16 March 2017

Our school, St Edmund Arrowsmith Catholic High School, has a partnership school in Soweto, South Africa called the Donaldson Senior Primary School. As a school, we do a lot to help our partnership school and do lots of fundraising to help make the pupils lives better.

To find out more about the Donaldson Senior Primary School, and what it is like for pupils in Soweto, we interviewed Mr. Dumican, our school’s headteacher, as he has visited the school.

Firstly, Mr. Dumican, thank you for allowing us to interview you today about our partnership school in Soweto.

You’re welcome.

So, how did the partnership begin?

Well, it began when I was working at a school in Widnes and I went to a meeting where all schools from that authority were looking for partner schools in very deprived areas of Africa. I went along to the meeting and it was something that instantly grabbed my attention. I had seen images on TV of the townships and it really interested me. So, I put my name down and then I got a phone call about four or five weeks later form the school’s headteacher, Jabu, and that was, unbelievably, nearly 15 years ago. After that phone call we instantly became friends. So that is how it all started, just from going to a meeting.

We know you visited Soweto. What was it like?

It is very different from our school. They live in very difficult circumstances. Their houses are only what I can describe as a garage. I went into some of the houses and they had only one room and if they are lucky, two rooms, a living and an area where they sleep. There are children who aren’t as lucky as that and I can only describe their houses as a big shed. Eight foot by six foot, made of wood, no running water, no electricity, no heating. Their school is very much like a traditional primary school, even though they have 680 pupils. All brick buildings - all quite big and spacious.They have grass, shrubbery, flowers and trees. They have so much pride in their school, they love going to school. When I first went I couldn’t believe it because when I was in Jabu’s car to get to the school, we passed the pupils walking to school. They were all clicking, swaying and singing traditional Zulu music. 

Africa is a very tribal place and our partner school is a Zulu school. The school is four big buildings and it leaves a huge quadrangle in the middle. They all join in the lines in the quadrangle and they carry on clicking, swaying and singing. Then, when Jabu comes out into the quadrangle, he goes on to the porch at the front of school and he starts clicking, swaying and singing. Then all the teaching staff go behind him and they all start clicking, swaying and singing and they are all so joyous. Whilst they were singing there were probably about twelve or so pupils taken out of the form lines by teachers. I really noticed it as they were singing as they didn’t look well. Once they had finished I said to Jabu, “What was happening there?” and he  said, “Some of them only eat when they’re in school. Some of them don’t eat from the afternoon meal on Friday, so when they come in on Monday morning, they faint.” The school actually looks very similar, but in terms of what their experience is, it is very different.

You mentioned where they slept. What kind of thing did they sleep on?

Well, they all have beds, but it is very unusual in Soweto to have your own bed. They sleep about six in a double bed and in a single bed about three. There are lots of rich places in South Africa and that is what is very difficult to understand. Soweto is a township around the size of London. Then you have also got a place called Johannesburg, which is also the size of London, right next door to Soweto. Johannesburg is one of the richest cities in the world. So you’ve got the unbelievable skyscrapers and hundreds and thousands of houses and cars in one township, and right next door you have got unbelievable poverty.

What does the money we raise do to help our partner school?

We have done a lot over the years to help them. One of the things we have done is improve some of their floors. Pupils were falling over going into class because they had six or seven inch potholes in their floor,  so we fixed that. We have paid for a kitchen about seven or eight years ago and we help them with the eating program - giving each pupil meals. We provide each pupil with a pen, pencil and ruler and I can’t tell you how proud and grateful they are. Plus, in 2015 we paid for three staff members and six pupils to visit our school.

Thank you, Sir, for your time. We have learned a lot.

Thank you for coming asking me questions about our partner school. I love talking about our partner school because hopefully, if people hear about the situation they are in, it will make them a little more grateful for what they have got.

Overall, Mr. Dumican taught us three things:

The pupils in Soweto live in harsh conditions.Be proud of our education.Be more grateful for what we have.

Everyone in Soweto is very poor, but they all love going to school and spending time with their family, something we all take for granted. We think that everyone can be more grateful for what they have, and that we can all learn something useful from Mr Dumican.

by Layla and Charlotte, Year 7