It is a warm Saturday morning that finds us driving through the dusty, sun-drenched streets of Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town. Street name signs are few and far between and we wonder whether we have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Around a bend, where the informal and formal housing structures crowd each other for space on the street, we finally see the big school gates of Chumisa Primary School. We pull into the parking lot where a handful of cars are parked.
We can already hear the girls’ voices as we get out the car; joyful and boisterous as they play tag in the courtyard during their morning break. Some are busy snacking on sarmies and hot chocolate. These girls, unlike most girls between the ages of 11 and 14 , come to school every Saturday morning to take part in a special educational programme, expertly designed and implemented by the Thope Foundation. Not only do these girls have extra maths and science classes on a Saturday morning, but the programme also offers talks by different women on a variety of social subjects. Today, they’re talking about periods.
We enter the computer lab with its thick, metal security door. Some girls are already at the computers, researching the day’s topic, finishing off homework or interacting on social media. My high school friend Rethabile Mashale, Programme Director of Thope Foundation, greets us with a proud smile. The vibe and the energy she and the tutoring staff and volunteers have created is welcoming, inclusive and conducive to a social learning environment.
Once everyone has been called inside and settled down, the tutor who is leading today’s topic enthusiastically addresses the class.
“Today we are going to talk about periods! Who can tell me what a period is?” One girl raises her hand shyly and gives a soft, awkward answer before hiding her face behind her hands as the girls around her burst out laughing.
“Yes, that’s right. A period is when you bleed once a month. And ones body goes through a lot of changes when periods first start. Who can tell me what else happens around the same time that you get your first period?” A girl near the front gestures with curved hands over her chest, and gales of giggles erupt around the room once more.
“Yes! We also get boobs. What else can start to happen?” The classroom is alive with twitters of engagement. The girls are not afraid to answer questions and get involved in the discussions that follow. For many of these girls, something as every-day as periods, is not something which is freely discussed at home. Some may have conservative, or absent parents or family members.
The Thope tutors have essentially created a safe space for young township girls to learn about and discuss topics which are difficult and important topics concerning young girls in any environment, but especially so for young girls living in a township in South Africa. Most young girls in suburbia would, for example, have more access to information on periods and more than likely their parents will purchase them sanitary pads or tampons upon the arrival of the first period. But most of the young girls growing up in townships, where poverty, violence and teenage pregnancies are prevalent, will notice the changes in their bodies, but have no access to support networks with whom to share or discuss these changes.
And this is where Thope is essential in affecting a positive difference to the environment of young girls. By mentoring and tutoring young girls, they initiate and inspire a culture of informed and engaged young women who enter the world after school on a confident footing. Those women are then able to step up and continue to encourage the education of the young girls still to come.
Thope Foundation has been running this programme, amongst others, since 2013 and they always appreciate any funding that can assist in keeping their essential and valuable programmes running. For the Tutor Programme in particular they need to cover tutor transport costs, a snack consisting of a sandwich and hot chocolate for 40-50 pupils every Saturday, and any printing costs for required handouts. There are many ways to support Thope. Please visit www.thopefoundation.org for more information on how to donate and support this NGO.