Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    It was another glum, wet day in Durban, South Africa. If this goes on any longer, I thought, I may start showing symptoms of seasonal affective depression. But today was going to be different for the Marketing ladies of Expand a Sign; we were going on a road trip!

    Giving back is important, now more than ever. Expand a Sign is very conscious of the environmental effects associated with manufacturing, which is why we have committed to our Environmental and Social Responsibility Pledge. In doing our bit for the planet, we are trying to create awareness about recycling but also want to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. Which is why the Marketing gals were headed to King Shaka Secondary School, in Umlazi. We were accompanied by Nontobeko, a project officer for OneVoice.
    OneVoice is a vibrant and unique non-governmental organisation, which uses innovative and creative ways of actively involving young people in HIV and AIDS prevention and Human Rights training. Expand a Sign has donated 15000 school bags, made of the off-cuts of our banners and polyester material to each child who completes a class in AIDS training with OneVoice. Expand a Sign has supported the launch of a small business run by a group of previously unemployed women, working from their own homes, who now sew shopping bags, sports bags and raincoats from our waste fabric.

    As Nontobeko navigated us along the roads towards the school, I took the opportunity to absorb as much of the environment as I could. Makeshift dwellings of mud and corrugated iron were densely spread along the hills, and taxis whizzed past as we followed the dusty streets. At Umlazi’s main intersection, the First and Third world relationship truly made itself known; a KFC takeaway outlet to the right of us and a cage of 20 live chickens for sale, to our left.  

    On arriving at the school, we were guided into a small, dark classroom. Within the four walls sat over 40 Grade 8 learners, all huddled closely together on buckled and broken benches. With no visible learning material or text books, one wonders what quality of an education these children are receiving. This was only half the class; the others had been sent home to study as the desks were needed by the children writing exams. We were there to present each child with a certificate for participation in the OneVoice AIDS awareness programme and to hand out a drawstring bag to each learner. 

    A brief speech from the OneVoice facilitator was followed by names being called and each child going forward to collect their certificate and school bag. Like typical teenagers, loud whoops and cheers were heard for each child as they walked to the front of the classroom. The boys would holler and tease the girls, who would smile shyly at having their picture taken. The sense of pride was obvious, as they all clung to their certificate and compared bag designs. The appreciation from the school Principal and class teacher was immense, which allowed me to be conscious of how beneficial these AIDS training classes and small gifts of school bags really are to the kids. With the current AIDS statistics, I’m sure each child in that classroom has already been touched by the disease in one way or another.

    35 minutes but a world away from Umlazi, I sat at my desk and briefly reflected on the few hours I had just spent. It might be naive to think that we are saving the world, one school bag at a time, but I can only trust that our contributions will help in their own small way.

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