Solidarity in uniform

Jan 25, 2017
By Mark Nonkes, Chimuka Hamudulu

Eight-year-old Mlungisi was ready to enter Grade 2 when he was handed a uniform that had been previously owned by five other children. It was faded, threadbare and ready to fall apart.

In South Africa, primary education is free, but school uniforms and materials are often too expensive for low-income families. Principal Nkwe Koboekoe says that while students are still admitted into class without a uniform, the social stigma is great as children with no uniform are often bullied or humiliated by their classmates

“I had to ask him to stay at home until he had a uniform,” says Winnie, Mlungisi’s mom, a single mother of eight. “I felt heartbroken.”

While her children are able to attend school, Winnie says there is never enough money to buy new school uniforms and they must be used over and over, for every child. 

Mlungisi’s presence at school was missed. A World Vision worker, Norman Belushi, quickly noticed and decided to investigate. After visiting Mlungisi’s home—a small two-room house—Norman understood the issue and worked with World Vision to provide Mlungisi with the new uniform he needed. 

Principal Nkwe, who shepherds a school of 1,200 primary school students, explains that there’s a certain sense of belonging that uniforms bring.

“I was so happy, I felt like crying,” says Winnie, remembering the day the new uniform arrived for Mlungisi. 

Now that Mlungisi is back in class, he’s learning to read and speak in English. He says his favourite subject is Zulu, his mother tongue, and he wishes to become a doctor in the future. 

Principal Nkwe says providing emergency school uniforms is just one of many ways that World Vision is supporting his school. For example, World Vision volunteers have also helped start a Saturday homework club for students who need extra help with their studies. Bikes were provided for students who live far away, and particularly vulnerable families have received food support.

“It’s making a great difference to our school,” Nkwe says.