Windermere High School in Kensington is a derelict, forlorn looking place, behind whose grim facade more than 600 learners struggle to succeed.
Policemen guard the entrance in the morning, and body searches for weapons are the order of the day. The library is poorly stocked and assemblies are held in the quad as the school has no hall.
Despite these trying conditions, rays of hope shine through.
Three students, particularly, have decided to succeed in the face of adversity. All are part of Saturday School, an education project run by the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO), UCT's student-run NGO. SHAWCO works to improve the quality of life among developing communities within the Cape Metropolitan area and runs a number of projects to assist students with their studies.
Shamielah Reid (grade 12), Lindani "Theo" Luningo (grade 11) and Aaliyah Agouhaar (grade 9) saw major improvements in their results last year, after joining the SHAWCO programme.
"SHAWCO taught me maths and helped me understand what they were saying in class," says Agouhaar . "I can't wait to go back every day this year". Last year this quiet teen got four As and two Bs, and she hopes to improve.
Reid says being part of the SHAWCO programme made a significant difference to her marks too. "The SHAWCO people helped me to focus in the areas where I was battling," she says.
Luningo's marks have also improved and he says attending SHAWCO lessons is far better than studying alone. He wants to be a doctor when he leaves school and is determined to stay in the programme until the end of grade 12. Teacher Sadia Bester, who also acts as the link between SHAWCO and the school, says she is very grateful for the help her students are receiving. "There are lots of challenges at Windermere, but the hard work and commitment of the students involved in the SHAWCO programme is wonderful to see."
Headmaster Craig Leets says when a school like Windermere is offered help by an organisation like SHAWCO, "we have to grasp it with both hands".
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