Hilda Vemba

26 November, 2009

HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases: ‘I am really passionate about what I am doing: it always boils down to education and education.’

My full names are Hilda Frances Vember (nee Croy). I was born on the 30 September; 1955. My parents are William and Caroline Croy. I am very fortunate to have both my parents and all my siblings still alive, although my Dad is not well. He is 78 years old and my Mom is 77. I am the second eldest sibling, out of 8 children. I have 5 brothers, one older than me and two sisters, both younger than me. I was born into an ordinary working class family. My father was a carpenter, who subcontracted for “white” bosses all the time. My Mom worked as a domestic worker and then in a factory. After the birth of my eldest brother, she became a house wife and reared all of us. This was a real bonus to have my mother at home, seeing us off to school and being there when we came back.

I grew up in an area called Bellville South. This area was allocated in the apartheid era only for coloured people. It is predominantly an Afrikaans speaking community. Tuition at all our schools was in Afrikaans, and it was my home language. Our area has three primary schools and two high schools. We also have two universities, approximately 3 km. from our home. So we were always surrounded by university students.

The shops were predominantly owned by the Muslim community and are still like that today. I was not exposed to many cultures as I grew up as we were predominantly coloured and Muslim people living in our town. We have a number of different churches as well as two mosques around us. We also had multiple sports fields. My entire family loves sport and all of us participated in various sport codes. My parents always encouraged this.

Like all so called black (which includes coloured) communities, our town is also divided into economic and sub–economic housing. A main street divides my community from the real poverty stricken areas where I grew up. I currently live in the same area of Bellville South, but just in a more upgraded suburb, called Glen Haven Estate. Close to where I live, children are malnourished and underweight. Unemployment is rife, so is drug abuse, and children and women are abused. House break-ins and car theft are the order of the day. We have one health centre which serves this community. HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, plus chronic diseases of lifestyle like hypertension, diabetes and cardiac related illness are common. With the influx of immigrants from all over the region, the clinic cannot cope with the real demands of every day health care.

I grew up in a fairly protective home environment and my father was strict with all of us. He was a real disciplinarian. I grew up in an extremely male dominated and patriarchal household, where my dad ruled the roost. My mom was the peacemaker and home organizer. Yet, I was raised in a loving and very religious home. We worship (I still do) in the Anglican faith.

Education was a priority and both my parents ensured that all of us received good schooling. Of my five brothers, two are high school teachers, two more who own their own business and one brother works for our South African Defence force. Of my two younger sisters one is a primary school teacher and the youngest sister is in corporate banking. I am lecturing in nursing and am currently busy with PhD studies. As well as being family we are all still very good friends. We enjoy getting together. Seven of us are married, live on our own but are one big happy family together with our children and spouses. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and Easter we all celebrate together.

I schooled at ordinary public schools, where I was one of 40-50 pupils from primary to high school in my class. However, with dedicated teachers and a loving supported family, I managed to always do well. I was a hard and consistent worker. I became the head prefect in matric and it is there that I developed my leadership skills. While at high school, my teachers all felt that I was a “born” teacher. However, I always wanted to be a nurse. After matric, I started my diploma in nursing at Somerset hospital in Green Point, Cape Town. I wanted to go and do the degree course, but my parents could not afford to send me to university. I therefore opted for the diploma course, where I earned a measly salary as a student nurse. I still had to give my parents the bulk of the money, but I kept some pocket money. This is where my real independence started. Against my father’s wishes, I had no choice but to leave home as it was compulsory for all student nurses to live in nurse’s residence. This was a marvellous experience which forced me to become mature instantaneously, as I was now faced with preserving people’s lives. Despite my conservative upbringing, I adjusted very well and soon became prefect in the nurse’s residence as well. Twice a week, when I was off duty, I would undertake a half an hour train journey home to spend with my folks and to go to church.

It is during this three year training period when I was introduced to various cultures and dealing with all kinds of people. It was wonderful! I then continued with my diploma in midwifery at the same hospital and finally left Somerset at the end of 1979. I got married to the most wonderful, loving supportive husband, named Ralph and just recently in April, we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. He is my rock and support through my entire academic career. We have two wonderful sons, Ian, aged 29 and Robin, age 24 years. Ian is married and I am grandma to the sweetest two little boys, Ethan and Aaron. My daughter in law is Ronelle. Ian is in Human resource management and Robin is a journalist.

