Seven years ago Maureen Groch (affectionately known as “Gogo Mo”) arrived at Londolozi with a very specific brief: the Varty family had asked her to be part of their mission to bring education to the heart of the reserve.
They were looking for a mentor, guide, facilitator, teacher, and all-round “grounded” woman to run with a vision to build a school at the centre of the staff village. A school for adults and children alike. A school where the focus would be on allowing individuals to improve their digital literacy, English literacy and hospitality management skills.
In August 2013, Ryan James stole half an hour with Gogo to chat about her journey, her belief in an “African” model for education, and her personal growth.
Ryan: Mo, tell me a little bit about how you came to be at Londolozi
Mo: Good question. Before I arrived at Londolozi – in my capacity as the Facilitator at Londolozi Digital Learning Centre – I was the Director of Students at Saint Stithians Girl’s College in Johannesburg. From the beginning I was part of a mission to make a success of the “girl’s branch” of a private school institution that had always been very male-dominated. As the Varty’s were preparing to return to Londolozi Private Game Reserve, they approached me and said they were looking for an individual who could set up and run a learning centre in the heart of the Londolozi village.
Ryan: And you were ready to leave the big city and start something new?
Mo: Well, sometimes a leap of faith is necessary. I had worked primarily with privileged children for most of my career. During that time we had done extensive “outreach” work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but here was my opportunity to work with rural African people full-time. You know, it might sound cliché, but if I could sum it up I would say my mission is Africa and people.
I can’t say that there was no fear in the decision. I was leaving behind everything that I knew and moving to the bush. But oftentimes leaving behind what we know brings a new energy to our lives, an energy that allows us to grow and develop. We see that when we look back, in retrospect. There is a time for everything. Seven years ago it was my time to step out of my bubble and become actively involved in rural education in South Africa.
Ryan: The Londolozi Digital Learning Centre has come a long way in the last seven years. What are some of the patterns? What are you beginning to learn about education in the rural space?
Mo: We are very much a part of an interesting vision that is being spearheaded by Good Work Foundation. I won’t go into all of the details of that vision now. What I would like to talk about is the model’s “Africanness”, if I can call it that.
Ubuntu is an African word that has “community” as its centre and that is what we are looking to create. Education must be available to our community, to those who want it. To our preschool children, but also to the old grandmothers and grandfathers of the community. And no one is forcing anything on anyone. That’s very important. The door must be open for community members to approach us when they are ready. And when they do, it should be other members of the community welcoming them and communicating the value of the result. The appreciation of the service must work from the bottom up and it must approach Africa in an African way.
Ryan: And is your vision for the Londolozi Digital Learning Centre starting to come together?
Mo: Oh yes. But that is because we have been patient and built a space based on trust and meaningful relationships. Londolozi parents who have studied at the Londolozi Digital Learning Centre are beginning to send their children on longer, more intensive courses at the nearby, bigger Hazyview Digital Learning Centre. Parents and children are graduating together. Both generations are learning to drive computers and improve their English literacy at the same time. That’s quite something, isn’t it?
You know, part of the success of all four Good Work Foundation learning centres is the acceptance that education is a holistic process. Life skills is a huge part of what we do. Single mothers, orphans, people losing loved ones to HIV/AIDS, violence against women, people who are still malnourished on a day-to-day basis. These problems cannot be separated from education. A student’s emotional well-being can prohibit his or her cognitive development. As a result – as educators – we aren’t just here to walk students through a syllabus. We need to listen actively and be present. We have to uphold value systems and help individuals find hope and purpose. We need to organise events that teach young girls about empowering themselves or workshops that show students how they can support their peers. And probably most importantly, we have to – as teachers – learn from each other.
As educators, in my mind, we become part of the extended family. It’s Ubuntu. Some people might not agree. But in this space, in rural Africa, not everyone has a grandmother, a mother or even a sibling. We need to balance education and life skills and we’re extremely passionate about that.
Ryan: What’s next for you?
Mo: I am living in the present. In the last seven years I have learned more than I have a taught, and at my age that is a very privileged position to be in. There are many people who I have met recently who are asking the question “How can I change my life in a meaningful way?” Many of those people have become involved – in one way or another – with Good Work Foundation and I would like to see that group of people grow. When you find something positive, spread it.
Ryan: How do you think you can grow that group of people?
They’re already growing. I am not afraid to be “esoteric” and say we are entering a new age where individuals want to contribute to a positive change. On a more practical level I would like to think that I might inspire more teachers who are reaching retirement age to ask how they can contribute. Education in Africa needs leaders with passion and wisdom. Leaders who are willing to take a new approach. Who wants to retire anyway – there are far better things to do with one’s time! (Mo laughs)