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Lymm High School: Spreading the “Sense of Community” across Continents

Our sense of ‘community’ transcends national boundaries. We have taken a conventional school twinning project and transformed it into a international project for the whole community. The result is a complex and innovative scheme that is having a massive impact on students and adults on two continents.

Warrington hit the national headlines for the wrong reasons in 2007 when Gary Newlove was killed by a teenage gang outside his home. Through this project our students play a positive role in their community and we achieve greater levels of community cohesion. Warrington is also one of the least ethnically diverse parts of the UK. Its population is 97.9% white (1). By working with the population of the Mdantsane township, we break down prejudices, challenge stereotypes and enhance cultural understanding and mutual respect.(2)

We make a huge difference to the South African part of our community team. Mdantsane is the second largest township in South Africa, and its inhabitants face economic and social deprivation (3). Our main focus has been to support Qhasana High. Exam results in 2008 represented an improvement of over 20% since our communities started to support each other. Self-belief and a more positive ethos has developed now that the Mdantsane community knows that Warrington’s people are committed to them. (4)

We have strong involvement from four local UK primaries with the local primaries that support Qhasana (5). We provide sessions for UK primary staff and student councils, and run assemblies and provide communication channels to the township. The UK primaries work with us to fundraise for their township partners. All schools work together on joint educational projects. In July 2008 we enabled two primary teachers to visit Mdantsane – something they could not have done alone. These teachers conducted initial literacy work and teacher training with the staff at the three Mdantsane primaries.

Our local Rotary Club and its partner in the Eastern Cape became key players in 2008. With them we equipped and staffed the first ever library and adult education centre at Qhasana Secondary. (6)

Warrington ASDA are one example of the wide range of businesses, church groups and local charities who have backed our project (7). After over 50 fundraising events, our community raised over £30,000 in 2008 alone.

Our community contribute towards a scholarship scheme that creates aspirations at Qhasana by paying the annual school fees of the top ten high-achieving students in each year group. We provide the resources for an employment scheme for parents in Mdantsane based on manufacture of beadwork. This year we also provided ‘Jungle Gyms’ for the Mdantsane primaries who previously had no sports equipment. During 2008 we have engaged Warwick University (8) in our project and they are helping provide vocational education in Mdantsane.

By community outreach in South Africa (9) we provide year round support via resources, exam preparation and literacy support. The latter is vital for staff and students whose first language is Xhosa, but who must teach, study and sit exams in English. We are proud to have made a substantial difference to the Mdantsane disabled younth centre too (10).

Having gained the knowledge, skills and inspiration to become active citizens, any students supporting Qhasana also commit to helping in our own community (11). Consequently, these students support Round Table in raising funds for the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust, students are volunteering at Cotebrook Centre for disabled adults, and many students helped run soup kitchens and deliver food parcels to families and individuals in distress for the Warrington Open Door at Christmas project.

  1. From 2001 census.
  2. Examples of work by students in these areas such as the ‘Little Miss Lymm & Qhasana’ project and the Eye-to-Eye project available on request.
  3. In the Mdantsane area, over 10% of adults have never been to school and nearly 60% of people have not completed secondary education. Around one third of adults are unemployed. More than 70% of the local population earns less than the household subsistence level (R1 500 / £103 a month). Only 18% of people are able to save anything after they have paid for basic expenses. About 57% of people say they are worried that they, or someone close to them, might be infected with HIV/AIDS. Local residents believe that their three most serious day-to-day problems are: crime (68%), unemployment (58%) and poverty (20%). Qhasana High school is itself severely lacking in resources with which to improve the life chances of its students. (Data from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Rhodes University.)
  4. “They used to say that I was just useless because I was just a boy. It used to be that when you left Grade 12 you just stayed in the village. Now they can see that if you work hard you can achieve things. Now we have dreams because of you.”

    – Vuyo and Yolisa, Year 12 Afritwin Students Qhasana High. Interview on DVD available on request.

  5. Oughtrington, Ravenbank, Statham and Cherry Tree each contribute to support Thandulwazi, Sakikhaya and Khayalethu in Mdantsane. In 2008 we also brought George Randall and Kuswag primaries into this partnership. These are more developed schools in East London (SA) who can help with teacher training in Mdantsane all year round.

    “Thank you Lymm High. The project is inspirational.”

    – Sally Riley, Oughtrington Primary

    “The pupils of the High School act as superb role models for the primary pupils, their enthusiasm motivates and models good citizenship.”

    – Sue Cameron, Lymm community Primary schools co-ordinator.

  6. This has been achieved via a joint bid to Rotary International which secured over £10,000 of funding. DVD featuring images of the opening day of the library / adult ed centre available on request.
  7. Amongst other events they held an ‘Afritwin Challenge Day’ as part of our community outreach education work where Ms Myema, Yolisa and Vuyo from Mdantsane were able to talk to the ASDA staff and the general public about their perspective of the project.
  8. Our students continue to play an active role when they leave us. During 2008 one of our ex Y13s secured the co-operation of Warwick University in our partnership. Funding from Warwick University is now being used to create a vital vocational route for Qhasana’s students via Buffalo City FET college and John Knox College. The college offers work placements on all courses, and a good record of students finding employment at the end of the course. Without our involvement, students would not be able to pay the deposits needed to get on these courses.
  9. Tyger Valley College and Woodhill College joined our existing partners The Glen in 2008.
  10. There is a centre for young people with disabilities in Mdantsane, but it was in a scandalous state of disrepair and was not really fit for purpose. It had been allocated a grant for renovation, but the funds had ‘disappeared’. Together, our community coalition were able to persuade the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate this issue. In the short term, we have provided resources and an access ramp to enable students to enter their building without having to leave their wheelchairs and crawl up steps.
  11. We have designed our own Afritwin Challenge Award (intended to be on a par with DoE Gold) which entails a requirement for a substantial element (72 hours) of ‘service’ to one’s own community.

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