St. Matthews Heritage Fest 2014

Book Exchange Cements Schools’ Bond

Real-life Stories: Somila Tyobela, from St Matthews School in Keiskammahoek, shows excited St Andrews Preparatory School pupils the Xhosa books she wrote and illustrated with her friends, during a handover ceremony in Grahamstown yesterday. Picture: David MacGregor

Three heart-warming Xhosa books written and illustrated by pupils from a rural Eastern Cape school have been donated to a posh Grahamstown primary school.

Handed over on the manicured lawns of St Andrew’s Preparatory School yesterday by St Matthew’s Mission School students from rural Keiskammahoek, the books — which now occupy pride and place in the library — are a symbol of the deep roots the schools share.

Explaining the unique relationship between the schools — both opened in 1855 by the Anglican Church — St Andrew’s community engagement head, Tim Barnard, said although they drifted apart under apartheid, they had reconnected and were working together to enrich each other.

“In the last 15 years, St Andrew’s and St Matthew’s have drawn closer together, and whilst there are huge discrepancies between the cultures of a small-town traditional independent boys’ boarding school, and a rural, former Ciskei state school — which was once one of the great mission schools systematically destroyed by the Bantu Education Act — we are seeing a genuine partnership growing.”

Written and illustrated by 15 St Matthew’s students during Saturday reading classes, the stories detail the dynamics of everyday rural life and cover topics like love, subsistence farming, thieving children and the unique bonds people share with their animals. Besides the St Andrew’s handover, library copies were also given to Grahamstown no fees school The Good Shepherd — which shares the same Anglican roots. Barnard said the unique relationship between the schools was not just about handouts.

“Too often the ‘haves’ perpetuated differences by maintaining a donor-beneficiary relationship.

“The plain truth is schools like St Andrew’s need schools like St Matthew’s in their lives far more than the other way round.”

He said the real beneficiaries were pupils and teachers from St Andrew’s and Diocesan School for Girls who worked at St Matthew’s for a week during school holidays to experience the challenges of teaching classes of 75 children.

Every year two top students from Keiskammahoek are given academic scholarships in Grahamstown.

“Being able to offer pupils from the same area scholarships to our schools also enriches us.”

The books were published in partnership with Sifunda Kunye – that has been helping empower rural schools in the Amatholas for years – and St Chad’s College in England, and are aimed at addressing a shortage of Xhosa story books for primary school pupils.

Literacy project manager Mihlalikazi Kumalo said the books took four months to complete and would also be turned into audio books and played on community radio stations. Bavuyile Mamayo, who wrote about a farmer and a child who stole his fruit — said she was inspired by real-life experiences. “We all enjoy the interaction with St Andrew’s, it is great when they come visit our school — for many it is the first time they have been to a village.”