I first came to know Pumla Jayiya through the HIV prevention campaign for youth, loveLife, where we both worked on their goGogetter programme, designed to encourage support for orphaned and vulnerable youth by local grandmothers.
Although all the grandmothers participating in the goGogetter programme was amazing and provided critical support to children, “Gogo Pumla” was doing something rather interesting: “I am teaching children from grade 2 to 7 reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, and concentration skills in the way I was taught when I grew up, using games like Chess, Scrabble and Monopoly”.
“My Granny always used to say ‘look for a need in the area where you are living’. I saw that despite the fact that my grandson was in grade four, he still could not read or write. This pained me greatly and I started teaching him myself. When he started improving, not only in skill, but in confidence, I asked myself, how many children are there like my grandson, in school, but not able to read or write? I started to approach school principals and asked for their permission to assist with the children who were struggling. This encourages the children to learn while enjoying games and to express themselves without fear of getting reprimanded. Children love competitions and it keeps them occupied during the week and Saturdays, keeping them off the streets. I believe that in this way it is also contributing towards building a healthy nation because it contributes towards reducing crimes involving children.”
Pumla was born in 1953 in Pimville, a renamed part of Klipspruit in Soweto. Although it was very difficult to be black in South Africa in 1953, Pumla says that she grew up protected, in a household that was full of warmth and love from both her parents and her grandmother. “As a firstborn child much was expected from me. I was taught respect and gratitude for every good thing that happened in my life. While I was growing up we used to play games like Scrabble, Chess, Monopoly, puzzles and card games to help with our arithmetic and spelling”. Now a grandmother herself, Pumla says the values and love of her own grandmother made a profound impact on her life: “My granny was always accepting anybody in need. She would encourage us to say our prayers and then she would pray for our future. From very young, I wanted to help others”.
Pumla started primary school in Gauteng, but when her family experienced problems she and her siblings were left with an aunt in Transkei (now part of the Eastern Cape) where she completed primary and part of her secondary education at a rural school. Living with her aunt were unhappy times, “my abusive aunt stole the love that I grew up with, but this only served to make me stubborn”. At an early age, the love that her life was rooted in ensured a sense of self-worth allowing her to refuse to become a victim of her circumstances. “I did not see it as abuse at the time. For me, it was a challenge and it strengthened me. In everything I did I would work hard with all my heart to achieve the best as if I were doing it for God”.
“When I think of the future I would love to see every child exposed to the modern developing world. I would like to see young people being able to speak foreign languages and become business people of the continent. I would like them to value their education and to see their potential so that they can take life seriously and make use of the opportunities that are here in our country. In my community it is believed that passion cannot be taught, that it comes from inside you and you must be born with it. But I believe that when you educate a child at an early age you give an inheritance of love that will shape the way that they deal with the world and no one will be able to take that from them. When you give love, you are raising hope so I give love to all the children I work with. The joy I share with them is a planted seed in their lives and mine”.
Pumla not only represents evidence of early love creating a life-long positive inheritance for people through her own story, but in her insistence on sharing love with children she makes an important point which has been confirmed by science. Recent research shows that if we want to reduce poverty and improve educational and health outcomes, we need to protect children from adversity in the early years of life. Pumla has intuitively not only connected the dots of her own life experience to assist young children to develop their literacy skills, but is also helping them to become more resilient, positive people who can make a positive contribution to society for the rest of their lives. This is precisely the type of leadership that is needed in communities and another reason why it is hard to ignore a “Gogo” with a vision.
Written by Judy-Marié Smith