Issued by Staff writer: Joan Hendricks
Meet Natasha Africa, a teacher from Worcester, who is on a mission to help a group of 17 disadvantaged students fly off to Belgium where they were invited to partake in a “Piekeling Festival.”
Africa has reached out to her community and businesses to support the worthy cause and help make the children’s dream come true. With only 3 weeks to go, they are desperately in need of support. We caught up with her and asked her to tell us more about the Festival, how the school was invited to attend and how anyone can help.
1. Please tell us more about yourself – what do you teach, what school you’re at and how long have you been teaching.
A: I am a teacher at a high school in Worcester for the past 15 years now. I started out as an Arts & Culture teacher for grades 8 and 9 but over the years, I have taught Maths, Dramatic Arts (grades 8-11) as well as Dance Studies grade 8.
As a teacher you need to be versatile, so if you are given a learning area to teach out of your field, you need to swim! Currently I am teaching Creative Arts (Drama), History grade 9 and Afrikaans grade 8. I am really passionate about being a teacher, despite of all the daily challenges we need to face. To know you have made a difference in the learners’ lives is what makes my heart beats warm.
2. Tell us more about the Tour de Belgium trip and what it entails.
A: Tour de Belgium was sort of born in 2013, when a delegate from Belgium visited the school on the last day of the final term. I remember that everyone was in a hurry to leave for the holiday. Because I am the Head of the Cultural Committee, I had to stay with the Deputy Principal to receive them.
We took them on a little tour around the school seeing we specialise in the Arts (Drama, Dance, Music and Visual Arts). That was the start of it all. 2014, our school were the host of about 30+ adults from a dancing & flag-waving group from Alst in Belgium, called ALKUONE.
The Cultural Outreach was formed and our learners and their group exchanged the different forms of cultural dances in the respective forms and styles. In 2016, a group of our drama and dance learners were invited to perform in Alst with the Alkuone group. The group was about 17 learners.
For all of us, myself included, who joined them as the Head Co-ordinator, it was the first time getting on a plane travelling outbound! I know this was a life changing experience for all of us. We had much challenges with organising the tour but we made it. So, this year, 2019, we are invited again to partake in the Piekeling Festival, where our Rieldancers and our Contemporary Dancers will be performing.
3. What are the obstacles that you are facing trying to get the kids to go? What is needed?
A: So far, we faced quite a lot of obstacles. We have single parents or one parent working. We are a group of 17 again. In today’s economy, we all struggle. Travelling abroad is quite expensive but I always believe you can make it possible. It’s quite a lot of hard work, teeth grinding, stressful times organising and all that comes with it. When you set foot on the plane as well to set foot on soil not known to you, especially for the kids that are just used to living in their own little box or world. For them it’s a life-changing, out-of-this-world experience.
They are rehearsing to showcase their talent outside our town and that to start with are already a great achievement. We had some fund-raising functions. We knocked on doors of various people and businesses but you know, one gets out of options when the doors are slammed in your face. I am not one to give up easily when I know how much a difference it can make it someone’s life.
We still need a lot, we still have tracksuits, t-shirts and caps that we plan to make for the group as well as sort out gratuity gifts for our host families. We are also working on our costumes. We are positive that somewhere we will get help. We are not sitting fingers folded doing nothing, everyone is doing what they can to achieve this. We can’t expect everything to fall in our laps. Time is of the essence and we still have to apply for our visa. We will be going to the Consulate on 3 July. We are lucky to have our contacts in Belgium to walk with us through every step. We are really thankful for every one of them that side.
4. On a personal level, why do you feel so strongly about this trip and what will it mean to the children if they get to go?
A: I am not someone to start something and just drop it because it gets hard. I have come a long way with Belgium. 2016 was such an honour to be there. I want these learners to experience what I did when I was there. I want them to see that despite not having both parents, not having everything on a gold platter, there are a life out there. Most of them have to face a lot of social challenges, peer pressure, the rights and wrongs in life.
It’s not right that most of them have to endure such heaviness in life when they are only kids. They need to enjoy their life with responsibility and who better than an adult who has been through just as much to help them? I see what our kids going through daily. I see how much pain they have when they try to reach out for help in their way. I, personally, had much hardships to endure in life growing up in the same community where they live in, that is why I know that one day they will look back and will never forget this tour and all we had to face to get there.
5. How can people help the cause?
A: Because our time is so limit, we need every help there can be. I have started a Backabuddy campaign where they can donate money. That campaign is only active for a week now. Any donations will only be made available after a month, then we will be well on our way.
At the moment we are really depending on cash donations. We have only 3 weeks left and still loads to do. I know people will ask, why NOW… yes, we had our time since last year but we had some logistical issues at school that needed to be sorted out.
6. Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Only that I want to thank everyone behind the scenes. The school secretary assisting me with the red tape and admin, the dance teacher and all those helping with the choreography. All those who helped so far. with donations/sponsor a big big and heartfelt THANK YOU. We really appreciate everything. With your help we could move forward.