In 1982 I went to the Technikon fulltime and completed my Diploma in Community Nursing Science. In January, 1983, I started as a district nurse in a semi-rural area, Philippi in the heart of the city. This was a real eye opener. This community consists of 42 farms and many squatter areas. Only the white farmers live in decent houses. This is where I was introduced and had to deal with extreme poverty, almost absolute poverty in many cases. Most of the farm workers were paid with a tot of alcohol in the morning and at night and earned very little money. I travelled with a fitted-out mobile van from farm to farm to serve the people. All kinds of sexually transmitted diseases were rife, as well as tuberculosis and later on HIV/AIDS. It is here where I had to rely on all my expertise, and with the rest of the team, to attempt to communicate with the extremely difficult and prejudiced white farmers.

The words “kaffir” (for black people) and “hotnots” (for coloured people) were the order of the day, if you did not have a white skin. Some of the white farmers initially did not allow me, because of my skin color, to come onto their premises. I then had to work from outside their gate to see my clients. I did health promotion on a big scale on issues like reproductive health, STI’s and general personal hygiene. There was only one primary school in the area. With the result, very few children pursued high school or further education, but had to go and work as cheap labour on the farms. Most parents were alcoholics.

My role had been clear right from the onset, education and more education. I instituted daily health promotion programmes on the farms and collaborated with important role-players like the priest, the one and only school principal and school staff, church leaders and one social worker, who worked tirelessly in the area. Together we focused on hygiene, nutrition and basic health issues. Soon I discovered that more and more babies were born with syphilis and gonorrhea and more and more adults were diagnosed with the same and other sexually transmitted diseases. I, together with the entire health team at our small clinic decided to embark on a research project within the area. We gained access to the factories firstly where we revealed horrifying statistics.

Despite all the setbacks, there were many successes in the area. Almost all the farmers gave me permission to come onto their premises  and allowed me to start a child care centre. After 9 years of slogging in the area, when I eventually left, 35 farmers had abolished the tot system and workers were earning a better wage. This was the most challenging, but rewarding experience of my nursing career. I still teach community nursing with so much passion and my students benefit from my practical examples of my Philippi experience.

When my boys were 1 and 5 years old respectively, I pursued my first degree through distance learning. In 1994 I completed my BCUR and in 1996 I completed my BCUR-HONOURS degree. This was challenging, rearing children, being a wife and an extremely busy community and church worker. I moved on in my career and started at one of our higher education institutions (HEI) in 1989 as a clinical nurse practitioner in the student health service. Here I was faced with the challenges of young people, especially sexuality related issues. I became involved with first year student orientation programmes and collected basic sexual health information from new the admissions. Eighty per cent of the  students had experienced sex before entering HEI and safer sex practices were unheard of. At that time HIV/AIDS was emerging as a major threat and the findings were extremely worrying. We launched massive campaigns on our campus, focusing on the use of condoms, safer sex practices and sticking with one partner. Students flocked to our student health service for advice, counselling and to be treated for various STI’s. Pregnancy rates amongst students were soaring, so we then embarked on a massive reproductive health campaign, where the focus was on contraception methods. However, the request for abortions became overwhelming, as these young people did not want to go through with their pregnancies. This posed a major problem, as abortion was not legalized in South Africa. Again, it was education and education!

I also started lecturing on a part-time basis at the institution. Finally my dream was fulfilled in May, 2000, when I entered academia on a full-time basis. I teach post-basic nursing courses, but am still hands on, as all the courses have quite a big practical component. So I do have an opportunity to visit and accompany my students in the various health services.

My community outreach is still continuing. I am very involved in HIV/AIDS and sexuality training. I go to local schools, matric camps, youth groups and confirmation camps. I also train staff of NGO’S and CBO’s. I trained 90 per cent of the academic staff in various HIV/AIDS and sexuality issues, as these have to be integrated into mainstream curricula. I am the chairperson of the Western Cape regional nursing education association (NEA). I am really passionate about what I am doing.

