The evolution of Amasango Career School in Grahamstown is astonishing. What began as a non-governmental organization operating from two shipping containers, is now a registered special needs school for street children.
Amasango is situated in Victoria Road, Oatlands, on the periphery of the Grahamstown’s operating society. Driving in through a dusty, brown, untarred road filled with potholes and puddles, the dedicated motor vehicles of educators are parked outside. Located opposite a deserted railway station, the initial two faded blue shipping containers of Amasango symbolises their history.
Amasango Career School offers accelerated bridging education for street children and marginalized poor children by helping them to reach mainstream education. It offers Grade One to Seven education for learners ranging from ages six to nineteen.
The institution was founded in April 1996 by former principal, Jane Bradshaw. Bradshaw was approached by a priest from East London to start a school for street children as a means to combat the plaguing issue of child neglecting and street children in Grahamstown. The school started as a non-governmental organization and years later, the Department of Education was approached and the school was registered as a special needs school.
“The school is a special school for children with extrinsic barriers to learning or psycho social problems,” current principal Linda Ngamlana explains. Seated in her overcrowded, small office she continues, “They are coming from the poorest of the poor backgrounds,”
Amasango Career School has a rehabilitative function in Grahamstown. It offers to rehabilitate youth who have lost hope. Not only does the school equip this youth with skills and meals but it gives them a sense of belonging. The school plays a decisive role in society by sharing society’s values, shaping its views, regulating behaviour and bringing about change in the community. Since the school opened, there has been a gradual decrease in youth drug consumption which corresponds with a decrease in crime committed by the youth.
Amasango Career School offers intervention for Grahamstown which is rampaged by poverty and unemployment. Grahamstown has an astonishing unemployment rate of 70% and one of the highest levels of poverty in South Africa.
Challenges that Amasango faces
On arrival, a vast majority of the students are drug dependent and victims of abuse. Due to lack of funding, the school does not have an established therapy or counselling centre nor psychologists. At the moment, the school utilizes district social worker who have the issue of long-awaited lists. “As educators it is difficult to counsel leaners because of the background,” Ngamlana states with concern.
Amasango Career School has been seeking adequate school infrastructure for years. Local Grahamstown resident and cab driver, Andre expresses his frustration on the lack of infrastructure, “The infrastructure does not allow the children to develop and it is not encouraging,”. Eight years after the initial application and appeals with the help of the Legal Resource Centre to the Department of Education, the school does not have permanent facilities. Gradual progress can be seen as there are no longer overcrowded classrooms, there is a library, a kitchen and an art class.
The school supplies the children with uniform, electricity money and food parcels. They receive parcels and donations from the Friends of Amasango charity fund in the United Kingdom. The Department of Education funds tuition, transportation and provides a nutrition programme.
“But that is not enough,” Ms Ngamlana says.
There is a dire need for intervention from the community of Grahamstown and Rhodes University. Students and local business are called to help Amasango. The school wishes to produce more successful students this year.