It was a job within the Department of Education’s Annual National Assessment (ANA) project, among others, that opened her eyes to the needs of primary school learners who struggle with their schoolwork and made her realise that, “our children need help”.
"I found that children in Grade 3 could not count, read, or write their names and surnames, let alone copy from the chalkboard. It pained me and I was disappointed. And right there, I decided that I would make a positive difference to help these children excel,” she recalls.
So, in 2015, after moving back to Limpopo from the Western Cape, Mama took her chances and started her Ubuntu Aftercare Centre in Ga-Marishane Village without letting a lack of facilities or cash deter her. “I'm operating the centre from my two garages with two staffmembers, accommodating learners from our neighbouring schools. The children, currently 54 of them, come directly after their school day to be taught in subjects such as Sepedi, English and Mathematics. We focus on reading, writing and arithmetic as complementary activities that will give them a better understanding of their school work,” she says.
She feels her own education has prepared her to help these learners. Mama holds a master’s degree in Lifelong Education and Training, a postgraduate diploma in HIV and Aids Management and a master’s degree in HIV and Aids Management – all from Stellenbosch University (SU). Her undergraduate degrees (a BA in Pedagogics and a BEd), were obtained at the University of the North and the University of Cape Town respectively. She also studied Methods of Teaching Mathematics at Leeds University in the United Kingdom.
“My parents taught me to make the most of everything in life, so I decided to become a well-rounded academic and that is why I ended up studying at reputable institutions,” she adds.
Mama also has fond memories of her time at SU – first as student and then as staff member. “I received a good education and I was treated with respect by students as well as lecturing staff. Jan Louw and Nomusa Hlogwa taught me computer skills, Prof Chris Kapp introduced me to Connie Park, who helped me with thesis writing, and I am glad to have met Prof Annie Gagiano, who taught me English.
“I became an SU staff member in 2006, when I was appointed deputy residence head at Metanoia – at the time, a newly-built residence for male and female students. That is where my name Mama was born,” she recalls.
"I suppose the students started calling me Mama because of the meals I cooked for them over weekends. In 1984 when studying at Leeds University in the UK, I had first-hand experience of feeling homesick. Then some lecturers made the effort to invite us to lunches and dinners at their homes, which helped a lot, hence I wanted to do the same for the students that I worked with."
Now back in Limpopo province, Mama is determined to find investors to help her make the Ubuntu Aftercare Centre a huge success. She also extends an invitation to international students and social sciences researchers to consider coming to her Centre to do research and learn more. “I am still struggling to find sponsors for structures as well as teaching and learning materials. It’s very hard without backing, but for now I will persevere.”