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. 

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