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JOHANNESBURG — Stories from the Partners for Possibility (PfP) programme continue to amaze me. Listening to this interview with Mediclinic ICT Ops Manager, Deon Myburgh, you’ll realise how solutions to South Africa’s education crisis lie with better, more cohesive partnerships with different stakeholders in society. We can improve education in this country, we just need the will do so. And we don’t need to wait for politicians to come to the party. Take a listen to Deon’s story with Cloetesville High School in the Western Cape. – Gareth van Zyl
It’s a pleasure to welcome Deon Myburgh who is the manager for ICT Operations at Mediclinic Southern Africa. Deon, you’ve partnered with the ‘Partners for Possibility Programme’ (PfP). Can you tell us about how this came about and which school you’re helping?
Thank you very much, Gareth. It’s been a fantastic journey and it came about where Mediclinic, for the first time, agreed this year to participate and be part of the Partners for Possibility programme. I was approached by our executive from our HR department and our CSI Committee and asked if I would be prepared to participate in this programme. I’m very passionate about education and I’m very passionate about helping underprivileged people and schools so, I was extremely keen to find a platform like this to get involved.
Based on this, I was put forward as a business leader, on behalf of Mediclinic, on the Partners for Possibility programme. After meeting with our leadership facilitator for the region from Partners for Possibility, I was partnered with the principal Mr Dorian Meyer from Cloetesville High School. Cloetesville High School is a school in quite an underprivileged community in the Stellenbosch area.
Can you tell us more about the school in particular? What challenges have they faced and what challenges did you see when you first partnered with them?
Yes, so one of the first challenges that I saw at the school is that obviously it is in a community that is quite ridden with gangster activity. It is a community where approximately 60% of the community earn less than R70 000 per annum and 11% actually record no earnings. It is quite an impoverished community, so safety is one of the biggest challenges that we came across with the likes of gangsters that target the school. There’s also drug abuse among the learners and a very low percentage of parents that actually pay school fees. It’s also an area where there’s high unemployment and poverty. So, these were significant challenges that I found when I partnered with the school. Also, the fact that less than 5% of matric students go on to study further is another challenge.
So, how did all of that make you feel when you saw it? You really have interacted with the coalface of the South African education system and it has its challenges, clearly?
It certainly does, Gareth, and I must tell you it was extremely humbling. It’s been such a wonderful experience but it is truly humbling and I was quite moved by seeing the challenges that these schools face on a day-to-day basis. I think that it also made me realise that the support that these schools need is not forthcoming, and that was what was so appealing and wonderful about the Partners for Possibility programme is that, as a business leader, I firmly believe and as a corporate citizen, as well as an individual, we all have an obligation to the education system within SA.
It’s not as easy as just blaming the Department of Education. It’s what can we, as citizens and as organisations, do to make a difference in the education of our learners? These are the future leaders of our country, the future leaders of our community and by engaging and being able to provide support to these schools was, to me, really moving. It’s been extremely humbling and the first engagement, when meeting the teachers, when meeting with students the School Governing Body, you just realise that the challenges that these schools face are really quite significant. It makes you realise how fortunate you are but, yet, what struck me the most was that despite all of these challenges, these principals of these schools and the teachers are positive. They’ve got a positive outlook and they are so appreciative of everything that one does for them. So, it has really been a very humbling experience for me, and the engagement has changed my outlook with regard to education in our country.
Just briefly, what have you managed to help them with so far? Can you give us some practical examples?
We set up a school improvement project plan – the principal and myself, at the beginning of our engagement. We categorised this into the main areas that we were going to focus on. So, one of the first things that we did was to address issues around security. How do we secure the school? How do we ensure the safety of the learners and the teachers, because teachers cannot teach and learners cannot learn in an unsafe environment when they are fearful. So, I approached a number of organisations and Mediclinic as well as one of my other suppliers, TCM, sponsored funds towards installing a fence, a clear-view fence, as well as building a portion of the wall closed so that we can secure the school to keep the gangster activity out of the school. This keeps the teachers and parents safe. I’m happy to say that the installation is in process. That was one of the first things that we had to address.
The next thing we had to address was: how do we encourage and create hope for these learners to go and study further? How do we help them see beyond their current circumstances? What we did is that we then hosted a two-day career expo. This career expo, with a lot of help from resources and ambassadors within Mediclinic, is where we went to the school for two days. We showcased around 40 careers. We focused on careers within Mediclinic and people often think that we, as Mediclinic, are purely an organisation in the medical and clinical environment and that we only have doctor and nurses. But we also have most disciplines that every other large corporate company has.
