“They thought I’d be a dropout but I proved them wrong”

Path out of Poverty graduate wants to be a teacher

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Path out of Poverty graduate Austin Ockhuys wants to be a teacher
Austin Ockhuys went through the Path Out of Poverty programme and matriculated in 2018. He has applied for an internship at the Department of Education for 2019 and plans to study teaching at Stellenbosch University next year. Photo supplied

“My school years were fantastic, I will never forget them,” says Austin Ockhuys. “Many people said I wouldn’t make it. They thought I would be a dropout. But I proved them wrong.”

Ockhuys matriculated from Westbank Secondary School in Malmesbury with a bachelor’s pass and wants to be a primary school teacher. “I can see how other children struggle to reach their dreams and I want to help them get there … I know what goes on in our community … I want to help children get out of their conditions.”

His favourite subject was history — for which he achieved his highest mark — and he particularly liked learning about apartheid and the civil rights movement in the United States. “I always enjoyed it … My teacher also made it so fun, I will never forget her.”

Ockhuys went through the Path Out of Poverty (POP) programme, a project of the Goedgedacht Trust. The programme was started by social workers Peter and Anne Templeton in 1998 to help children growing up in poverty. There are now eight POP centres in the province; from the first centre on Goedgedacht farm to ones in Riebeeck Kasteel, Malmesbury, Paarl and Prince Albert.

The centres have computers, books and learning aids and provide a daily hot meal per child. Each centre is registered with the Department of Social Development and has a manager between the age of 20 and 30. The managers run the centre, mentor the children and work with school principals, government social workers, nurses and ward councillors.

The POP centre Ockhuys went to is in Riverlands, just outside Malmesbury, where Ockhuys lives with his father. He began going to the centre when he was ten, he is now 18. Ashton Arendse, the POP centre’s manager, says Ockhuys “spent many hours at the centre and put a lot into his schoolwork”.

“Every afternoon after school I went to the centre to do my homework,” says Ockhuys. He was part of a study group for his matric exams, facilitated by Arendse. “Ashton [Arendse] helped us a lot and it taught me the value of teamwork.”

The programme supported him with things he needed for school; buying him stationery and sports clothes and giving him extended access to a computer for his assignments.

“There were also times when I had personal problems and I could come to the POP centre and share my troubles with Ashton. He gave me advice on how to deal with things.”

Ockhuys says his mom died in a traffic accident “a few days after” his sixth birthday and his father raised him alone. “I am proud that I finished school and I wish my mother could have seen it too because I know she would have been proud of me … Making my mother happy and proud was always my motivation.”

Arendse says Ockhuys is a “keen observer” who “loves stories and poetry” and has shown through his behaviour at the POP centre that he has strong leadership abilities. “He helps to keep the younger children in order,” says Arendse. “It is a pleasure for me to be part of Austin’s life and to help ensure he has a good future.”

Ockhuys has applied for a year-long internship at the Western Cape Education Department as part of the Premier’s Advancement of Youth (PAY) project, starting in March 2019. “My plan is to begin studying teaching next year at Stellenbosch University,” says Ockhuys. “The programme was a big boost for me. I will never forget the Path Out of Poverty.”

Did you know?

65% of South African children lived below the upper-bound poverty line of R1,138 per person per month in 2017. Source: 2018 South African Child Gauge.

TOPICS:  Education

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