A close friend of mine, Shonize, is a teacher.
She has taught for twenty plus years, which has led to her developing a keen interest in children, as well as a good understanding of them. Teaching children in a public school has also brought her face to face with poverty, causing a sense of altruism, and gratitude to evolve.
At a supper we recently enjoyed together, she revealed a very interesting incident, that appealed to her altruistic streak. Her children do not attend the school she teaches at, but another, private school. This prestigious school is situated almost next to an informal settlement. As with most of our polarised country, extreme wealth and extreme poverty are next door neighbours.
Shonize was driving her children to school one morning, when she noticed in the veld parallel to the main road leading to the school, the head and shoulders of a little child bobbing up and down above the wild grass in the veld. She was fascinated. The boy was headed in the direction of the private school. Shonizes' curiosity was piqued. South African’s will remember school this year began on a Wednesday.
The next day, once again, en route to her children’s school, she was met by the same sight. By Friday morning, just the third day of the first term, Shonize says, she could barely concentrate on the road. She jokes that her head was virtually out of her window, as her eyes searched the veld for the little boy, just as one does in a wildlife park when trying to spot game.
When Shonize arrived at her children’s school, she waited at the entrance for the tiny child to arrive. The child and his father arrived at the school, with the father carrying his son on his shoulders. Shonize questioned him. She asked him where he lived and if his child was studying at the school. He replied that he lived in the informal settlement alongside the school, and she gathered from his attire that little Muhammad was a ‘Zakaah Child.’
‘Zakaah Children’, as they are commonly termed, are children whose school fees are paid for with Zakaah funds. These funds are used only for school fees, not for the transport required to and from the school, nor for uniforms or allowances.
Shonize was dismayed as she glanced at the little child. While he was wearing the school’s tracksuit jacket, he had on a pair of dirty white tracksuit pants, which wasn’t part of the school’s uniform. Her heart sank. As a teacher herself, she says she knew that despite the child has gained acceptance into the school, he would probably not succeed.
‘Zakaah’ children are unfortunately looked down upon by most other learners, and little Muhammed’s appearance did not put him at an advantage. The small child was not even wearing socks and was wearing a pair of old and tattered takkies. In her words, he was ‘set up for failure.’ Her heart sank. Shonize accompanied the Grade 1 child to his classroom. She met the child’s teacher and discussed his clothing with her. She says in all fairness it was still early days, and that teachers, including herself, generally wait until the end of January, when parents get their salaries, for learners to appear properly attired in the school uniform.
Speaking to the boy’s dad, Shonize gleaned that little Mohammed had to leave home at 6.30 am to arrive at school by 7.20 am. The school bell went at 7.30 am. She wondered what time the little boy had to wake up if he had to be ready to leave for school at 6.30 am. The journey to the school, from the traffic lights at the corner of the informal settlement, which one had to stop at from the direction Shonize was coming from, was approximately just five minutes.
The journey from Mohammed’s house to the school, through the veld alongside the main road, was approximately two kilometres. Little Mohammed had to walk to a halfway mark, after which his dad lifted him onto his shoulders and carried him to school. If his little six-year-old self walked the whole two-kilometre distance, he would arrive at school exhausted. Shonize was appalled. She thought of all the times we simply pass people on foot, whom we know are going in the same direction as us, sometimes even to the same destination.
She realized that we take it for granted that our virtually empty cars are ours, and ours alone. She thought about the hardship to Mohammed’s father, who had to walk the distance every day, his child on his shoulders, and then walk back home again. She thought about how he had to walk back again in the afternoons to fetch his son and make the trek back home again, with Mohammed once again on his shoulders. Allah the Almighty caused her heart to expand, and she made up her mind: she told Mohammed’s father to wait at the traffic lights from the coming Monday each morning at 7:00 am.
Often when we think of Charity or Sadaqah, we associate it with giving money to the poor. Whether it’s the poor teenager begging at the street corner, the old beggar at the door, or an aid organisation, we most often seem to contribute money, food or clothing. Yet the Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi wa Salaam (Peace Be Upon Him) taught us that “Every good deed is charity.”
On Monday morning, Shonize was pleasantly surprised to find little Mohammed, waiting at the traffic lights with his mom now, smartly clad in the school’s tracksuit, despite salary time nowhere in the near future. Pleased, she could see the boy was proud of his dapper appearance, neat and clean. He had an air of newly acquired dignity about him and exuded happiness. Shonize smiled. His teacher had created a miracle over the weekend………
In the coming days, almost Shonize was almost mesmerised to see that the boy kept on pitching up at the traffic lights in different articles of the school’s attire, with new sets of shoes. Mohammed’s teacher had most certainly done her bit to contribute to a positive vibe for the child.
Very pleased, Shonize added to her plan to see the disadvantaged boy ‘set up for Success.’ English was not the child’s home language, so Shonize began making sets of flashcards from words taken from his Grade One readers. Every morning, when her own children left the car, she would keep Mohammed behind for five minutes, teaching him to read the words phonetically. She would test him the next day. Shonize aimed to improve both his reading and spelling. Just a five-minute investment in the child’s life……. she says after the first set of words, she was no longer met with the sight of Mohammed hopping, and skipping, and running around in circles, as very little children love to do. The boy was sitting solemnly on the pavement, waiting for her, at the traffic lights, learning his words.
Despite me feeling inspired, and touched by my friend’s story, the best part for me, was when Shonize mentioned, that now, when the teacher wants to complain about Mohammed not having done his homework, or for whatever other reason, she Whatsapps Shonize to say, “Please bring Mohammed’s mom to school tomorrow!”
Umm Muhammed Umar