On Wednesday and Thursday this week learners from the AB Xuma Primary School in Orlando, Soweto, and the Umqhele Comprehensive School in Ivory Park, Tembisa ranging from Grade R to Grade 12, were given a winning start to their school year as over 3 200 pairs of school shoes were handed out to them.
This incredible 48-hour drive of hope was driven by Vodacom’s goal to ensure that the economic challenges faced by South African families don’t make their way into the classroom.
“These are two days that will change these children’s lives. They will forever remember it as the day their heroes came and handed them a pair of school shoes. The real power of this partnership is that these are schools that are supported by the Vodacom Foundation so this is not just a once-off but a consistent show to these learners that says we see you, we’re here for you and we believe in you,” said Sitho Mdlalose, Vodacom Chief Executive Officer.
“It’s really special to be a part of these children’s lives and to have the chance to give them a view that life can be better and that there are businesses that care. At Vodacom we believe in going further together, and that life is about partnerships like the ones we have with Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. We wake up every morning and we want to connect South Africa for a better future. We give back to our community because we are a part of our community. That’s the joy we get.”
The principals of both schools were overwhelmed by the support for their learners, many of whom come from the most at risk sectors of society where even a pair of school shoes is beyond their financial reach.
“This is such an important day for us. It brings so much hope to the hopelessness around us. Our kids are so vulnerable. Most of their parents have no work and many of them have lost hope. But when they see a company like Vodacom and their football heroes support them like this, it inspires them,” said Grace Mtetwa, the acting principal of Umqhele Comprehensive School.
“Vodacom has been such a support to us. They have also been assisting us with counselling for our children suffering from social issues. I can confidently say our results are what they are because of Vodacom. We had a 79.5% Matric pass rate last year. Now we have started the new academic year with a smile.”
Ntsiki Mkwanazi, the principal of AB Xuma Primary School, was overcome with emotion as the day brought back memories of the first pair of school shoes she ever received.
“You cannot understand what a pair of school shoes can mean for a child here. I can still remember my first pair given to me in April in 1970. When I crossed the river on my way to school I had to take them off. If it rained I took them off to spare them. Before that I walked barefoot to school in summer and winter. Initiatives like this one remind me that people don’t forget where they come from and they want to give back. They don’t want to see children suffer as they maybe did. They want to make a change.”
For the football stars, it was equally a day they will never forget as many of them returned to the streets where they grew up to give hope to the next generation.
“I come from these streets. I know this neighbourhood having grown up in nearby Tembisa. I know how tough it is here for these learners. So coming back here and being involved in this project also gives me hope. We come from a neighbourhood that is not known for much and with no famous people, and something like this is just so special for these kids,” said Kaizer Chiefs star Happy Mashiane.
It was a message echoed by Orlando Pirates captain Innocent Maela. “It’s a special and humbling experience that we can touch people’s lives in this way. We go through our days so focused on our goals and objectives that we can sometimes lose sight of the small things that can make a massive difference. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces refreshes you and is very heart warming.”
As she received her pair of shoes, Grade 7 learner Refiloe Shuping spoke on behalf of her fellow learners when she said, “This means so much to us. School shoes are very expensive for our parents, and they will be so proud about what Vodacom has done for us.”
For Andisa Ntsubane, Vodacom Managing Executive Brand, Marketing and Sponsorship, it was two days of the company’s core purpose being given expression where it matters most in South Africa.
“Our greatest responsibility is to leave things better than we found them. What better way than to celebrate the future of our country, which is our children. Times are tough and things aren’t easy for families in South Africa.
But when children see that a business like Vodacom and their football heroes do care it’s a powerful partnership. Shoes are that first step to greatness. A learner will now look at their shoes and remember they were handed to him or her by their football hero, and we hope it will be a daily reminder to them to strive to also make something of their lives as their heroes did.”