Zodwa Buthelezi

“Kids help you to grow.”

It’s a simple statement and for those who have the good fortune of working with children, it resonates. Those of us who work with Zodwa will immediately spot her as a “teacher”. It doesn’t matter that she claims to be introverted and shy.

She’s an individual of few words, but as soon as the schoolchildren from the Tshabalala community arrive, you can see Zodwa’s heart open. Patient, confident, generous, in control and intelligent. “I have never been an outgoing person” says Zodwa, “but that changes when I am with children.”

Zodwa has not had it easy. Her parents split when she was eight years old and Zodwa and her mother – who had been living in Pretoria – returned to Tshabalala village in rural Mpumalanga.

Zodwa made all the right decisions. She matriculated well. She then turned her attention to tertiary education and spent three years at a technical college studying to be a management assistant.

But despite the qualification and constantly applying for new jobs, Zodwa could not find employment. Her mother was dependent on her, so the option to move back to the big city was off the table.

Desperate, Zodwa became part of the Community Work Programme (CWP) at Hosanna Church where she worked as a gardener and then a garden coordinator for three years. “It was tough” says Zodwa. “The organisation had to share the work among those that needed it, and so some months we were each given only eight days of work. I had to feed my mother and my son on R480 per month.”

As the Hazyview Digital Learning Centre neared completion in 2012, Zodwa approached Good Work Foundation CEO, Kate Groch, and asked if there were any jobs available. A couple of interviews later and Zodwa was appointed as Crispin Bvumbgwe’s assistant teacher. She interacts with 50 local schoolchildren on a daily basis, reprogramming them to become “digital natives.” A lot of that involves working on iPads, whether it’s a digital puzzle, crossword or music exercise, but Zodwa is also involved in coaching the kids in English language and comprehension.

“I didn’t have a problem working as a gardener” says Zodwa. “I am not ashamed of that time. I enjoyed it, and whatever you do, do it for the love and not the money. Give it your all. Be thankful that you have hands and you can work. At GWF I love what I do. Kids help you to grow, but more than that, I am part of a team that wants to educate and empower. So that when these kids get to be my age, they don’t have to worry about being jobless. They will be digitally literate. They will have better English skills. They will have access to opportunity.”