“Twas the week before break-up and all through the schools 

Were the sounds of no learning, because them are the rules!”

Well, it might be a little early for Christmas-themed songs, but as the last week of school term arrived, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking those lyrics ring true. Typically – and not only across the cape flats – the last week of school is a time of time-filling or babysitting, of absence or neglect. Exams or tests are done, marking might still be happening and everyone – teachers and learners alike – are just trying to make it through to a much-needed break.

Enter BottomUp!

What better way to inspire the minds of a present and future generation than to completely subvert that idea and use the least-productive time of the year to achieve some of the best learning these youngsters are likely to experience all year. Which is – in my humble opinion – exactly what happened on Thursday 27th September.[Let me add that I believe this is some of the best learning that any learners did in the country that day, whether private school or government. This was just a super incredible day!]Three groups of ten students from three local schools that BottomUp is working in – Fairmount, Lotus River and Zeekoevlei high schools – met together in the morning to have the vision for the day laid out for them by Dean. They were divided into mixed school groups and then with two to three leader facilitators from BottomUp they jumped into their minibuses and set off in three different directions for their first experience of the Mobile Classroom.

Stop #1 – Westlake Community Trust

I joined Lindsay and Dean and the group from bus number 1 and we set off for the first of our three locations for the day: The Westlake United Church Trust.This is not so ironically situated in the suburb of Westlake and we met with Richard who shared some of what they are about:Our mission is to uplift and empower the residents of Westlake Village through education, skills development, youth development, job creation programs and home-based care, so that the community becomes self-sustaining and thriving.In the booklets, the learners had some activities and space for notes, but also four questions that were asked of them at each of the places we visited:

  • Q1: Write down something new that you learnt:
  • Q2: What did you disagree with…and why?
  • Q3: What are the similarities you see happening in your school and this organisation?
  • Q4: Write down a word/sentence/idea that you heard today that you always want to remember:

The hope was to promote deep listening and encourage critical thinking.The students were also encouraged to ask their own questions based on what they heard or experienced at each place, but in their books were equipped with ten example questions to help them if they wanted to engage more fully but weren’t sure what to ask. While those questions were used as inspiration for the group we were with it was super encouraging watching them formulate their own questions based on what they were witnessing.

Stop #2 – Reclaim the City

Next up was chatting to some of the residents of the Reclaim the City occupied space in Seapoint. This was formerly a nursing home that had been abandoned and vacant for a number of years until a group of disenfranchised people decided to move in.This was the highlight for most of the learners in our group when we spoke to them at the end of the day possibly because it was a combination of information and story as well as getting to see first-hand what the lived experience of the people was.

Reclaim the City is a social movement of tenants and working-class people living and working in the inner city of Cape Town and surrounds who are standing together in solidarity against evictions and displacement, and are actively taking on further campaigns to advocate and fight for land to be viewed and used as land for the people, not for profit.

We had two very enthusiastic women – Auntie Mona and Auntie Sheila – sharing the history of Reclaim the City and then giving us a tour of the premises. We got to see rooms on five of the six floors of the building and it was amazing to see how this derelict building had been turned into homes that people live in.With no electricity and the only water source being a fire hose [which had the only water not switched off by the city] it is unbelievable that something like 300 families are making great use of that space.Our guides were so passionate about showing these eager young learners around the building that they were knocking on rooms and we even disturbed a sleeping resident who was still somehow open to letting us traipse through his space.This felt quite mind-blowing for many of the learners which I think is why a number of them said it was the best part of their day.

Stop #3 – Equal Education

From Seapoint we made our way towards Khayelitsha encouraging the learners to keep an eye out of the windows and share some thoughts of what they saw as we moved through different suburbs. Huge disparity between the huge walled communities as we left town and passed the colourful RDP housing as well as the shacks of Langa and other places on the way to Khayelitsha.We made our third and final stop at the fairly new and quite stunning building that houses Equal Education and a number of other great organisations. We met Leanne who gave us a bit of a tour and a chat.

A democratic movement, EE collectively identifies systemic and localised problems affecting the quality of education being provided to learners throughout South African schools and then undertakes strategic actions to remedy these identified problems. Issues of inequality in education are address through public action and advocacy using mass mobilisation and traditional and new media to build public pressure on the relevant stakeholders to address problems.

The learners seemed really attentive for this conversation, even though it was at the end of what had been quite a long and intensive day. Equal Education deals with a lot of the types of issues that the learners face and are raising in their schools so this stop felt like the most directly relevant one to them.Leanne was incredible in terms of detailing the work of EE and answering questions and letting the learners know that they were invited to connect and visit and get involved with the work that EE is doing. She generously have out brochures, information documents and even two books of South African poetry and stories which speak to education issues, which will be added to the library so all the students have access.

Food and Final Thoughts

While Bus 1 had been having our adventure, Bus 2 had spent their day visiting the Sozo Foundation in Vrygrond, The Development Action Group [DAG] in Observatory and Molo Mhlaba in Khayelitsha. Bus 3 had been on their own journey from the LEAP school in Langa via the Woodstock Reclaim The City venue and ending up with the uJamaa Collective in Khayelitsha.

We all met back together amidst great excitement and noise and story-telling as we finished off the day at Cafe Isivivana with burgers and fizzy drinks to help replenish the energy given out on what had been such a fun-filled educational day.I mentioned it at the beginning and I will say it again, because I am not sure greater education happened in any other school around the country on this particular day. Getting to see different parts of the city you live in and meet incredible people who are doing transformational work, coming face to face with many of the challenges and obstacles that face these groups as well as simply driving past the rapid change of inequality that can be observed by seeing where and how people live. All, while interacting with learners from a different school who face a similar context but different issues. This was such a full day which totally redeemed a week of school in which largely not all that much school takes place.To learn more about BottomUp and the phenomenal work they are doing in these schools, and find out how you can get more involved as a sponsor or volunteer, click here to check out the rest of their site.Education IS our passport to the future. Help us get those passports into these young peoples’ hands.