East London — A former offender with a degree in industrial psychology has been brought in to help an East London primary school deal with a substance abuse problem among its pupils.
Ntembeko Nqapela was approached by the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality and the Eastern Cape Aids Council to investigate a drug problem at one of the Metro's primary schools, Chuma Primary School in Mdantsane.
"I discovered that many pupils at the school had either been exposed to drugs or had used drugs. It worries me that at such a young age, they are already in danger," said Nqapela.
Nqapela said his arrest and 12-year imprisonment for rape had shown him that being exposed to substance abuse at a young age could be a precursor to a life of crime.
"When children engage in substance abuse they become involved in a lot of dangerous activities. They might not know that now, because they are still young. However, I know that drug abuse changes a person's character," said Nqapela.
He finished serving his sentence in July this year and is planning on studying towards his Masters in Industrial Psychology at the University of Johannesburg.
Chuma Primary School acting Principal Nothemba Mapukata said Nqapela had identified a problem she and the staff at the school are well aware of.
"We see the effects of substance abuse on the academic performance of our pupils, who struggle to concentrate in class. Some of them are orphans who know all the drugs because they are the ones being sent by family members to buy them," said Mapukata.
She said the children imitate what the elders do and end up becoming involved in drugs.
Nqapela was at Chuma Primary School this week, along with inmates provided by the Department of Correctional Services, to help plant a vegetable garden as part of a substance abuse and health promotion programme being run in schools throughout the Metro in preparation for World Aids Day on 1 December.
"Buffalo City was chosen to host this year's provincial World Aids Day celebration, and the Metro chose to focus on Chuma Primary because of incidences of substance abuse and HIV-infection among pupils," said Eastern Cape Aids Council prevention project manager Nophiwo Ludidi.
She said the school's feeding scheme would benefit greatly from the vegetables grown in the garden, providing vital nutrients for those pupils living with HIV.
Buffalo City ward councilor Sakhumzi Caga, who was present during the planting of the garden, listened to requests from pupils for a number of things to improve the school, including a playground.
"I have committed myself to looking into their requests and to try and provide the same amenities that other schools in the area have," said Caga.