THE LONG WALK TO SCHOOL

We recently had the chance to interview two of our top achieving matric students from 2020, Unathi and Akhona, about their school journeys. In the busyness of settling into university, they took some time to reflect on the paths they have travelled to get to where they are today. Their stories are telling of both their incredible drive to learn, achieve and create opportunities for themselves and their communities, as well as the challenges many rural learners face in their pursuit of education.

My name is Unathi Vayeke. I recently graduated from high school and am studying computer science at the University of Johannesburg this year 2021.


Growing up, it was a must to walk using feet because cars were not able to travel on our roads so I walked from home to school every day. From grades 1 to 9 I walked 3.5 kms to school every day and back.


In Primary School I would wake up at 4 because there were 5 of us siblings so we had to wake up early so that all of us could bath. My oldest sister had to wake up earlier to get water from a tank nearby and heat it up, then she would wake us all up. My mom would prepare breakfast and then my siblings and I would all walk to school together. After getting home, we would wash our uniforms.


In primary school, we did not go to school when it was raining because the teachers were not able to come to school because of the road. Sometimes even the whole week we would stay home with all the work missed. But we were not relaxing if we were at home, there were lots of responsibilities; like cooking and collecting the cattle and goats. About 7 years ago we got electricity at home. Things changed a lot; we got a TV which was nice to watch and chill with siblings.


From grade 10 I knew I would have to rent a place close to school because the high school was just less than 10km away so I couldn’t walk from home to school. I moved into a RDP residence. I wasn’t happy in the first year. But I stayed with my older sister who was in gr 11 at the time. I was fortunate enough that my brother was a teacher at school so I got to have the company of my family at school. I felt safe even though the environment was new because I had my brother and sister there. Me and my siblings look out for each other. We always motivate each other.


Last year I was staying alone l but I was used to the environment by then. After Saturday school I would walk to my family home about 10 km away and on Sunday afternoons I would come back to my rented place. Because the road is too steep it would take me less time to get home but over an hour when I was on my way back.


All grade 12 students at my high school had to rent close to school because we had to attend evening classes. After school, I would come back home. I only had to collect water a couple times a week because I had two buckets which I could use. The dam was maybe 1 km away from the house. I would relax for a bit and then be back at school from 6-10pm. We would walk back in the dark but because we were walking in a group we were a bit safer. Most of my hours I spent at school.


I feel so relieved to be finished with school- I always wanted to feel like I did my best and I got good results so I am really happy. I’m the first child to get a distinction at home - and not just one but three. My family was so proud. I was proud of myself too; on top of everything we went through with Covid, I did my best!


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My name is Akhona Xeliweyo. I am from the Eastern Cape. I grew up here at Msukeni location. I have two brothers and one sister. I am a kind person. I am passionate about being successful in life and making my parents very proud of me. My dream is to be a doctor and work near home, maybe in Zithulele Hospital.


At Primary School I was attending Mabehana JSS and High School at Tylenzima. I was staying far away from both schools. It took me 30-40 minutes to walk to school every day and the same to walk home. These were the closest schools for me to go to but it was still very far away. I walked to school with my friends and my younger brother; we would chat to one another on the way. We couldn’t listen to music because we weren’t allowed to take cellphones to school.


I had to wake up at 5 o clock and leave the house at around 6am. My mother would help prepare me to go to school. Sometimes when the electricity was off I would have to fetch water in the river and make a fire to boil the water. The river isn’t too far from the house.


We would finish school at 3 in the afternoon. I had to do some house chores when I got home and make sure that by 5:30 I had finished everything so that I can get back to school at 6pm for evening studies. Evening classes started when we were in grade 11. It was usually only the students at night classes. Sometimes the teachers do attend but not always. We do night classes so that we can study and teach each other what we don’t understand. Evening classes finished at 10pm. It was scary walking home in the dark but we were walking in a crowd of eight so it was not that scary. I would go to sleep and then I would wake up again at 5am the next day to start the journey again. We also had school during the day on Saturdays. There was not much time for fun!


We were not going to school when it was raining because when going to school there is a river that everyone needs to cross and there is no other way. Even the teachers do not come because there is the river that we need to cross to get to school. I was frustrated when I couldn’t go to school. It rains a lot here especially in summer. Luckily it was not raining heavily during our grade 12 exams so we could cross the river.


When schools closed last year during lockdown I was at home. We got work from Axium and the school to do at home. My teachers and Axium helped me a lot. We have electricity so I was able to charge my phone and stay connected on Whatsapp.


I enjoyed school a lot; my favourite part is that when I am at school I learn new things. But I am excited to be finished with school! I am excited to be going into medicine but at the same time I am worried about starting a new life and making new friends.


If I could change one thing about my journey it would be to build that bridge so that learners can cross the river.

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