Education is a human right but sometimes accessing education is easier said than done, and could be impossible if families do not have the correct papers for each child to attend or if their legal status is called into question. Thankfully the Three2Six Children’s Refugee Education Project in Johannesburg, South Africa provides a bridging education for 275 primary school refugee children. While the South African Constitution protects the right of all children to enjoy an education, in reality many refugee children are refused access to local schools.
Approximately 275 refugee children aged 5 – 13 years benefit from this education project without which none would be in school. Three2Six employs refugee teachers and provides three hours of class per day, utilising existing host school facilities. Lessons focus on literacy and numeracy, with some life skills and exposure to other curriculum areas during annual holiday programs. The project also provides safe transport, uniforms, textbooks and one meal per day for each child.
“I am an Australian and I got involved when I was working in Johannesburg six years ago. I am passionate about refugee issues and also education and when I first visited this project I was immediately hooked,” says Development Coordinator Rebecca Bromhead.
“I’ve come back every year since to run the annual Three2Six Holiday Programme, which is a lot of fun but more importantly provides the children with exposure to different curriculum areas and also gives them a creative and safe way to share their voice and experiences,” says Rebecca, “I recently moved back to Johannesburg to work with Three2Six full time to help expand the programme, thanks to funding from the Australian Government for my position.”
“These children are not only able to integrate academically into mainstream schools, but they leave us with confidence, energy and also with a deep desire to contribute to their communities. I believe these children will be tomorrow’s leaders.”
There is also a Coordinator or Administrator at each of the three campuses, and five full time volunteers. Volunteers come from Australia, Germany and Brazil. There are also three adult South African volunteers who assist with mentoring the teachers and coordinating a library program. High School volunteers also join the classes and in particular the holiday programs as part of their community service commitments.
This project was set up by Sacred Heart College, which is part of the Southern Africa Province of the Marist Brothers. Sacred Heart College is a Marist school with a strong commitment to community service and social justice. In 2008, it recognised the challenges being faced by refugee children in the local area and stepped forward to provide a solution. Since then it has been helping refugee children catch up on their learning and then integrate into local mainstream school options.
In South Africa, there is a very big issue with racism. This project engages the local South African community with refugee children, building relationships, understanding and trust. We also support the wider refugee community through the provision of support to the children and families of Three2Six. This may include social work support, referal to employment programs, referals to legal support and building the resilience of children.
The change in our Three2Six students is incredible. As they move though our project, they grow in their language and reasoning skills, reaching a level of competency that equals that of students in local government schools. Even more importantly, is their increased confidence and capacity to engage within and between their communities.
To reinforce these incredible results, Three2Six is currently making plans to start tracking the progress of students more formally through two initiatives:
1. Tracking students after they integrate into mainstream schooling and seeing how they cope academically and psycho-socially. There is anecdotal evidence that indicates they cope extermely well, often surpassing their new peers, and data would be great to back this up.
2. Developing a resilience scale, inspired by the KIPP GRIT scale as a model. Students will be measured upon entering the program and throughout until they graduate.
Photo caption: Learners from the Three2Six Refugee Children’s Education Project at Sacred Heart College show off some of their recent artworks. Photo: Three2Six.