Frantz Fanon tells us “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity”. Sikelela Zumana is a young man who seems not only to have discovered his mission in life, but is also fulfilling it. Though Sikelela Zumana describes himself “as an ordinary village boy”, upon conversing with him it becomes clear that his is indeed no ordinary village boy.
He speaks to Gcobani Qambela, YouthHub Africa’s South Africa’s correspondent this week about growing up in rural South Africa, why he left the financial services sector to form the Non-Profit Organisation, Amanzi Education Network, the challenges and triumphs in his incredible and bold work in working to be “the voice for all the forgotten poor rural kids” and so much more.
Q: Please tell me about yourself – who is Sikelela Zumana?
A: I always describe myself as an ordinary village boy. I was born in Tsembeyi village, South Africa. My father was a school teacher and a political activist. I was raised mainly by my mother who was a single parent since my father passed away when I was 15 years. I’ve got two brothers and a huge extended family.
I grew up in Tsembeyi village which is 60 kilometres from Queenstown, a former English colonial town in South Africa. I did my primary school at Thembelihle Primary School and my High school at Kwa-Komani High School both in Queenstown. After graduating from high school I went and studied Internal Auditing at Vaal Triangle Technikon (which is now VUT ). After that I worked in the financial services industry for a couple of years before going on to work in the non-government sector.
Q: In 2011, you founded the non-profit organisation, Amanzi Education Network. Tell us about Amanzi?
A: Amanzi is an organisation that focuses strictly on the empowerment of rural children through education and sport, although our main focus is education as we believe it is the key out of poverty.
There were a number of factors that motivated me. The first, being that, I was one of the few privileged kids that went to township schools which were much better than village schools. This opportunity exposed me to the deep inequalities and the huge gap between rural and urban schools.
Secondly, my passion for education and youth development in general as crazy as it may sound is because I’ve always had this idea or dream that one day I would win the lottery and come back and invest in my village with the major focus on education and sport, but I soon realised that it was nothing but a fantasy. So I started toying with the idea of starting an organization that will focus on helping poor children achieve their goals. Also the fact that most of the schools in my village were built by the community from their own pockets through community savings and fundraising schemes is proof that as much as we come from an uneducated and poor community our parents want us to be educated.
Lastly, the other thing that motivated me to start the organisation is the fact that rural communities are often the most forgotten areas in our country (South Africa) and this thus triggered the birth of Amanzi.
The mission of Amanzi therefore is to empower rural children through education and also break the cycle of poverty. We aim to level the playing fields in our education system and also encourage and help corporations to invest in rural education. We want to see rural children having the same facilities and getting to the same opportunities as their urban counterparts. We want to see rural schools that also have computer and science labs, fully stocked libraries, textbooks, quality and dedicated teachers and so on.
We operate from a home office in our village Tsembeyi. There are two fulltime volunteers including myself and a lot of other people that offer a hand whenever they can. I also work closely with the surrounding schools, the principals and community leaders as well.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you have been encountering in your work?
A: The lack of financial support and resources in general are some of the major problems. Furthermore there is also the negative attitude that some school principals at local schools have towards external help. We have also encountered a number of problems with government officials, business people, and community members who also have negative and pessimistic attitude towards developmental issues.
Q: What have been some of the highlights / success stories of the network thus far?
A: We’ve had a number of successes.
We’ve placed a lot of children that come from disadvantaged families into tertiary institutions. It’s rewarding to see kids that their families never dreamed would access tertiary education doing so. The huge success of the 2012 matric class of our adopted High school Mzamo was also a major success of 2012.
Furthermore the growth of sport and the change in the attitude towards education in our area has also been notable. We have also managed to convince and advise a lot of high school drop outs to go back to the schooling system whether through Further Education and Training (FET) colleges or back to their respective high schools to finish their high school matriculation certificates.
Lastly, the installation of computers in our local junior secondary school has also been an important achievement.
But for me personally my highlight is meeting people on the streets telling me that they love what I do and I must keep it up. Also the respect and sense of appreciation from the parents whose kids we have helped always touches me deeply, alongside with the benefit of just working with children being just so fulfilling.
Q: What are some of the things you need the most to help keep the Network running?
A: There are a number of things that we need. Firstly, there are the normal working equipment such as laptops, projectors, printers and other day to day office material. Because we work in a rural setting, transport becomes a major issue as our job also includes a lot of travelling and transporting the learners as well to sport matches, career fairs and so on. Lastly, it would also help if we had proper full time staff and an operational budget to work with.
Q: What is your dream for the Network?
A: Firstly, I would like Amanzi to be a proper fully fledged organization that has capacity to help all rural children in the entire Southern Africa; to be the voice of all the forgotten poor rural kids that are struggling daily out there. We must be able to help a kid in Lusikisiki at the same time listen to that kid in Giyani.
Q: Thank you! And where can people get hold of you?
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