The entire day was based on ‘Dare to Dream’ and this was to try and inspire the students. We had representatives of about 40 different career paths where we had motivational speakers as well. We had goodie-bags and all of this was sponsored by suppliers and by Mediclinic. In the afternoon, we asked the parents to come through so, we focused on Grade 9-12. We had two very successful days. We covered 148 learners in Grade 12, 199 learners in Grade 11, and 239 learners in Grade 9.
What we also did during this expo is to follow it on with job-shadowing. We got feedback from the students after the two-day expo, as well as the ambassadors from Mediclinic that were there to cover all these different career paths. Our goal, as I said here, was to show them that there is hope. You can dare to dream, and even for students that may not have maths and science, there are opportunities for them. We focused very much on the entire campaign of ‘Dare to Dream.’ This was extremely successful. We had fantastic media coverage. We had coverage on multiple websites. We had our marketing department with our producers that actually did a video. It was an extremely well attended day.
It was a wonderful story as a lucky draw by one our suppliers sponsored five students’ school fees paid for the next year. Emotional stories came out during that day. For one of the students who was drawn, his mother had come through to the school and embraced the principal in tears because she was a single parent and she had just lost her job. So, just to see the impact that we can have on peoples’ lives and on these learners’ lives (was immense).
Another wonderful story that I need to share is that there was a student that was chosen for hockey nationals, a Grade 10 student called Lakisha. She was chosen and she came from a single parent, from a very poor home, and the principal asked gave me the invoice for her to go to Pietermaritzburg to participate in the hockey nationals. Obviously, she couldn’t afford it, so, Mediclinic sponsored the money. But before we sponsored it, the principal called me to say that the mother had passed away that morning. So, here was this student that had lost both her parents and a few days thereafter I had secured the funds from Mediclinic and she went to the hockey nationals. She wrote me a heart-warming, heart-felt two-paged letter. She was chosen as the best goalkeeper in her age group. Boland came third, whom she represented, and she’s now being chosen to be part of the National Hockey Team. So, we may actually see a future Springbok hockey player.
That was really moving and really emotional to see that we could make a different, and what made it even more worth it. She was also one of the top 5 academic achievers in Grade 10. That was really a wonderful initiative and a difference that we could make in someone’s life. We further tackled classroom upgrades where we upgraded the ICT classroom. In addition, we provided full CPR and first-aid training for 11 educators, which took place over two days and this was done by ER24, which is part of Mediclinic. We donated a lot of chairs for the staff room and we upgraded the learners’ toilets. I think another great story to share is that 14 of the 18 toilets for the girls were actually not working and in complete disrepair. One of my suppliers sponsored money and we upgraded the toilets at the school.
It’s pretty incredible these stories that you’ve told us, but what happen after this programme? Does this programme continue indefinitely or is there a point at which you have to step away and let the school take control again? How does that work?
So, the Partners for Possibility Program is officially a 12-month programme during which we go through formal training. We’ve had three workshops but even although this is a 12-month formal process we will continue with the school. I found that this first year has been the beginning. It’s the springboard for our future with the school. It is very evident and it is my strategy that we will continue with Cloetesville High School for a number of years. However, I must say, what has been fantastic about the programme is that you’re networking with people, and I think it’s important to understand that principals are not there to be changed, they are there to be supported.
What has really benefited the school as well as equipping the principal with contacts to help him. But this is just the beginning. This exciting project has been so positive and it’s affected so many people, like our ambassadors that were at the career day. And we have decided to include education as one of our CSI strategies – I presented our projects to our combined exco at Mediclinic and they were extremely impressed with it and fully supported it. So, I have the support of our CEO of International as well as our CEO of SA. So, we see this going as a long-term relationship.
Deon, just as the last question, looking more broadly at the PfP Program, what message would you have for other businesses looking to get involved and why should they get involved with a programme like this?
I think it’s our responsibility as citizens and as corporate companies or any company to improve education within our country. We know it’s in crisis. Partners for Possibility is one of the best programmes. It’s the most well organised programme that has the most fantastic support and does such amazing work. I would advise every company to really get involved with this programme. This programme does not only benefit the principals and the schools, but it also benefits the business leader. I have learnt so much and grown so much during this journey. I would say to any company that is listening that we all want to help people. Partners for Possibility is the absolute, perfect platform for you, as an individual, and as a company to make a difference in education within our country.
Deon, thank you so much for chatting to me today. It’s been fascinating finding out about your experience with PfP and it will be good to catch up again, in the future, about how more progress has gone?
Fantastic, thank you Gareth and thank you very much for the opportunity to speak about this exciting project.