asking her father to allow her to come back home. Eventually, he agreed, but insisted he wouldn’t pay for her schooling. After the baby was born, Diana began volunteering at the NGO, helping to advocate for comprehensive sexual education for teenagers in their schools. On Christmas Day, Mrs Mabuza surprised Diana by offering to pay for her remaining school tuition fees, which meant that Diana would finally be able to return to school. This act of kindness made Diana cry happy tears, and she decided then and there that when she went back to school, she would share her journey openly with the other girls, in the hope that her story would inspire them to take precautions to avoid falling pregnant before they had completed their schooling.
STORY 5: JOSEPH – A LEAP OF FAITH
Joseph is a 17-year-old high school finalist who is finally going back to school after a disastrous year off. Joseph had always dreamed of becoming the first pilot to hail from his township. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most people believed it wouldn’t reach Africa. But it did, and Joseph’s community was placed under strict lockdown. He and his friends had to stop going to school, his parents had to stop working, and everything in his township went very quiet. It didn’t take long before Joseph began to feel extremely bored. Even watching DStv had become boring. His family didn’t have good internet access to allow him to engage in any online classes, so Joseph decided he had to find something to do.
Joseph’s cousin Siya is a school dropout who owns a liquor store. During the lockdown, the business was forced to close its doors, due to government restrictions imposed on the sale of liquor. Siya asked Joseph to help him deliver alcohol to his customers in their township, using his bicycle. Joseph saw Siya’s offer as a chance to break free from his unbearable boredom, so he grabbed the opportunity and agreed to do it. Joseph’s father wasn't happy about his son’s arrangement with Siya and tried – without success – to get him back on the right track.
One day, when Joseph was delivering alcohol to a private braai, the police raided the house and he was arrested. Being in prison was a very scary experience for Joseph. All the prisoners were locked in a small, dark room together, with no windows and only one toilet between them. When Joseph called Siya for help, his cousin turned around and denied knowing him, or anything about the liquor business. Siya’s behaviour confused Joseph and made him feel even more scared. He realised he had no other option but to call his father.
Joseph’s father spoke to the constables on duty, who agreed to let Joseph out with a warning, in exchange for information. Reluctantly, Joseph told them about Siya’s illegal business dealings. When his father collected him from jail, he told him that he needed to make a decision about his life. He gave him some brochures, which provided information about scholarships that Joseph could apply for, in order to get into university. His experience in prison had really scared Joseph and he knew that he didn't want to continue along the path his life had taken. So, he took a great leap of faith and went ahead and applied for a scholarship. He, along with his father, was delighted when he was selected for a full scholarship in the United Kingdom. Joseph had learned a very important lesson, which is that the best things in life don’t always come easy … you have to work for them.
STORY 6: PRECIOUS – STILL A CHILD
Precious is 15 years old and her mother has just passed away. Her father has been struggling to support his family and to make ends meet and has just announced that this year, he would be marrying Precious off to a local businessman, to lessen the family’s financial burdens, particularly that of Precious’s tuition fees. So Precious, an A-student, was now being regarded as a burden and being passed on to a much older man for marriage. Her father, who believed that her brothers’ education was more important than hers, could see an arranged marriage to his businessman friend as the only solution and well worth the sacrifice.
When the COVID-19 pandemic had hit, it had made her family’s financial situation even worse, and her father had chosen to put her brothers first. Precious didn’t go willingly into the marriage, where she became the fifth wife of the wealthy businessman. When Precious refused to have sex with her new husband, her relationship with him quickly turned violent. The businessman was angry with Precious, and viewed her as a rebel who would not bow down to his demands.
When schools opened after the lockdown, Precious’s teachers noticed her absence and became worried, as they knew how dedicated she had always been to her schoolwork. She had asked her husband to allow her to go back to school, but he merely laughed at her. One day, Precious received a visit from her English teacher. She asked Precious about her situation and why she had not come back to school. When Precious told her everything that had happened, her teacher did some research and discovered that there was a non-governmental organisation that lobbied for girls’ education and provided scholarships to promising students like Precious.
The next time Precious saw her teacher, she was accompanied by a man and a woman from the NGO. They asked to see the businessman who had married Precious, and they informed him that what he had done was illegal. They then told him they were there to take Precious away from him to a girls’ shelter, because she was a minor and the law protected her from enforced marriage. The NGO representatives also sent people to speak to Precious’s father, who informed him that his daughter was now at a safe shelter for girls, before explaining to him the importance of girls receiving education. They also made him aware that marrying off children was against the law. Precious and her father ended up having an emotional reunion and she went back to doing what she loved; solving math problems… not life problems!