I am continually confronted with shocking levels of ignorance about HIV/AIDS. Two very different examples from my experiences illustrate this.

First, in March, 2007, I was privileged to facilitate a workshop to 100 international students on HEI and HIV/AIDS. This stimulated a lot of debate and discussion. These students were from across the world, different universities and for many it was their first visit to a third world country! Our statistics of people living with HIV/AIDS in HEI shocked them out of their wits and they could not understand why ARV’s (anti-retroviral drugs) were not freely available. The ignorance of the international community of our reality, of the impact of the pandemic in our country, was striking.

The second example was during the same year, in November, when I was facilitator and presenter at a women’s conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This was an absolute mind boggling experience, as the communities’ knowledge was almost zero and very much in denial. Even the so-called “educated” women, including medical practitioners, were not clued up with latest statistics, treatments and protocols. One of the problems I faced was language as in Sri Lanka the mother tongue is either Tamil or Sinhalese. However, during the conference there was translating equipment for each of the 500 delegates, and in the villages I always had interpreters to work with. The major disappointment of my three week stint of community-based education came within my final week. I was interpreted as being HIV-Positive during one of my presentations. Immediately, I was told that my final workshop with a group of school children at an Anglican missionary school would be cancelled, as the Nuns and children are not prepared to face/deal with someone HIV-positive! Needless to say, I cried bitterly, because I could not understand how my status, whether positive or negative, could influence the good work that I was doing. I did not even try to defend myself, except that I did tell the women’s executive about my disappointment and that I am not HIV-positive. I challenged their attitudes and educated them on stigmatization! Beside that experience, for me the entire trip was an eye opener and a tremendous learning experience.

In conclusion, I will be forever grateful to my parents despite the very conservative upbringing, for the sound morals and values that they have instilled in me and for the Christian principles that I can still uphold today. My family and friends also played a big role in encouraging me through thick and thin, good and bad times. I thank God for all the skills and talents that he gave me and for making me the caring individual that I am.

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Pilisiwe Lolwane

24 November, 2009

How was it possible?

Every time I visit my village outside the tiny home of Qumbu in the Eastern Cape, I stop to wonder, firstly how I have managed to ‘escape’, and then wonder how I have made it this far. I have gone over this question in my mind a million times and sometimes am able to come up with a neat and rational explanation for the inquisitive or even for myself.  I am not convinced that I understand how the universe works, how my own trajectory was put together and which parts of my life played a major role in making me the person I now am. You will have to judge if there is any explanation.

I was born on the 31st of December in 1950 in Balasi location in Qumbu. If you have never heard of this place, don’t worry, few people know of this place even in South Africa. I never knew my father but knew of him. This by itself was a cause of a lot of anxiety to a growing child like me who was forever speculating about all kinds of possibilities about my existence. You see, I was brought up in a home full of books, magazines and old newspapers. In my own explanation of how things worked out, I always single out the fact that I was brought up surrounded by plenty of reading materials as the most and single important factor that saw me and my siblings rise above and away from the village life. As a last born, with a mother who was a grade 1 and 2 teacher, I was able to read quite early. When I was in grade 3, I read a book that was more than 500 pages long, in Xhosa – Ingqumbo Yeminyaya (The Wrath of the Ancestors) by A.C. Jordaan. Reading to me was a way of figuring out how the world outside my village worked.  Whilst my peers who did not read as avidly as me could not imagine a world outside our village, I started to develop a vey wild imagination at an early age. I was convinced that there was a mistake – I really did not belong to my village as I identified with the worlds described in the books I read. My household was not any better than others around it as there were no class issues in the village. But I still think that my mother was determined to give us education as a passport to a better world. She would find out about bursaries and any other assistance we could get beyond our primary school. This provided a first step of separation from other children who ended their education at the end of primary school.

I was twelve when I was able to step out of my village to a boarding school where I saw white people for the first time. Even though the boarding school was in a mission school in a village, it was certainly a step above my village because it was a high school. Not only that it firstly provided a reprieve from the daily chores that only girls had to endure in a village, like fetching water, cooking and washing dishes daily; and secondly it provided a space where I could meet with students from all over South Africa, who came to the boarding house by train. For me what was most important was the number of books available to read.

