The most trying thing about working in a rural environment is not the lack of better roads or basic services not reaching areas that need them the most – it is watching people falling through the cracks of a system designed to improve their status quo. On any given day community media journalists get bombarded with complaints from members of the public wishing for recourse for the injustices they’re faced with. Community media is viewed as a salvation for those who are looking for affirmation that they are right in demanding better treatment from those entrusted with bringing them services.
It’s not uncommon to hear stories of local clinics closing after lunch because the nurses are too tired to continue working. Either that or they are just unwilling to do their jobs. The negative attitude public servants greet rural masses with also leaves a lot to be desired. These are people who have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to walk long distances for hours queuing to get help. More often than not it has to take a call and few follow ups from a newsroom to help someone obtain their ID from home affairs due to years of unexplained delays. Here nothing happens unless you know people who can push it. This has become a normal part of working for a community media. It can be as fulfilling as it can be frustrating.
Frustration perhaps is a word I can best describe the plight of girl students at a Ninakhulu Primary School in Lulekani villages around Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality.
From a distance their new school looks like it was plucked from a city and put in this arid area surrounded by golden grass. When you step inside and meet the students you don’t need the principal to tell you that a big percentage of the learners come from poor family backgrounds. You will still need to give your ear to listen to the situations most go back home to after each school day. When the school year calendar ends the principal identifies learners whose need for food are more urgent, in order to give what is left from the government’s feeding scheme to them. At times their food packages get stolen as their households have no doors.
I first came across their story as a rumour that turned out to be a dire need for girls, many of whom at puberty are at the threshold of womanhood. The story was that a high rate of absenteeism among female learners had lead to an investigation that uncovered that the girls would be absent for an average of three days per week. Upon further investigation the acting principal Mrs Sibiya said she discovered that learners were absent during their periods. She had conducted this investigation talking to them and assessing their backgrounds. The majority of the girls came from impoverished households and their parents could not afford sanitary pads.
Not having sanitary towels to aid them during their periods is a problem the girls’ families cannot afford to have. The principal took it upon herself to do something about this. Armed with a zero budget and mostly hoping for donations from members of the public she started her request for help with the common of “Can your radio station please help…..” Like most people in this area community media is where she hopes her girls’ salvation will come from.
If you can assist, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you in touch with the principal directly.