GroundUp (Cape Town)

South Africa: Somali Community Run School to Learn English

Somali Association of South Africa (SASA) Western Cape chairperson Abdikadir Mohamed has established an English school project with the help of the Scalabrini Centre.

The school, situated in Bellville, has been going since November 2012.

The project, known as the Bellville Education Centre (BEC), was born out of research done by Vanya Gastrow of Wits university. She illustrated how Somalis' rights are infringed in most cases partly because they cannot communicate effectively due to the language barrier.

All immigrants are accommodated and it is not necessary to have teachers who speak Somali because the teaching is done with pictures. The textbooks have pictures captioned in English and the teachers help with pronunciation.

The programme is divided into four classes: beginners, elementary, pre-intermediate and intermediate. Newcomers write a placement test to determine their level. Students choose a suitable timetable since most are self-employed.

The school is open Monday to Thursday from 1:30 to 9:30pm with four classes of English and one class on computers. Lessons are two hours. Students are all ages; many are educated, others have not had formal schooling, in some cases because of war.There are six volunteer teachers.

Mohamed says, "The students are motivated and enjoy school ... Most cannot afford to pay fees, but those who can afford pay R150 monthly.

We also have a problem of dropouts. Some Somalis choose to go back to Somalia after they are attacked or assaulted. Somalis are financially struggling and they are demotivated when their shops are looted. There is too much crime in this country. If you work hard but are robbed every day, you cannot progress."

The school hopes to develop its computer literacy project by acquiring more computers and teachers and intends to run an empowerment project for women. Women will be taught to sew and design clothes to sustain themselves. Two machines are already set up for the project and they intend to buy three more. A library room is also being added. Students at formal schools around Bellville will be assisted with studying and homework by the librarians.

SASA also opened a school in Strand. It currently has twenty registered students.

Mohamed said paying the R6,500 rental is challenging since the beneficiaries pay little. They need money to hire a receptionist and teachers since volunteers are not working for them permanently.

They also need better facilities and equipment such as a projector, DVD and CD player to use as teaching aids. They would be happy if people could donate stationery, books and desks. They still need more volunteers to run the project, especially teachers.

Abdikadir Kedir is one of the BEC beneficiaries. He enrolled in the school when it was established in 2012.

He is in elementary class. Kedir is employed as a shopkeeper. Before attending the school he did not know how to read or speak English. He said the school needed more teachers, because the few they have are overworked.

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