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Determination and grit earns 65-year-old mum her PhD in Education

Dr Lorna Jonathan at her graduation. Picture: Abhi Indrarajan

Dr Lorna Jonathan at her graduation. Picture: Abhi Indrarajan

Published May 10, 2022

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On her 10th birthday, Lorna Jonathan lost her mother. In keeping her mother’s lessons and memory alive, she took care of her six siblings while striving to reach her goals to become a teacher.

She kickstarted her dream by working as an administrative clerk at Stanger Primary School, a position she held for 26 years. At the age of 40, she completed her teachers’ diploma, going on to complete her Honours degree in Education.

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On Monday, Dr Lorna Jonathan beamed with pride when she graduated with her PhD in Education at the age of 65,for her research that analysed the conceptions of the Zulu Kinship System and its influence on orphaned children’s education.

Jonathan wrote to the former KwaZulu-Natal Finance and Education MEC, Ina Cronje, highlighting her achievements and future aspirations of becoming a teacher.

“Within a beat, she responded to me, and I was seconded to a local primary school to start my teaching career. Despite having no remuneration, I spurred on for career growth opportunities,” Jonathan said.

A decade later, at the age of 50, Jonathan was appointed as a permanent educator.

“I was finally able to make a difference and add value to the lives of learners as an educator. I treasured every moment with my young souls, knowing that I was given this platform to inspire, instil and awake imaginations to success,” she said.

Her PhD explored the lives of children in KZN who have been orphaned, or are otherwise vulnerable, in relation to the Zulu Kinship care system, which is the placement of children with their relatives.

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“Orphanhood has become widespread because of the HIV/Aids pandemic, though there are also other contributing factors. The kinship care system is the preferred option should it become necessary for a child to be removed from home and placed within a safe environment. It is the least restrictive and most family-like out-of-home placement," Jonathan said.

For her study, the orphaned children were selected from three high schools in the KwaDukuza area while nine children were selected from a childcare facility in Durban, as well as a social worker from the same facility.

Findings revealed that the families themselves were poor and humble yet had been open to accepting another child to care for.

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“The Zulu Kinship system continues to operate but is under severe stress, and at times is not serving to protect children to the extent needed. The pattern of families intervening to protect and care for children in difficulties still continues, as indicated in the township settings; the caregivers report on their care as a labour of love that entails sacrifice,” she said.

The study shows that there is evidence from children that while that is true of some situations, other placements are subject to abuse and exploitation. In many cases, the care is inadequate because of the poverty of the family.

“The impact of poverty on schooling, and the degree of ostracism within schools, is a constant problem. In some families, the system has failed to the point that the only option for vulnerable and orphaned children is institutional care.

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“Children in care report fully on the abuse and neglect that led to their placement, while most of those who had been placed with the extended family had enjoyed family life before the loss of parents,” she said.

An additional finding was on the central role of mothers and on the frequent absence of fathers, the loss of parents, as well as the major role played in the extended families by grandmothers. Significantly, despite the evidence of abuse and despite the evidence that institutional care was supportive and warm, children in care expressed a longing for family, even some children from families that had failed them completely.

Given the extent of abuse revealed in her study, Jonathan recommends a need for ongoing visits by a social worker to orphaned children placed with extended families.

Reflecting on her PhD and life’s journey, she said, “In life, we all face hardships in whatever shape or form. The strength to fight and move beyond the present circumstance strengthens our will and confidence and by virtue contribute positively to our future and the legacy we leave behind.

“I am here today, living my dream and being my authentic self. There were nights when I had the candle burning at both ends and my loving husband was right there alongside me.”

Jonathan is grateful for her support system of family, friends and supervisors.

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