Polokwane - Many learners in deep rural villages in Vhembe drop out of school every winter for no reason other than they have no shoes and cannot walk to school barefoot in the biting cold.
Poverty and unemployment have left many rural parents unable to afford school shoes for their children. And as winter fast approaches, many learners are left with no other choice but to brave the cold and walk to school barefoot.
This year a rural church known as Assemblies Bible Church in Ha-Mphego village, outside of Thohoyandou, has started a drive to collect school shoes for under-privileged and orphaned learners.
In the first week the church distributed over one hundred pair of shoes. One parent whose children have benefited from the drive is Ntovhedzeni Begwa of Ha-Mphego.
The unemployed mother of two says she cannot afford to buy school shoes for her two children as she depends on her children’s grant money for survival.
“I know many people call us names and say that we do not care about our children and their education. But it’s not true, we do care about their education and we want them to succeed and take us out of poverty. But there is nothing we can do if we cannot afford to buy them proper school uniforms and shoes,” said Begwa.
“It is so painful seeing your child walking bare foot to school in winter, especially knowing that there is nothing you can do to make their situation better.
"Unemployment is a huge problem in rural villages, but thanks to the donation by the church my kids will be able to concentrate at school without having to worry about cold,” she said.
The man behind the shoe drive, Pastor Jacob Netshiozwi, said no child chooses to be born in poverty and should be encouraged to go to school and bring an end to poverty and suffering in their families.
“Education is important in today’s life. We cannot be preaching the gospel while watching poverty-stricken learners walk to school barefoot knowing there is something we can do to make their situation better. We are hoping to reach as many learners as possible,” said Netshiozwi.
For Maria Makhaya, a mother of three, who has already benefited from the drive, the shoes are a blessing from above. She has been unable to provide shoes for her children for years.
“It’s a welcome relief. Many people do not understand the pain and suffering we go through when our children tell us that they are being laughed at by other learners at school for not wearing shoes. No one chooses to be poor. I am glad that this year my children will not feel the winter because they will be having shoes,” said Makhaya.