I had started my schooling right at the beginning of Bantu Education in South Africa, and had my older brother, mother and my teachers instilling in me the uselessness of the education we were receiving. So, I was not going to pay much attention to a ‘not so good’ education but would just get the ‘papers’ that come with it – useless or not. I also went through school convinced that I did not have to pay much attention to teachers because I had so much confidence in my own abilities to find out the answers from the books.  I was, after all, such a ‘prolific’ reader.

I still went through my education with little motivation. I was just a passenger in the education train where learning was not difficult. During my final year of high school we had a strike in our school and I was one of the students who were expelled early on in the year and could only return to write my examinations. I was shocked when I failed my end of high school examinations; this was the first failure for me in my not so illustrious education career. My brother and sister had earlier on distinguished themselves as very bright individuals.  In order to proceed I would have to be in a position to attract bursaries and scholarships, like my older siblings. But my school performance was dismal. I had to return to my village with my tail between my legs as I had nothing to show for the time I had spent away from home.

During the first year after I failed my ‘matric’, I worked for a couple of months in a wholesale store in Flagstaff, another small town in the Eastern Cape. As blacks, we were expected to refer to all whites in the store as ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’ irrespective of their age and even though all of them had much less education than me. But the racism was unbearable – where we could eat, the salary gaps, and how we were generally bullied around. I was fired after 5 months for insubordination. I had to go back to my village again. The year I spent in my village trying to study and rewrite my high school examinations as a private candidate was very instructive. At 19, I now realised how my life would be if I had to spend the rest of it in that village. It just was not going to work for me. I put all my might to memorise the subjects I had failed so that I could rewrite this examination. Education took a whole new meaning for me as I now knew for sure that it was my only chance to escape a destiny of poverty and hardship.  Whilst I was preparing for a rewrite, I also applied to Teachers’ colleges as these were the only institutions that would now give me a shot at post-secondary education. Was I interested in being a teacher? Not at all, but being a teacher was much better than the life of village chores.

For the first when I went to the Teachers’ College at Lovedale, I was determined to be amongst the top achievers, and I was. Looking back now, it really was a strange period in my life. Although I was not really interested in being a teacher I was putting a lot of effort into being the top achiever in my class.  When I first went out for my practice teaching, the principal of the school wanted me to come back and teach in his school, and I did. The students, principal and the inspectors liked me a lot because I put all energies in whatever I did. I was still not sure that I wanted to be a teacher, but it was OK.

A new life opened up 5 years later when I transferred to be close to a university that had opened in the Eastern Cape.  This offered classes in the evening which I attended.  I was now married, with a child and needed a change from teaching. I discovered enjoyment in education for the first time when I registered with the University of Transkei, now Walter Sisulu University. I liked everything about the university – the kind of knowledge that was taught, the debates with lecturers and fellow students, assignments and even examinations. I just flew. I also think that I was surrounded by so many lecturers who saw how thirsty I was for education. I was one of the first eleven students to graduate, in record time, and the only female student. I had a number of distinctions under my belt. I majored in psychology, partly because the subject intrigued me and partly because I was still figuring myself out.

During my first post-graduate degree, my faculty at the university recruited me as a junior researcher. By the time I was doing my masters in the 80s, I was sure that I liked the university environment better than schools, but I was still a junior and that I did not like that. I successfully applied for a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the USA and relocated with my family. Studying and working part-time in the USA was easier than holding a teaching job and doing undergraduate studies at home. A master’s degree grew to a Ph.D. in psychology as I now wanted to be the best.

My dissertation was completed in record time after the release of Nelson Mandela prompted a desire to return home to South Africa.  Although I was adequately armed with a Ph.D. from the USA to get a job –  I was employed by the University of Witwatersrand soon after I arrived back in South Africa – what I did not know was how long it was going to take for blacks and women to find their place in this new society. It was hard and painful. I could never tell whether the problem was a race or a gender discrimination issue. Power in academic circles in South Africa was in the hands of white men. As women we were also not adequately prepared to take over this power. However, I was prepared to learn how to play the game.

