On the first day of school at the Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT), in January, I asked some students whom I should interview. They led me straight to a boy who was leaning against a brick wall. He was small but had an air of confidence.
Sivenathi – Sive (see-vay), for short – was clearly well respected at school. He had just been selected for a prestigious leadership program and was about to travel to Colorado and Washington, D.C. He was thrilled about the opportunity.
Dealing With Change
Sive headed to a corner store. He walked along a gravel road, past rows of matching houses and children playing soccer.
With his mother gone, Sive said his 19-year-old brother should become the family head. But Sive said his brother isn’t very responsible, so Sive expects to be the one making decisions – if his brother doesn’t change.
At the store, Sive bought a loaf of bread. I asked how he and his brother are going to get by, financially.
“We don’t have money,” he said. “We are so broke.”
His mother had been getting a disability grant from the government – about $120 a month. Now that money will stop coming in. Money from her life insurance is going toward her funeral.
So, for now, Sive’s only income is a small child welfare grant and some cash he makes working at a bakery on Saturdays.
Back at the house, Sive’s brother was painting the living room. He said he wanted it to look good for when people came to pay their respects. Neighbors and friends were stopping by each night during the week.
Standing on his front step, Sive said all this cleaning and hosting was taking up a lot of his time – and so was another obligation.
“There are people that don’t know yet about my mom, so I have to go and tell people that my mom passed away,” he said.
He’d have to go around the township on foot – because none of the people he was contacting use email, and he didn’t have their phone numbers.
With so much to do, and so much change happening, Sive was incredibly stressed. He didn’t know when he’d have time to prepare for his exams.
Back inside, he picked up a brush and helped his brother paint.
A few hours later, people began showing up at his house. More than forty packed into the tiny living room and spilled out onto the road. A preacher delivered a passionate sermon, and the crowd sang hymns.
A few days later, Sive would travel with his relatives – and his mother’s body – on a 12-hour journey to the family’s ancestral land. His mother would be buried there.
But on this night, after people paid their respects and headed home, once Sive was alone in the house, he grabbed his school notebook and checked his midterm exam schedule.
Then, he sat down on his sagging metal bed and began to study.
This story is part of a year-long series, School Year: Learning, Poverty, and Success in a South African Township.
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