“Good morning,” I said as I got out of the car.
“Good afternoon!” Ms. Amanda corrected me with a laugh, “It is not morning, so it cannot be ‘good morning’!”
My cheeks flushed with embarrassment before she wrapped me in a tight hug that made me forget my error. Sister Helen was also doling out affection to the Mad Okes Chariteers who arrived to give the donated blankets to the Lerato school children for our May 2017 blanket drive. Sister Helen enveloped me in a hug, thanking me before even seeing how many blankets we brought.
When we ordered the blankets, the supplier gifted an extra fleece blanket in a vibrant, fun animal print. Mad Okes decided to give Sister Helen the blanket as a special thank you to the woman who has touched so many lives.
Through donations from individuals and companies were we able to donate:
121 BLANKETS- May 2017 Blanket Drive
LERATO’S LIBRARY AND THE SHINE LITERACY PROGRAM
As we waited for the first class to arrive, I wandered towards the library. It is a bright-colored container, a mix between turquoise and sky blue with silly, yellow giraffes painted near the entrance.
It was quiet in the library with no occupants and no lights on. Libraries always appear to be a solemn place, even when the alphabet decorates the walls and the chairs and tables are blues, reds, and greens.
“Do you like our library?” Sister Helen had trailed into the library behind me. “We have been fortunate to receive the library. It was a project put together by two students from Marist Brothers Linmeyer. We also have a literacy program of volunteers who help teach reading to our students in Grade 3.”
The Shine Literacy Program is an example of how Lerato works. Lerato Educational Centre provides the facility, while other programs provide the funding and projects. Whereas Lerato offers the library, Shine Literacy offers training and volunteers to help the children learn to read and increase their reading comprehension.
She continues to show me around the library with a humble aura, grateful for a facility for the children of Lerato. Hundreds of books are on shelves, each with category tags. Student names are lined on the chalkboard along with the book they checked out the week before. Lerato has a policy that enables children to take home books, but they must bring them back in perfect condition. It’s a policy to encourage responsibility.
“None of our books have been damaged,” Sister Helen says proud of her students, then motions towards the door. “The children are here now.”
GIVING BLANKETS AND RECEIVING SMILES
Just as she said, a group of children lined up neatly are walking towards us. For the next 30 minutes, we are busy individually handing blankets to children. Most say a “Thank you” softly, while a few perform a gracious bow when they accept their blankets. Maybe it was also because I had to lean down to place the blanket into their tiny, opened hands. I notice their smiles are the same grins all children have: a mix between pure joy, casual cheekiness, and true lightheartedness.
As we continued to hand out blankets, I capture photos of the children. They were silly. They were solemn. They were children making faces and talking among themselves, but staying in the groups led by their teachers. Lerato emphasizes respect and unity, showing responsibility and gratitude so the children can practice it in their lives in and out of school.
“Siyabonga amen, Siyabonga amen!” A chorus of thanks erupts from the children seemingly out of nowhere. The children’s voices rise into the air and fill the wintry atmosphere with light.
It’s the end of the school day, and you can tell. There’s a ripple of excitement going on in the educational centre. Some of the children are ready to run home, while others look a bit tired, but the majority seem excited to sing and see new faces. One boy balances his blanket on his head and sways to the song, laughing at his own antics.
As our bags of blankets empty, more children pour out of classrooms. The line of little kids seems to be continuous. I start getting a bit nervous. What if we don’t have enough blankets? What if some children don’t get a blanket?
DESPERATE NEED IN JACKSON’S DRIFT
The settlement surrounding Lerato is informal. It’s known as Jackson’s Drift. The inhabitants are some of the poorest of the poor in Johannesburg. Many shacks here don’t have running water, some survive without electricity. Children are born into this abject poverty where even essentials such as clothes and food can be scarce.
This is life for every child at Lerato. Their education from creche to Grade 3 is in the hands of the Lerato Educational Centre. And Lerato can only survive by the gracious donations of the community. They are awaiting funding from the government, funding they can only receive after passing numerous inspections for recognition by the state.
To pass one of the final inspection, the facility is required to pave a large area between classes which requires a large sum of money.
Even with this huge project looming over the Educational Centre, Sister Helen keeps her faith that it will be provided. That is how the 24 staff members and Sister Helen continue living, working, and providing for Lerato, through hope, faith, and love of their community.
Their mission thrives because Lerato Educational Centre wants to give their students hope for the future. They want to push the children to take ownership of their education and lives, which is why small fees are charged for items.
“Our fees are 40 rand a month for a child to attend school. They pay for everything they receive, even if the fee is only 1 rand.” There are exceptions, especially considering some households are children-run. While some people may disagree with their philosophy, the reasoning behind it is simple and powerful.
Lerato believes in empowering the children. When a child pays for something, that item is his or hers. They become owners of their things; it’s not a handout they were given. They worked for it. They paid for it.
The school helps the children better their lives through education, social interaction, and responsibility as they navigate the most formidable years of their lives. Donations help the school continue running as they await accreditation by the state.
GIVING ALWAYS PROVIDES MORE TO THE GIVER
“I’ve got Jesus, deep down in my heart,” the kids continue singing and dancing as another class lines up. This class seems to be smaller than the one before. We’re told they are from Grade 1 and as they stand next to their Grade 3 counterparts, I am amazed at how much children grow in just two grades.
As I walk around the group, I ask the children if I can take their picture. Immediately, they huddle together and smile brightly. Their happiness emanates. After I take their picture, I show them the image. Their giggles erupt in my ears before they return to their songs and dances.
As the Chariteers collect the empty white bags, the children keep singing. Finally, the last blankets arrive in their new owners’ hands.
One blanket remains. A leftover.
It’s a perfect reminder of how charity works: no one has ever become poor by giving. Charity provides a surplus, not just in the lives of those who receive, but for those who give as well.
Thank you all for Giving!