A teacher extraordinaire

PHOTO CAPTION: Teacher extraordinaire, Buse Laphia Simbonge (LEFT) is pictured with Adele Blair.

Ontario teachers are making a point. They are protesting, withdrawing services and dealing with stressful heavy demands in their classrooms. Many of them are among the brightest and the best workers we have in our labour force in Ontario.

However, I want to tell you about a most arresting teacher I recently met in a poverty stricken, modest rural school in northern KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Her name is Buse Laphia Simbonge.

Buse is a teacher. Buse is a phenomenal one I can assure you. She is also Black.

Buse appears to be a 30 something, attractive and beautiful individual. She has a master’s degree in mathematics and science as well as professional credentials as a teacher. She is a working self-supporting single parent with a 7-year-old daughter, like so many women around the world today.

Buse loves learning and chose a career as a teacher because she wanted to influence children to achieve their potential and accomplish their dreams. Teachers everywhere often think just like this and dedicate their lives to changing the world, by changing one child’s thinking, one child or one class at a time.

Buse Laphia Simbonge in the classroom where she teaches 57 students.

Buse got her teaching position in Safari Primary school about 10 years ago. She is one of six educators which includes a principal, who are responsible for developing the potential of the minds of 179 students spanning grades KP to grade 7. Her students are Black by race, but bright, warm and motivated by heart. They are all extremely poor and most have parents who have minimal if any education themselves, and often see little value in sending their offspring to school.

Buse must try to help her charges understand the importance and value of a good education. She must struggle with old attitudes that women do not need much schooling, that a better life for a Black person is unachievable, and that Black children dare not dream that each one of them can make a difference in making the world a better place.

Buse steadfastly plies her trade in a simple four classroom ranch-style, yellow brick building with outside port-a-potties, a rain barrel full of potable water, and a muddy play yard surrounded by wire fencing and guarded by a security officer at the gate. The classrooms appear to be the size of Ontario school portables, with far too many scratched up desks pushed against the marked up walls, and traditional large green chalkboards at the front. There are no specialized teachers, no educational assistants, no gyms, no science labs, no libraries, no maps or teaching aids, no computers or audio visual equipments, no cell phones and nothing is displayed on the walls. She relies on donations for basics like pads of paper, pens and pencils. The school has no air conditioning despite summer temperatures reaching 39o Celsius, impacting her performance and her children’s learning. Her junior/intermediate classes run at a class size of 57.

Children in the school yard of their rural KwaZulu Natal, South African school.

Buse tries to be the kind of teacher everyone of us should want to teach us, our children and grandchildren. She is warm, dedicated and competent in her subject areas. She genuinely loves her students and builds them up so they can one day stand on mountains!

When asked what she needs most in this school her answer may surprise you. It was not about her but about her students. Despite a low wage of about 10,000 rand per month, which is roughly $12,000 dollars a year, Buse did not mention a better salary for herself. Despite having class sizes of 57, she did not say she needed fewer students to teach. Buse said she needed computers for her children to learn and become competitive in the world. They need to be able to access the best information on the planet in order to enter universities competitively and contribute their talents in every profession. She also said she needs more space for her students because with so many youngsters they could study better in less crowded conditions.

Now that is a woman that is inspiring. Out of the ashes of apartheid springs a woman that is a teacher extraordinaire!

I spent some time talking to the bright-eyed children at this school. Most were dressed in well-worn maroon coloured school uniforms. Many had no shoes as they played happily in a barren, mud filled yard with zero play equipment. Two sweet preadolescent girls were ready and open to chatting with me in an empty classroom while they showed me around.

Andele and her friend Momsa both want to be doctors when they grow up.

Andele is 12 and her friend Momsa is 11. I told them I had been a teacher of children their age. I asked them how they liked school and what they hoped to be when they grew up. Surprisingly they spoke a little English. Buse told me later that English was taught one hour each day so her children could compete in the broader adult world and have choices for a career and training. Both girls told me they wanted to become doctors.

‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘Buse you are some incredible teacher helping these disadvantaged girls dream so big!’

I put my arms around the children and told them that being a physician was a wonderful profession for women. I told them about the importance of the work of doctors. I told them to study very, very hard and wait to have their own babies until after they had become doctors. I told them they could do it, if they remained focussed, put in their best effort, and became unstoppable in conquering any adversity that might stand in their way. I told them that if they reached their goal, they would be able to help their people so very much.

I told them all that because those young minds needed to be encouraged in their hopes and dreams and goals. May the leaders in their country turn those wheels of social change fast enough and far enough that Black girls can actually get a quality education with erudite, forward thinking teachers, in a society where everyone can live together in peace with equal opportunity. That road is long and winding with lots of twists and turns, unfortunately. But the journey has begun.

Black women like Buse are catalysts for that change. Buse is a strong South African woman. And Buse is an unparalleled, impactful and teacher extraordinaire!

Our own Ontario teachers should be proud of their profession, because there are many of the ilk of Buse Laphia Simbonge within it. Like Buse though, they are often humble and unnoticed, while doing amazing things.