I endured years of tutelage under different masters during the years that followed. Unlike my peers who have not managed to distinguish themselves, I was motivated to continue learning and progressing.  Since my return from the USA I have held many positions in different organisations include being a Director for Policy Research in an Independent Examination Board; Director for a Central Organisation for Trade testing of the Department of Labour; Chief Executive Officer of the South African Certification Council (SAFCERT) and my past recent job was that of a Chief Executive Officer at Umalusi: Council for General and Further Education Quality assurance, a statutory body I established. I am now a visiting associate professor at the University of Witwatersrand, where I am establishing a research and teaching centre for post-school education. I continue to play a critical role in the education development process of this country. I have received several awards in the education field.

It has been a long road that has taken some detours from my village to here. I know that it helped that I attended church schools as a child. The mission schools moulded me and ensured that I travelled a narrow and straight road even when my morality was still under developed. Growing up surrounded with books was extremely helpful in my life. I could transport myself beyond my local situation and from an early age my world was much bigger than my village. Even though I started with not such a shining school performance, along my educational path I had a number of individuals who believed in me. I always knew that my talent was in education, even when my performance was mediocre. It has been through and in education that I found my niche. I am spending this time to help those young people who maybe like me – from humble backgrounds, not really focused at the beginning and who have started at a wrong footing – to still have many other second chances in the education system of this country. I am no longer in the classroom, but education remains an important instrument for me through which I have chosen to change the world in which I live.

Dorothy Nampota

24 November, 2009

Dorothy Nampota

‘My mother started to brew beer in order to find money for my school fees.

I was born on 27th January, 1967 and grew up in a small village. When I got selected to secondary school in 1982, my mother started to brew beer in order to find money for my school fees. Fortunately the school was within my area (about 25 km) and it was a boarding school. This meant that my mother could bring food such as green maize, groundnuts etc for me regularly as I did not have money to buy food from tuck-shops and the market. I was an almost invisible person in the school except when it came to performance in class.

 I got selected to the University of Malawi in 1986, the first girl in my village and community. People in my village were concerned that with the prolonged education I would not get married. However in the University I performed very well to the extent that for two years I was given a scholarship by USAID on ‘girls in non-traditional subjects’ as I was taking chemistry, mathematics and biology. I graduated with a credit in 1991 and taught at a school for one term that year before joining the university again now as assistant lecturer in science education in January, 1992. Later that year I got married and have two children. In 1995 I got a British Council TCT award which I used to study for my Masters degree at Kings College, University of London. When I returned home in 1997, my work was largely training science teachers. In September 2002 I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a PhD at the University of Bath where I graduated in July, 2005.

 Human capital theorists believe that education can uplift someone from poverty. I am one person who could testify to this. Although coming from a poor background, I now belong to the elite of the society. As a result of my ‘prolonged’ education I have made some notable contributions to the society. In general, I act as a role model not only in my village and surrounding community but also nationally. For example, between 2000 and 2002, I was a national coordinator of a pan-African project that aimed at improving the participation and performance of girls in science and mathematics at both primary and secondary school levels. This brought me into contact with many girls, their parents and teachers in the country. From 2005 to-date, I am involved in a project that aims at meeting the learning needs of out of school children and youth through non-formal means. With funding from the British Academy I work in collaboration with colleagues from Universities of Glasgow, Calabar in Nigeria, Botswana and Lesotho in this activity. In May 2006, I was awarded a two and a half months DAAD fellowship on University Staff Development. In July, 2007, I was promoted to senior lecturer.

 My contributions to the education sector include undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and supervision of research. Through postgraduate teaching, I became a member of a NUFU funded project known as SUSTAIN (Education for sustainable development) which involves universities in South Africa and Zambia. I am also a member of professional bodies such as the Southern African Association for Research in Science and Mathematics Education and the British Association for International and Comparative Education.

 Within the University of Malawi, I have taken up a number of positions and responsibilities including membership of different committees such as University Senate, University Teaching and Learning, Research and Publications. I am currently head of the Department of Curriculum and Teaching Studies in the Faculty of Education.